“Purifying Ourselves as God’s People”
Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 18, 2018
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Psalm 51: 5-13
Hebrews 5: 5-10
John 12: 20-28
Fr. Roberto M. Jorvina
Today is the fifth Sunday in Lent. It is the last Sunday before Holy Week, the week of weeks. There is no other week in the calendar that is described as Holy week. This is the high point of our journey. We are now on our fifth Sunday of our pilgrim way of Lent. We begin a more intense preparation in order that we can be ready for its completion.
Recall that when we started Lent, we saw Lent as a means to make us aware of the rhythm of the journey of our life. It has forty days, and forty is the traditional number of discipline, devotion, and preparation in the Bible. In Scriptures, we would recall how Moses stayed on the Mountain of God for forty days in Exodus 24:18 and 34:28. In Numbers 13:25, we saw how the spies of Israel were in the land for forty days as Israel was preparing to enter the land. In Kings 19:8, we saw how Elijah, after the great victory in Mt. Carmel, traveled forty days before he reached a cave where he had a vision of what God wanted him to do. Nineveh was given forty days to repent in Jonah 3:4. Most importantly, in Matthew 4:2, prior to the beginning of His public ministry, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness praying and fasting.
There is a very significant aspect of these forty days that we need to be awakened to. We need to see that we will not survive any day without the Holy Spirit’s guidance and help. Awaken prayer and the hunger again for the Word of God because this is what forty days is all about. Only when we commit our lives to God can we really see the fullness of life that God has intended for us to have.
The Gospel in John 12:20-28 opens a scene of a feast in Jerusalem. There were certain Greeks who came and approached Philip, and they said to Him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus!” Philip goes to Andrew and both come to Jesus. Jesus, when told about this, responds in an interesting yet unusual way saying, “The hour has come that the Son of God must be glorified.” They said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus!”
This is a statement, a call, a cry which we hear every day. When we go home later, we may hear people tell us, “We want to see Jesus.” When we go back to work tomorrow or back to school, our officemates will make this plea to us, “We want to see Jesus.” Our friends, our neighbors, those who are on the streets, people whom we are not even aware of, are all crying out, “We want to see Jesus.” It may not be the exact words that we will hear. It may be spoken as, “I want to have hope,” or “Show me some sense of meaning in life.” It may be saying, “I give up; I have lost hope. I am desperate.” It all boils down to the cry, “I wish to see Jesus.”
This is a cry that society and the world says to the Church, “We wish to see Jesus.” It is a plea, a yearning, a desire, which only the Body of Christ can answer. It is a need which we, the Church, can only provide for. Yet we pass them each day without any response. We seem to ignore that we did not hear any cry, “We want to see Jesus.” How are we responding? Do we even feel this cry of desperation? Are we even challenged to answer the question? Are we challenged to respond to the cries of people that we face daily?
We have in this Gospel today the challenge to show us not our failure in answering to this call, but to help us understand the life of God that we have been given and how we can use this life to bring to the world the deliverance that they are seeking. It is a world that is bound with sin and despair. It is a world that is saying, “We wish to see Jesus.” When a child comes to a parent and asks for some time together, he is crying, “Dad or Mom, I want to see Jesus.” When parents are telling their children something, they are not just giving them something to do, but they are telling their children, “We want to see Jesus.” It is a cry of the world, the people, and the society that we live in. It is given today so that we could be awakened to the cry that we need to address. We must begin to see the real meaning and purpose of our lives.
Bishop Ariel Santos has set Lent this year to be focused on prayer and giving. These two acts are not just things to do, but they are there to make us sensitive to the cry of the world to see Jesus. We need to be sensitive to their needs so that there will be hope for them. They are there to make us become better servants in the kingdom of God. Are we ready to respond to this challenge? This is what Lent is bringing us to.
One of the greatest messages of Lent and Christianity that should always resound in our hearts is what Jesus said in the John 12:24. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains be itself alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus is bringing forth the way that people can see Him through us. Now, the hour has come for Jesus to be seen and the way to see Him is through His life that He had given up for us.
When God created us, He placed a tremendous potential and ability in us. We have this treasure in our physical life, even right now. It is God who brings us to situations, and we sometimes say that we don’t have the ability to face it; but it is during this time that God will come forth to provide the means to help us and to tell us that we have this ability in us. Jesus said, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” He said that these are the signs that accompany those who believe – casting out demons, speaking in tongues, and laying hands on the sick. God placed within us the ability to handle and to face every problem and difficulty we face in life. He has placed in us the answer to say, “I want to see Jesus.” The way to unleash that power is by the manner Christ tells us: die to self; lose your life; consider others more important than yourself.
St. Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life that I now live today (March 18, 2018, in Metro Manila, working tomorrow morning, going to school, attending to the needs of the family tomorrow morning,) I live by faith in the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” This is no longer our life; it is His life in us. The victory that we see is there to point us to the glory and the purpose of our lives. The Lord is willing and is able to meet us in our needs and to meet it where we are.
In terms of agriculture, the most joyous and fulfilling times in any culture is harvest time. Harvest starts with the seed that was planted and that died several months ago. It starts with all the sweat, all the sacrifice and effort of the farmer who planted the seed. The joy of harvest comes in the sacrifice that we see.
Today, we live in world of shortcuts and convenience that we don’t even appreciate that the rice that we eat every day began with a small kernel of rice. How can millions of Filipino eat rice in their food table and be nourished? It starts with the death of a rice seed that was planted. The harvest, with all the processes thereafter, with all the fruitfulness, riches and beauty of harvest time began with the death of a seed. How can we let the world see Jesus? How can we quench their thirst for the hope that they desperately need in their lives? It is through dying to ourselves so that we they can see Jesus in us as we follow Him.
We have been taught the opposite: if you want to survive in this life, put yourself first. We say, “Paano naman ako? Ako na naman ba ang magbibigay?” Bakit ako na lang palagi ang nagbibigay?” We need to be reminded that the path to glory, the path to life is through sacrifice and death. This is why Jesus chose the cross, the most humiliating thing He did. He came to this point of dying to self, and this is what He calls us to.
How can we make Jesus known to the people? How can we see this? He was the grain of wheat that fell into the ground and died. He was the grain of wheat that was place on the cross. The cross was made of the wood that came from the tree and the tree which God said in the beginning, “Let there be plants and trees.” God was the Creator of the tree, of which its wood was used to make the cross that Jesus would be crucified on. God was also the Creator of the mined metals that was made into the nails that was pierced in Jesus’ hands and feet.
This is our God. This is Jesus who died for us. He is reminding us that the path to the glory is through the Son of Man, coming to this point of dying to self. Let us embrace Jesus. Jeremiah 31:34, “We will know the Lord.” We can see the example that Jesus showed us – that our agenda in life is selfless sacrificial giving and service.
Let us have the attitude of Jesus where St. Paul said, “Let us have this attitude which Jesus had that even though He was God, even though He was the Creator of everything, He subjected Himself to His creation.” When He cried out on the cross, “I thirst,” let us remember that He was the Creator of water, but He said these words calling man to be able to be an instrument of satisfying this thirst in him. If we want to see Jesus, we die to ourselves.
Hebrews 5:7-9 says, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Jesus was the Son of God, and He became perfect for the things He suffered.
Jesus said in John 12:26, “Whoever serves Me, let him follow Me.” It begins with small areas of our daily life. Let others see Jesus in our life. Everywhere people are crying to see Him, but we have to die to self and follow Him. Jesus said, "You see me triumph-you see me enter Jerusalem, and you supposed that my kingdom was to be set up without opposition or calamity; but it is not. I am to die; and if you will serve me, you must follow me even in these scenes of calamity; be willing to endure trial and to bear shame, looking for future reward."
Let us not make Jesus one who He is not. Jesus is not a personality to be idolized. He is an example to be followed. May we follow Him. More than just the words of praise that we give Him, let us follow the way to Calvary, the way to suffering that we can always say, “Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy, but first He suffered pain, and entered not into glory before He was crucified. Mercifully grant us the way of the Cross, which is the way to life and peace.” Jesus chose it, and He asks us to choose it also because the world wants to see Jesus.