The Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B, 2018 – John 12:20-33, Hebrews 5:5-10, Jeremiah 31:31-34
Many people take advantage of the church tradition for family time, having vacation for Christmas and Easter. Although religion is not a common subject in a social conversation in our secular world, the public schools, the government offices, and many companies still have Christmas and Easter holidays.
There is something in between these two events in church calendar – Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending approximately six weeks later, three days before Easter Sunday.
Some people observe fasting or abstaining from their favourite activities during this period, to meditate on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. I have found it very hard even to give up my coffee for forty days. But what is more important than our outward half-hearted ritual is a penitence over our sins, a genuine and passionate prayer to God, and a charity towards those in need.
Today is the fifth Sunday of Lent. The last two weeks of Lent, starting from today and ending on Holy Saturday, is called Passiontide. This short final period in the life of Jesus covers his entrance visit to Jerusalem and leads to his crucifixion on Mount Calvary. It is a very solemn period of time, defining the climactic event central to the Christian doctrine of God’s salvation.
Passion in Latin, passionem, means suffering and enduring. So, during Passiontide, we are to think about the deepest and fundamental Christian memories – Christ’s suffering and death. And we have responsibilities to remain faithful to our LORD for what he has done for us.
Today’s Gospel passage starts with a story of some Greeks looking for Jesus at the Passover festival. But before this passage, there are three important stories that set the stage for what is coming.
First, it is the episode of Lazarus’ death and resurrection. Picture two sisters, Martha and Mary, ministering by their dying brother, Lazarus, to his needs. Sadly, Lazarus ended up dying before Jesus arrived at their home. People were looking for Jesus. His delay was not denial of the request of his visit, but it was to fulfill it according to the timing and will of God, not man, to reveal God and to glorify God.
Upon his arrival, Jesus wept. It was strong crying at the tomb of Lazarus. He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out of the tomb. Jesus resurrected Lazarus prior to his own burial and resurrection.
The second important episode before Jesus’ own death and resurrection is Jesus being anointed. After Lazarus’s resurrection, while Jesus was till staying at the home of Lazarus in Bethany, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with a very costly perfume, wiping them with her hair. What would you do if you experience a miracle like that? Wouldn’t you give everything you have to the one who saved your brother? That was what Mary did.
Agitated by the news of this latest miracle of Jesus, the chief priests and Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus as well as Lazarus.
Jesus did not perform miracles to increase his own popularity but to give glory to God, to show that he was sent by God, so that the faith of his followers could increase.
The third important thing we need to remember is Jesus making a triumphal yet humble entry into Jerusalem, in fulfilment of the Prophet Zechariah’s words – a king riding on a humble animal, a young donkey. Somehow Greeks heard about Jesus, too, and some of them were longing to see him. Greeks are gentiles, unaccepted by Jews, though these may be proselytes.
Now, the hour has come. It is time for Jesus to die. He resisted the temptation to ask his Father to save him from that hour. On the contrary, he rejoiced at the opportunity for glorifying his Father. He says, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”
Jesus wrestles. He wishes his Father to save him as any human would do in the same situation. At the same time, he displays his divine strength. He knows that he was sent to earth to save the humanity. He is found later in Gethsemane when he submits himself to God’s higher purposes.
The cross is the ultimate test for Jesus.
In our life, it seems that death is hardly the go-to topic of our common conversation, but death is the everydayness. We try to do a healthy diet, exercise hard, do anything to put off the inevitability of death and aging, but life is uncontrollable. Death is a fact of life, and so is suffering.
There are different kinds of death one can experience in life – a broken relationship is one form of death; a sudden termination of employment is another; how about our frustrated feelings when we fail to do something we are passionate about? Losing hope is a death, as well.
Ever since we were born, we are dealing with this reality of death and suffering throughout our lifetime.
Here is what Jesus says to us: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25).
Jesus is speaking of death as the means of gaining life. If the grain does not die, it remains barren, but if it dies, it bears fruit. The true life springs forth out of death. Clearly, he talks about the necessity of His death here, and he addresses this with double amen – very truly!
Grain can never fulfill the law of its being if it does not go through the process of death, burial, and reproduction in resurrection. The visit of the Greek in the passage alludes to the Lord’s harvest, also, which becomes multiplied in the ages to come as a result of Jesus’ being obedient unto death.
Who is Christ to you that you believe in? What is salvation? Is it something for the distant future? If not, what does it have to do with us here and now?
Christ’s death on the cross reveals in the light by the power of the Holy Spirit the Father’s glorious power that lifts us. And, we are given a very special name called Christian. We are of his seed.
A positive thinking cannot renew our hearts. A cosmetic surgery cannot revive the aging cells. Any human work cannot help to restore our relationship with God. But, the friendship with Christ in our pilgrimage, as Lazarus had, is what makes all the difference in our lives. His death has redeemed us. As he was resurrected, we are also resurrected.
It is possible to doubt. Why no miracles when we suffer? Where is Jesus who raised Lazarus? When our troubles overwhelm us, our path laid out for us seems to lead us to our demises, there must be another way. Yes, we should look upon the cross.
The cross is not for the dead Jesus. The cross is for the resurrected Jesus. This is why we need to look at the cross all the time.
When things are going well, we must look at the cross and praise the Lord. When things are fuzzy and we feel lost, also we ought to look at the cross and put our hopes in the Lord, so that we will be raised by Him.
We are all on the way to the tomb just as Lazarus did, from dust to dust. But we will be redeemed by Christ just as Lazarus was raised from the tomb. When things seem to frustrate us, and when our prayers go unanswered, we need to be able to trust in God’s invisible hands working in our lives. Our ultimate hope is in Jesus.
Resurrection is not something far off. We are brought from death to life when we believe in Jesus Christ.
O Lord, give us a heart to understand You, diligence in seeking You in all circumstances, perseverance in waiting for You, and confidence in living a resurrected life. Amen!