[Fifth Sunday of Lent, ADDU Assumption Chapel, Mar. 17, 2018.]
The Lenten Season is a time for conversion. It is an opportunity to reflect on our sins and shortcomings. But not in a manner that locks us in a kind of morbidity where we wallow in the depressing darkness of how sinful we are. Thinking of our sins during Lent should bring us to a deeper encounter with Jesus who redeemed us from our sins in love. Encountering Jesus anew by reading and praying over the Gospels is a good way of finding light and personal renewal during the Lenten Season.
In our Gospel today, we meet a troubled Jesus. His work had been focused on preaching the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of his Father, the Kingdom of his love. But in this Gospel Jesus is troubled. First, he is deeply aware that his preaching has caused him enemies, enemies who now wished him dead. To those who are worshippers of money, fame, reputation and glory, the message of the Kingdom of God is scandalous. To those who are dedicated to making access to God exceedingly difficult through complex rites, rituals, procedures and practices bereft of genuine piety, the message of the Kingdom of the Father is an abomination. To those who portray God merely as punishing and vindictive, the message of the Kingdom of the Father’s compassion and love is intolerable. Jesus is troubled because he knew that his preaching was encouraging his enemies to plot and scheme against him – and that this would end on the Cross. Many times, Jesus predicted this dark outcome of his preaching of the Kingdom of God. “I am troubled now, “ Jesus says. “Yet what should I say, ‘Father, save me from his hour?’” (Jn 12:27). It is the same sentiment that he would reveal in his agony in the Garden of Gethsamane, “Father, if it be possible, take this cup from me…” (Lk 22:42)
But Jesus was also troubled because he knew of the superficiality of the faith of many of his disciples. He was aware that many saw in him only a Messiah who would lead Israel back to a state of political glory. He was aware that many regarded him merely as a healer, or simply as a multiplier of bread. He was aware that those who could come out in the enthusiastic welcome of Palm Sunday crying, “Hosanna in the highest” were the same who would cry, “Crucify him, crucify him! He was aware that even among his disciples, in an hour of crisis, they would flee and abandon him. He was aware that one of the twelve closest to him could betray him with a kiss for thirty pieces of silver. He was aware of many of our own weaknesses when we pray, “Thy Kingdom come!”(Lk 11:2) and really mean, “My Kingdom come!”
But troubled as he was by the dark consequences of his mission and the weaknesses of his followers, he was still focused on the many sheep without a shepherd to whom he had been missioned “to bring life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10), the many who came to him for healing he was happy to bestow, the throngs of people who came to hear from him the message of the Kingdom of God, no matter the consequences. These are not only Jews, but in today’s Gospel, also Greeks, representing the Gentiles. Today’s Gospel proclaims the clarity of Jesus’ understanding of his mission embracing not only Jews but the Gentiles as well, and his determination to fulfill it, no matter the cost. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen I say to you, unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it does, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life, loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life” (Jn 12:23-24). Jesus was clear that his glorification, his being “lifted up” in glory, was inseparable from his being lifted up on the Cross. What was inevitable for him in pursuit of his mission would be inevitably necessarily for his followers, “Whoever serves me, must follow me, and where I am there also will my servant be” (Jn 12:26)
Despite the inevitable cost of his mission and his concerns for his followers, Jesus embraces it by urging his Father, “Glorify your Name” (Jn 12:28a). At Gethsamane, he says, “Not my will but your will be done” (Lk 22:42). “In all this, may you be glorified.” “In all this, may your extraordinary love and compassion be known!” Our Gospel says that a voice from heaven responds, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again” (Jn 12:28b). “In you, I have manifested my love and compassion, and in you I will manifest my love and compassion again.” The voice, Jesus explained, was not for him, but for his troubled disciples, to strengthen them in their wavering. It is the same voice that proclaimed from heaven, “This is my beloved Son,” then commanded, “Hear him” (Lk 9: 35).
In encountering this Gospel it may be sufficient for us just to be with Jesus troubled at the cost of his mission and the fickleness of his disciples, yet committing himself anew to the mission given him by his Father of proclaiming God’s Kingdom and God’s love, no matter the cost.
But we may also wish to ask ourselves what this Gospel means for me. Here, Jesus’ answer is clear, “Whoever serves me, must follow me, and where I am there also will my servant be.” There is no discipleship without the Cross. “Unless you take up your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14: 17). The Cross may be persecution for speaking the truth. It may be suffering from an inability to communicate with a loved one. It may be accepting one’s own limitations and shortcomings in life. The challenge is to embrace one’s Cross as Jesus’ embraced his. So was he lifted up, “drawing everyone to himself” (Jn 12:32) in love, then “lifted up” (Mk 16:19) to the right hand and glory of the Father. “Where I am, there also will my servant be.” It is in taking up our cross as he did in love that we are “lifted up”, glorified, united with him in love – glorifying the name of the Father now and forever.