5th Sunday of Lent (B)
“And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”
Where do we “see” Jesus today? When Jesus hears that some Greeks wish to see him - i.e., get to know him, Jesus, with the allusion to the “grain of wheat”, points to his passion and death. The answer to the longing of the human heart - what we are looking for - is found in the passion and death of Jesus. “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself. He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.” Jesus doesn’t force us to know him or compel us to know him but he “draws us to himself”. He wins us over by an attraction by which we freely adhere to Him. When we look at a crucifix, a man suffering and dying, we don’t find it attractive. In fact, we usually find suffering repulsive. We run from it. We don’t want it for ourselves or other people. So how does he “draw us to himself” by his suffering and death? The “kind” of death he would die does not refer merely to being lifted up on a cross - the method of his death, but that his death was done out of love. It was not a meaningless death - a misfortune - the result of a political misstep or because he ticked off the wrong people. He freely chose to lay down his life for the forgiveness of our sins in response to the Father’s love for him. It is this act that seals the “new covenant” that reconciles us to one another and to the Father. Christ’s death on the cross is the human expression of the Father’s love and mercy for us in our sinfulness. Speaking about the “new covenant” that will come, the Prophet Jeremiah says, “All, from the least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more” (Jer 31:34). This new covenant will be unlike the first which was broken by man’s infidelity. It will not come in the form of a law that is imposed but will be placed within our hearts. The new covenant will be sealed by the man Jesus who is obedient to the Father in the face of what is humanly incomprehensible. The Lord will be known in the lived experience of God’s mercy, not merely through what is taught in a book. We are attracted by love - the experience of being loved. And this experience moves our hearts to know him, love him, and serve him.
If we think about it, when is it that we have had the deepest or most profound experience of love? It is not usually when everything is going well or works out great but when someone loves me when I’m not worthy of love - when I don’t “deserve” it. When I am sick or suffering and someone cares for me. When I’ve hurt someone and they forgive me. When I’m a mess or a wreck and someone stays with me and helps me through my difficulty. When someone is kind or generous to me and there is nothing in it for them. When someone loves me with all my faults included. When someone sacrifices himself for me - gives himself for me. It is often the case that it is the experience of the cross and another’s embrace of me on the cross where I know love - God’s love. I always ask when a couple comes in to arrange a marriage, “How did you know that he was ‘the one’ - that you are meant to be married to each other?” “What makes him different?” There are many variations on the same theme, but they all speak about the sacrifices the other made for them. “I was a mess going through exams. I was extremely stressed out and difficult, yet he was so patient with me.” “I was really struggling at work and frustrated, yet he listened to me.” “He would drive three hours to see me each weekend when I went off to school.” It is an experience of mercy that we find attractive. When someone embraces the cross and continues to love. That is what we admire and aspire to. That is how, deep down, how we want to be treated and how we want to live. It is not the powerful that we find attractive but those who suffer with compassion. These are the signs of the Lord’s presence - an “other worldly” love that has entered this world. It is through the experience of mercy that someone comes to know the Lord.
Today’s Gospel scene comes shortly before the Last Supper. It is at the Last Supper that Jesus instituted the sacrament of the New Covenant that fulfills the prophecy of Jeremiah. In Luke’s account Jesus says, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you” (cf. Lk 22:19-20). At every Mass we hear these words prayed over the chalice, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.” At the Mass, in Holy Communion, we experience in the flesh God’s love poured out for us. God comes in silence and in a hidden way - under the appearances of bread and wine. He doesn’t give us an explanation but a presence that we can take into ourselves. In the Eucharist, Jesus remains with us - stays with us - and is our “food for the journey”. The Eucharist is God’s mercy that speaks to our hearts. A common theme among many converts is that they were attracted first to the Mass before they studied the teachings of the church. I might not understand what the Church says, but I known that this is where I have to be. I adhere to Christ not because I understand what he is asking but in his presence I feel myself understood by Him. This is why the disciples didn’t leave Jesus when he spoke about eating his body and drinking his blood. These were difficult words - words that were incomprehensible - but to leave him would be to negate the evidence that their hearts recognized - that he brought a fullness to their life - that he was what they were looking for - that their destiny was with him. This is Jesus’ attitude toward the Father. “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” The Father was everything to Jesus. Christ recognizes, accepts, and adheres to the plan of the Father, so that even when the Father’s plan implied His death, Christ recognizes that that’s the road of His life. There is meaning and purpose in this path because it is given by the Father. It is for the Father’s glory. Jesus says, “Yes” “Father, glorify your name.” When the voice from heaven says, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again,” Jesus says to the crowds that the voice came for their sake. Jesus wants us to know that the Father wants to be glorified in our lives. Jesus confirms that the Father will honor whoever serves his son and follows the path of Jesus. Through his obedience to the path of suffering, Jesus was made perfect and became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. Let’s go to Jesus and adopt the same attitude that he has in the face of the cross. He does not deny that it is troubling, but by embracing it as a path for his destiny, he is seeking the glory of God. If we struggle with embracing suffering, when we receive Holy Communion, pray with Jesus, “not my will but your will be done.” God wishes to “perfect” us by the path he lays out for us. The cross opens us up to God’s grace. Let yourself be drawn to Christ and let yourself know his love for you. The grain of wheat that dies becomes the bread of life, and through our communion of life and will with Christ, he produces much fruit in us - a life freely given for others for the glory of God. That is how Jesus is seen and known today.