5th Sunday of Lent (B)

“We want to see Jesus”

The word of God of the day presents us with a challenge: Just as Jesus became the “Promised Messiah of Glory” and the” Conquering Son of Man” by offering his life for others, we, too, must possess Heaven by dying to self and spending our lives in self-giving, sacrificial service.  They focus on the upcoming death of Jesus, which is interpreted not only as a priestly sacrifice (Heb. 5) but also as the moment of his “exaltation” and “glorification” (Jn. 12). The Gospel hints at Jesus’ inner struggle in accepting the cup of suffering to inaugurate the New and everlasting Covenant.  However, Jesus accepts the cross as his “hour,” meaning the stepping-stone to his passion, death, Resurrection and exaltation.

Some Greek pilgrims who were either new converts to Judaism or mere ‘truth-seekers’ were greatly impressed by the royal reception given to Jesus on Palm Sunday and by the subsequent cleansing of the Temple by Jesus.  Hence, they approached the apostle Philip who had a Greek name and requested a private interview with the Master.  When Jesus was told about the presence of some people who wanted to see him, he knew that his hour had come. His death and his glorification were near at hand. When someone really searches for him, it convinces him that the end of his life is near. If someone among us is interested in Jesus, he should remember that it is not just personal curiosity that leads him to seek Jesus, but rather, the desire of Jesus to offer himself for each one of us. Jesus himself said so: “when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself.” Jesus’ death on the cross for us is the source and the reason for our interest in him. Despite our fickleness and forgetfulness, Jesus has paid a high price to gain our attention. If we forget this, it will be more difficult for us to come back to him. It was to ensure that we show an interest in him and a desire to meet him, that Jesus died on the cross for us.

The hour of glorification for the “Son of Man”: The “hour” Jesus refers to is his time for glorifying his Heavenly Father and of being glorified by his Father.  It is also the way by which he draws all people into the saving action of God.  Jesus’ being “lifted up” on the cross to glorify his Father reminds us that we too can glorify God by wholeheartedly accepting our crosses from our loving Heavenly Father.

Jesus uses the occasion to declare that he is the “Son of Man” prophesied by Daniel, and that his time of glorification is at hand.  He immediately corrects the false notion of a political messiah hoped and longed by the Jewish people by stating that he is going to be glorified by his suffering, death and Resurrection. The term “Son of Man” is taken from Daniel 7:13.  The seventh chapter begins with the description of a frightening vision of Daniel in which he sees the cruel and savage world powers of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes and the Persians as wild beasts like a winged lion, a bear with three tusks, a four-headed leopard and a terrible, ten-horned wild beast.  At last, Daniel sees a gentle, humane and gracious ruler in the form of a man.  The Jews, under repeated foreign rules and bondages, dreamed of such a God-sent ruler and preferred to call this “promised Messiah” by the name “Son of Man.”  It was but natural that the apostles shared this view and consequently saw the “Son of Man” in Jesus.  Jesus promptly corrected them, however, replacing their dream of conquest and political power with a vision of His cross and suffering.

The metaphors of the “dying grain of wheat” and of the “surrendered life”: Jesus explains to his apostles that it is by his suffering and death that he is bringing life and liberation to the sinful world, just as a grain of wheat sown in the field ceases to remain itself alone, “just a seed,” by germinating and then growing into a plant which produces many new grains of wheat.  In the same way, it is by the self-sacrificial lives of holy men and women that life and salvation come to mankind.  In other words, when we “die” to our selfishness, we “rise” to new life in Jesus Christ.  To be “buried in the earth” means avoiding sin, accepting suffering and living for others.

Each of us is a like a grain of wheat planted by the Heavenly Father. That grain must die if it is to produce a harvest. This dying to self is a gradual process and happens in ordinary ways. Every act of kindness involves dying to meanness. Every act of love involves dying to selfishness. Every act of humility involves dying to pride. Every act of courage involves dying to cowardice. Every act of forgiveness involves dying to bitterness.

When a person’s life is producing a rich harvest of such acts, it means that the grain of wheat has well and truly died. The false self is dying and the true self, made in God’s image, is slowly being born. It is the true self alone that will inherit eternal life, for there is no place for what is false in the presence of God. It would melt like snow before the sun.