Fifth Sunday of Lent – Year B


James D. Paradis, O.S.A.
National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Jer 31:31-34
Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15
Heb 5:7-9
Jn 12:20-33

“Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”

We don’t know what drew the Greeks to express their desire to see Jesus in the opening scene of today’s Gospel. We also don’t know whether they actually got to see him. What we do know is that their desire “to see” becomes the occasion for Jesus to teach his disciples and us about the true way of “seeing” and living. This gospel prepares us to “see” that way lived out fully in Holy Week. It zeros in for us on what must die and what must live.

Jesus says of himself, that like a grain of wheat that must fall to the ground and die to bear fruit, so he will surrender everything, even to his own hour of dying, to bring forth life. He speaks of surrender. This is our pattern—our own path that we must go through—as his followers. We are all grains of wheat in him, and we all have some dying to do if we are to experience a flourishing of life—a “letting go.” We die to all that is false in the world, all that is sinful and not of God, to find our deeper identity and happiness in God. “Whoever serves me must follow me,” Jesus says, “and where I am there also will my servant be.”

We know this is not easy, whatever dying we need to do. We resist it. Jesus paid a dear price in his own “letting go.” “I am troubled now,” he says today. In our reading from Hebrews, we hear this crisis of soul: “…he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the One who was able to save him…” Still, Jesus freely held the tension—most deeply on the cross—trusting in the love that saves, that brings fullness of life.

I think of how fortunate I am in my life to have known grains of wheat in action. The one who comes to mind especially is my father who died 16 years ago. He gifted us with a life of “seeing” and surrendering. He was an accomplished person in so many ways—as father of 5, husband, avid golfer, as leader in finance and business, even as a great artisan in wood. But his real artistry was in life, in becoming the grain of wheat. Facing cancer at three different periods in his life, and the prospect of death much sooner than he wanted, he never became hardened or bitter. His “hour” was certainly one of pain, but through trust and prayer he was able to let go of all the outer attachments and agendas to find his true self in the inner love of God. This bore fruit in the joy and transforming presence he shared with our family and many others. He modeled for us our own little and big letting-goes.

I think, too, of the many people in this past year of the COVID pandemic who have struggled to “let go” and yield a rich harvest of hope and love in the lives of others: those affected by illness and isolated from others; those who care for them in family and in the medical profession; those who are now suffering the loss of loved ones, a myriad of essential workers doing their work, often taken for granted and unappreciated. Parents and teachers of school children, especially this past year, have done a lot of dying and letting go through stressful days. They all help us in our own way of “seeing” what really matters and what is passing.

We are in the final weeks of Lent. How is your “seeing” and living? What needs to die? Where do we need to weep like Jesus and let go that we can live more freely God’s life and love? Our country, for example, is in a fearful, divided place right now. There are racially-charged attitudes, we know. Violence and hate are out there. We can find ourselves drawn into arguments and oppositional energy where anger and resentment tears at our souls. There are lingering hurts, betrayals and unforgiveness. Whatever it is, we can die to the worst in ourselves and in our world to find new life in the gospel. In this time before Holy Week, the sacrament of Confession offers an opportunity for each of us to let go of that part of us that we know must die and to experience Christ’s forgiveness and gentle encouragement. May his gracious love and the dying and rising of Christ that we share in the eucharist today help us to bear fruit, to truly “see” and live anew.