5th Sunday of Lent (B)
March 25, 2012
Readings: Jer 31:31-34 / Hebrews 5:7-9 / Jn 12:20-33
Today’s liturgy begins with something hopeful. Jeremiah gives words of comfort to his people with his “spiritual testament,” some kind of a last will that he gives to his beloved. He speaks of the coming promise, in God’s name, as “new,” that is, “not like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt.”
The hour has come for Jeremiah to speak clearly about what is to come. It is, undeniably, an hour of delight, of promise, and of glory. In Jeremiah’s glowing terms, “all, from the least to greatest, shall know [the Lord].”
People who trek up mountains can relate to this. There is in every climb, an equivalent of the moment of dread. Many times, on the way up (or down, for that matter), one momentarily hesitates … one feels like retreating and retracing one’s steps. As one progresses in the journey, one’s courage, at times, or at a certain point, regresses, especially when one meets up with a particularly difficult portion of the climb that would demand all the best of your skills, strength, determination, and derring-do.
It is the hour of dread. But it is also the hour of decision. Turning back is foolish, but moving on ahead might be foolhardy. One is caught in between the classical horns of a dilemma.
Julius Caesar, more than a decade before the birth of Christ, had his “hour of dread” and “hour of decision” – the crossing of a tiny river that changed the course of history – the Rubicon.
We are deep into our forty days of preparation for the hour of delight – the hour of glorification of the Lord in His glorious resurrection. There is no turning back, of course. But we can slacken. We can slow down. We can pretend like Lent is going nowhere, and refuse to take any more beatings from a discipline that is ancient, or medieval, in some people’s minds, or so out of touch with post-modernity, and all. We can do like the three disciples were tempted to do – stay up there on Mt Tabor and build three comfortable tents, and remain transfixed by the hour of delight, the foretaste of better things to come, and refuse to go back down where the action is.
The good Lord was having his hour basking in the limelight of popularity and fame. People wanted to see him. People wanted to touch him, even tug at his tassels, and be cured. Curious individuals even asked the help of resourceful disciples like Philip, who were asked by some Greeks: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus!” Jesus was the man of the hour! He was much sought after, being the wonder-worker that he had been in those days. Jesus could have basked in the sunlight and warmth of adulation and attention from the crowds. Jesus could have remained up there on the pinnacle of worldly fame and glory.
But He had come for something else … That, he made sure people understood. That, he made certain even Philip, for all his brokering skills, knew and understood.
“The hour has come,” he said. But this hour, he knew very well, was one of dread and one of decision, before it was something else. It was, in point of fact, an hour of tension.
How would you feel diving and delving into something that you know would lead you to harm? How would you react if you were facing a tough decision that once done, would lead you into a “damn if you and damn if you don’t” situation? How would you like having to deal with a situation in which it would be foolish to return, and foolhardy of you to go on?
This is life, with a mission that was not self-imposed, but received from above. This is life when you are an apostle – that is, sent by Someone. This is life when your faith and conviction tell you to bite the bullet and go on, despite all the conditions pointing to the contrary. This is life when you have given it all for a cause, for a person, for a dream that is bigger than you, bigger than the world, and bigger than life itself.
This is Christian life at its core – a life of obedience, a life that is meant to be a path that leads all the way to Calvary.
Jesus was facing his hour. It was the hour of dread, for he knew what was coming. The second reading clinches it for us: “Son though he was, Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered.” He did face the music … the hour of decision, and went up to Jerusalem!
I am personally facing another difficult crossroad in life. It reminds me of one of my climbs up Mt. Pulag up north. There was a difficult portion that frightened me … terrified me would be more like it. But it was like Julius Caesar’s Rubicon. The die was cast. It was a point of no return. I had to bite the bullet of fear and hesitation. It was a moment of dread and a moment of decision.
And getting through it was all behind the hour of delight. We made it! We got through! We made it back to the plain of reality, a little bit wiser, a little bit more knowledgeable with a first-hand experiential conviction, that courage and determination that come from faith and obedience to Him who suffered like us, and faced his hour squarely, can only lead to the hour of delight and glorification. And there are no short-cuts, even as there are no ways around it.
Lent has come and is almost gone. The whole liturgy leads us to follow Christ the Lord in His journey up Jerusalem and Calvary. Among many other things, the readings today teach us the ineluctable fact of life with Christ … that it is a journey through suffering and pain, that leads to delight and glory that have no equal.
Let us hear it again from Christ Himself … “Father, save me from this hour!” – the hour of dread. But he went on: “But it was for purpose that I came to this hour!” – the hour of decision.
We all know how it ended … “Father, glorify your name!” “I have glorified it and will glorify it again!” – the supreme hour of delight and glory.
Rise up, let us journey with Him, and die with Him!