Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33
This is the final Sunday before Holy Week, which begins next Sunday with Passion or Palm Sunday. Today we focus our attention on the nearness and coming of the hour of Jesus’ glorification. The glorification of Jesus refers to his suffering, death and resurrection, for the life of the world.
Jesus had already told his followers that he would lay down his life for them, like a good shepherd willing to die for his flock. Other sheep too, Jesus had said, not belonging to the original fold, would eventually join his flock (see the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verses 15 and 16).
Mention in the Gospel today of the appearance of Greek Gentiles (non-Jews) wishing to see Jesus, was an indication that it was time for Jesus to lay down his life, the hour of his glorification. Events surrounding the person of Jesus had been building up to a crisis or turning point in Jesus’ ministry, and the time had now come.
In Greek the word is kairos, meaning the acceptable time, God’s time. This is in contrast to the mere passing of hours, chronos in Greek, from whence comes our word, “chronology.” In regards to Jesus, we are now hearing about the kairos, the acceptable, appointed, opportune and God-infused moment, when all would be accomplished according to God’s loving plan.
The three lessons from Scripture this Sunday all speak of time and have a fitting connection with Jesus coming to his “hour.” Jeremiah the Prophet (from the 7th century before Christ) says, “The days are coming.” The Letter to the Hebrews speaks about “In the days when Christ came in the flesh.” And the Gospel text this Sunday announces, “The hour had come.”
For those around Jesus, the glorified Son of God was too readily thought of as an undefeatable world conqueror sent by God. But for Jesus “being glorified” did not mean that at all. It referred, rather, to his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into heaven.
When the people thought of the conquest of world armies by the Son of God, Jesus meant the conquest of the cross. For Jesus, death is the means to gaining life, and in the case of Jesus, the means of bringing new and eternal life to all people.
In the parable of the seed that dies, Jesus certainly is referring to himself, but the parable is to be understood as applicable to every believer as well. All must pass through death to reach eternal life and Jesus says, only by spending life do we regain and retain life.
According to Jesus’ teaching, there are two ways of loving life. The wrong kind of loving life has to do with self-seeking and false security. One’s advancement and safety are the driving forces of life. Jesus insists that the hoarding of life for one’s own gain means in the end losing all.
For those who spend their life for God and others, the right kind of loving life, in the end will gain true life. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel’s sake, will save it” (see Mark 8:35; Matthew 16:25; Luke 9:24; Matthew 10:39; Luke 17:33).
All followers of Jesus, in order to produce fruit for Christ, must be where Christ is, which includes passing through death. As Mr. Carson, the head butler on Downton Abbey, said, “We shout and scream and wail and cry but in the end we all must die.” And Mrs. Hughes, his co-worker replied, “Well, that cheered me up.” A humorous take on one of life’s serious certainties: death!
Along the same lines, Saint Benedict in his Rule for Monks reminds them: “Keep death daily before your eyes” (RB 4.47). The point is not to be morbid or preoccupied with death, but that its reality “can be seen as the necessary and desirable doorway to eternal life” (Fr Terrence Kardong, OSB, in “Benedict’s Rule,” p. 89).
The Gospel teaching is clear: if Jesus had to die to bring others to life, the disciple of Jesus must pass through death to self in order to reach eternal life. This includes physically dying, of course, but even before that, coming to prefer the things of God to one’s own wants. This is the heart of Jesus’ words: “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me,” (Mark 8:43), a parallel to words of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage: “If anyone serves me, let that one follow me” (John 12:26).
What can one expect in doing so? The follower will be with Jesus, in the love of the Trinity for eternal life. A British pundit recently said that such a prospect didn’t seem like a very attractive one. I would reply: you may be surprised.
Jesus speaks to his followers of his imminent departure to God but assures them of his return to bring them to the eternal habitation of God. This is so that the disciples may be where Jesus is.
What is being called for is selfless service, service of God and neighbor. Does this mean going to India and opening a home for the dying? For most of us, probably not, but certainly the daily giving to those with whom we live, work, study, meet on the street or in stores, giving way and truly loving even the unruly. Only then will we be true followers of Christ and have true life in Christ, bearing good fruit for the Kingdom of God.
Here is a quote that sums up well the meaning of the mystery of Christ for this Sunday in Lent:
“The crucifixion and death of Jesus is the supreme expression of love and in this we have the supreme revelation of the life of God, the glorification of the name of God” (J. Volckaert, SJ, in “Breaking the Word”).
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB