Fifth Sunday of Lent (year B)

Sunday, March 21, 2021

St. Anselm Church – Sudbury, MA

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33  https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/032121-YearB.cfm

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Homily:

          How tender and so true is the metaphor Jesus uses to explain God’s faithfulness. What a sober and peaceful way for him to look at the suffering he would soon face:

unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,

it remains just a grain of wheat;

but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

This is the natural cycle of life. It’s how God brings forth abundance in the land. It’s how we are nourished. Things must always change. A seed forever would produce no fruit! But when planted, it gives itself up, for something great to be born out of it — a new plant producing much fruit. 

We all do this in some way, as part of the cycle of life. We can only pray to have this healthy view, so we always live into something greater to come. Gain does not come without loss.

Yet it is not always easy. We often want to keep things the same, to cling to what we have or are, to inwardly resist when we are afflicted by illness or any big change. There is grief, even anger and rebellion. 

For Jesus, the nature of what lay ahead was a painful experience of betrayal by his friends, of a conspiracy of evil people against him, and his humiliating execution. 

What a grace to be able to say it: “I am troubled now”.  He tells them it is how things must be. His mission from the father is to confront the sin of the world in this way — not by slaying it, not by fighting fire with fire, not with a magic wand and bolts of lightning — but by clinging to the truth and leaning in, courageously. 

Jesus knows God is faithful, and though every part of his humanity may urge him to pull away, he leans in and trusts God is bigger than any human sinfulness including the Roman state, jealous religious authorities and venal kings like Herod, whom he was up against. 

Jesus says that this applies not only to himself (this sense of not giving up one’s principles, but leaning on God’s faithfulness even in the face of threat to one’s own life) but for any disciples (you and me!):

Whoever serves me must follow me,

and where I am, there also will my servant be.

If we want to be with Jesus forever, we’ve got to follow his way!

Some of you are old enough to have heard Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Mountain Top speech on April 3, 1968. Others have studied it in school or heard it in memorials on MLK day. In that speech he evoked the image of Moses on the mountain top, gazing over the promised land, which he himself would not live to enter, even after leading the people out of slavery in Egypt, and wandering 40 years in the desert to finally reach that moment. 

MLK saw in Moses something of himself. He had escaped death before and he intuited that he would not for much longer. Yet despite the danger, the cause was just, the mission was clear, and GOD WAS FAITHFUL.  He closed his speech thus:

We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

The next day he was assassinated

.

“I’m not worried about anything” he said in his speech.

MLK knew what Jesus had prayed to the Father in today’s gospel: he knew he came for this hour, yet was grieved to face it; but he would accept it — all for God’s glory.

And MLK knew the Father had answered that prayer, for Jesus and for his disciples with him: a voice from heaven reassured them that through this rocky path God would show his glory.  Death is met with Resurrection. God is faithful!

unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,

it remains just a grain of wheat;

but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

God is at work! God turns our sadness into joy. He even turns our sin into redemption by forgiveness. He even turns death into new life.  And God does it not through magic, but through FAITHFULNESS to his love for us. 

I think we know people who really live into this truth. Am I right?  Sure there are the famous ones.  But then there are those not publicly recognized — whom we all know — for whom nothing is more important to them than loving others selflessly and doing what’s good. 

I think of an undergrad student I taught. He was always early for class, but at times fell asleep. I asked him why he fell asleep so often. He quickly apologized and told me he was always very tired… See, he worked 11-7 — graveyard shift — almost every night stocking shelves in a store. He then came to campus and tried to take all morning and early afternoon classes. He’d then catch a few hours of sleep if he could, but then looked after his younger siblings after school while his mom was at work til 7. He was proud to say that since he graduated from high school the family had their heads above water because he was able to now pay ⅓ the rent and go to college on the generous scholarship he’s been given.  That young man knew self-sacrifice. He told me how proud his family was that he was the first one to go to college.  I was proud too.  I asked, “how are you going to manage with such a hectic life and not enough sleep?” “God-willing,” he said, the struggle of the present would give way to a brighter future.  “I know it,” he told me with confidence.

I could see it in his eyes and hear it in his words.  He believed in God’s promise. God’s glory will be shown!  Suffering and injustice won’t have the last word.  We shall all be raised up with Him — to life, to peace, to fruitfulness.  But we must take the journey of the grain of wheat: 

unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,

it remains just a grain of wheat;

but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

For if we make life all about avoiding pain and avoiding change, we are going to end up avoiding love and being closed off to grace. 

Whoever clings to his life loses it,

and whoever hands over his life in this world

will preserve it for eternal life.

So let’s stay with Jesus and follow him — in our own ways of self-sacrifice, of living for others, of trusting in God’s faithfulness to the end. He’s got our back!  I just know it!