Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lenten Sunday 5B - The "Hour" of Jesus

Fifth Sunday in Lent (Year "B") – March 26, 2012


[Texts: Jeremiah 31.31-34; [Psalm 51]; Hebrews 5.7-9; John 12.20-33]

Philip and Andrew present foreigners to Jesus

Though Jews, Philip and Andrew are the only apostles known to us exclusively by their Greek names.  They appear early in John's gospel among the first to encounter Jesus.  There, when asked by Andrew and an unnamed companion where He dwelt, Jesus replied, "Come and see" (1.39).

Once Jesus met and conversed with him, Philip believed after Jesus told him that He had seen him “under the fig tree”.  Jesus promised Philip, “You will see greater things than these...heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (1.50-51).  The adventure of discipleship had begun.

Now at the close of the Book of Signs (chapters 1-12), readers of John's gospel discover that Greeks—Gentile proselytes drawn to the Jewish faith—come and ask to “see” Jesus, a conventional way to speak of a meeting.

Their request represented a desire to become Jesus' followers.  So the language of the Fourth Gospel establishes a parallel between the first Jewish disciples and the arrival of the first Gentile ones.

These Greeks are the first fruits of a vast Gentile harvest of believers.  They prefigure the Church's mission to the nations of the world and the inclusion of Gentiles in God's end-time promises.  This coming of the Greeks to see Jesus ironically fulfils the statement made by some Pharisees, “You see, you can do nothing.  Look, the whole world has gone after him!” (12.19)

We are not told that Jesus actually met with these Greeks.  Instead, we are presented with a speech by Jesus that forms a concentrated collection of sayings about His coming death.  For it is by means of the death of Jesus—his glorification, as the Johannine gospel regularly describes it—that all people may be drawn to him (“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”).  One comes to Jesus through his death.

In several ways Jesus speaks of the meaning of his death (12.24-26, 32) and about the urgency of the hour (12.27, 30, 32, 35-36), statements punctuated by responses from the crowd (12.29, 34).

The first image Jesus used to interpret his death was an agricultural parable, that of a grain of wheat dying in the ground to produce a rich harvest.  To understand Jesus' death aright one must note the difference between remaining solitary (“just a single grain”) and the harvest issuing from the seed (“bearing much fruit”).

Jesus then depicted contrasting human attitudes towards one's life, a saying attested not only in John (12.25) but also in the synoptics (cf. Matthew 10.39; 16.25; Mark 10.39); Luke 9.24; 17.33).  To love one's life differs from Jesus' approach; it puts one outside the community shaped by Jesus' gift of His life.  Conversely, to “hate” or be willing to give one's life for others in this world shows adherence to Jesus' outlook.

Peter professed his willingness to die for Jesus (13.37-38) then denied him (18.15-18, 25-27), illustrating the first half of Jesus' saying.  After the resurrection, Peter's reaffirmation of love for Jesus and his desire to give himself in service (21.15-19) showed the truth of the second half of Jesus' dictum.

Despite Jesus' readiness to do the Father's will and to give himself for the life of the world, his soul experienced turmoil as death approached (“Now my soul is troubled”).

Jesus' long-anticipated "hour" had come.  A prayer he pondered uttering would express the human outlook in the face of with death, “Father, save me from this hour”.  But, Jesus declared, the reason he had come to this hour was to give himself in death for the salvation of the world is.  Accordingly, He prayed differently, “Father, glorify your name”.

A voice from heaven was heard (though some thought it a clap of thunder—a biblical signal of divine revelation—or an angel speaking), “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again”.  In this way, God indicated how pleasing were the teaching and life of his Son.

The reading from Hebrews may reflect a variant tradition of Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane.  It assures Christians that Jesus' prayer was heard and that, because of his obedience, Jesus is “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

Christians believe that Jeremiah's prophecy—that God would place his laws inside people, inscribing it on human hearts—was fully realized in Jesus' self-offering.

* * * * * * 

May your servants be shielded, O Lord, by the protection of your loving-kindness, that, doing what is good in this world, they may reach you, their highest good. Through Christ our Lord.

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