5th Sunday of Lent B
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Homeland
March 20, 2021
On May 10, 1940, as the flames of war were engulfing Europe, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of England. Churchill had already held many high governmental positions, for example, he was twice First Lord of the Admiralty and Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Along the way, Churchill had experienced success, failure, and controversy. Taking the helm as Hitler was invading the Low Countries, Churchill later wrote: “I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”
In his “hour” of leadership, Churchill would lead England to “its finest hour.”
Momentous as Winston Churchill’s hour of decision and leadership was, the Gospel of John unveils for us today the most decisive hour of all: the hour when Jesus would lay down his life for the salvation of the world.
In John’s Gospel, the word “hour,” Kairos in Greek, does not mean an interval of 60.” Rather, it means God’s appointed time for the fulfillment of his purposes. When, at the wedding feast at Cana, Mary asked Jesus, essentially, to work a miracle, Jesus seemed to hesitate, telling his Mother that ‘his hour had not yet come.’
Today’s Gospel is clear that the hour had arrived for Jesus to accomplish his mission.
What Precipitated the Arrival of Jesus’ Hour?
Jesus realized that his hour had come when some Greeks asked to see him. Those Greeks were believers in Israel’s God and had come to Jerusalem for Passover.
Prophets who preceded Jesus had suggested that hour of salvation would arrive when the Gentiles would also seek to be converted and worship the living God. So, although Jesus seemed to ignore the Greeks’ request for a meeting, he actually addressed the true significance of their request when he said, “The hour (the time appointed by God) has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” – by which he meant that the time had come, when in God’s plan, he would be glorified by laying down his life on the Cross in self-giving and reconciling love.
Those Greeks, those Gentile believers, symbolized for Jesus the enormous breadth and weight of his mission, a mission that includes you and me, a mission that includes all who seek God in sincerity of heart.
How Does the “Hour” of Jesus Unfold?
How, then, did that hour unfold? What did it consist in? Why is it still important?
We find answers to these questions in today’s Gospel and in our reading from Hebrews. Both readings attest that Jesus’ hour of glory was the hour of his Passion and Death. That is why Jesus spoke of the grain of wheat, which falls to the ground and dies. Only a grain of wheat that dies, reproduces itself and bears much fruit. In fact, Jesus is that grain of wheat, who, while carrying the cross, fell to the ground,
and while hanging on the cross died, and in dying gave us a new, imperishable life.
Can’t we readily see in Jesus’ words a reference to the Eucharist, the Body of Christ, “the gift of finest wheat,” that is blessed, broken and given for the life of the world? So it is, that when we gather for the Eucharist, we enter into the hour of Jesus, the decisive moment when grace triumphed over sin, and life triumphed over death. And sharing his life should shape our whole way of life – our prayer, our relationships, our work, our values, our decisions, our charity and prompt us, like Jesus, to glorify God by laying down our life and taking up our cross.
Both John’s Gospel and Hebrews help us appreciate “the price” of our salvation. In the Gospel, as the hour of his cross drew near, Jesus was troubled in spirit, almost as if he anticipated the anguish he would suffer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Likewise, the Letter to the Hebrews says that, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears to [God the Father] who was able to save him from death . . . .”
Most scholars believe that this is an explicit reference to the Agony in the Garden, that hour when Jesus suffered untold anguish as he took upon himself our sinfulness.
The reading from Hebrews further describes the hour of Jesus where it says, “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered, and being made perfect became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”
But what are we to make of the phrase that Jesus was “made perfect?” The Letter to the Hebrews itself teaches that Jesus was sinless, so in what sense was he “made perfect” by God the Father? The answer is this: The words “made perfect” actually mean that God the Father ‘ordained’ Jesus to accomplish the mission for which he had been sent into the world.
When, in today’s Gospel, Jesus prays, “Father, glorify you name,” the Father responds thunderously, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again!” Thus, did God the Father ‘ordain’ Jesus for a mission brimming with divine glory.Lifted high upon the Cross, Jesus would glorify the Father by saving us from our sins. This is the mysterious event, the ‘hour’ that we share when Holy Mass is celebrated.
A Humble, Contrite Heart
All of this is meant to get us ready for Holy Week, for that “hour,” that sacred time when we solemnly celebrate the Death and Resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
The question before us is how deeply, how devoutly we will participate in this hour, how greatly we will allow ourselves to benefit from the Lord has done to save us … saving events rendered present and available to us in and thru the Church’s worship.
We don’t have to be theologians to benefit from the Great Week that lies ahead of us, but there is one thing necessary for you and me to participate fully in Jesus’ hour, namely, we must have in us what the prophet Jeremiah foretold in our first reading.
You will recall that God said to Jeremiah that he would write his law, not on tablets of stone, but rather upon our hearts, so that we would be his people, that from the least to the greatest, all of us would know the Lord and sin no more.
Taking Jeremiah at his word means that we cannot afford to waste the Fifth Week of Lent. Rather, our penitence should intensify, as we prayed in today’s responsorial psalm: “Create in me a pure heart … a broken, contrite heart you will not spurn.”
As we intensify our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, as we renew Lenten resolutions, and make our way to the Sacrament of Reconciliation where our sins are forgiven – as we do all that, we cultivate the soil in our hearts to receive the seed of God’s Word, the seed that fell to the ground and died in order to give us new life in abundance.
A heart that is contrite, a heart that is reconciled, a heart that is renewed – this is the heart that will share fully in Jesus’ hour, this is the heart that will take up its cross and bear the good fruit of the Gospel, this is the heart that will rejoice at Easter with a perfect peace the world cannot give.
May God bless us and keep us always in his love!