Sunday of the 5th Week of Lent
(Jer 31:31-34; Heb 5:7-9; Jn 12:20-33)
A story was told about the gifts of God: while serving in India, a devout English judge befriended a young Indian man. Having been raised in a prominent Indian family, he had been cast out after he converted to Christianity. The judge took the boy into his household where he happily worked as a house boy. It was the custom of the household to have a devotional time every evening. One night the judge read aloud the words of Jesus: “every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold” (Matthew 19:29). The judge turned to the lad and said, “nobody here has done this except you, Norbudur. Will you tell us, is it true what Jesus has said?” The Indian man read the verse aloud for himself and then turned to the family and said , “No, there is an error?” Startled, the judge responded, “there is?” The youth replied, “It says He gives a hundredfold. I know He gives a thousandfold.” (Taken from God’s Little Daily Devotional, p. 85) There is always good gifts that are reciprocated when people become generous and kind. When somebody learns to listen to God, God in turn responds by being gracious to him. God is glorified by those who acknowledge Him, yearn for Him, depend on Him, search for Him, and celebrate Him. The three readings today illustrate what God could do to draw us to Himself. Let us look into these three points.
1. Formation of Conscience- God draws us to Himself through the gift of conscience. As a gift it has to be received first and shared by using this important faculty man has been endowed with. In the first reading, God desired that Israel would be His people and He be their God. To ensure that they would be God’s people, he has to write a new “law” not anymore on stone or tablet but in their heart. This new law has to be understood as surpassing the old manner of God dealing with His people through the covenant on Mt. Sinai. This new law “will not be 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.” But this covenant which was written on stone had constantly been violated and broken. God decided to shape and form man through His conscience. It will be the locus where man meets God through a voice that calls him. It will be an inner law that will direct and make man follow an inner gift which will lead him to the Will of God. Thus, conscience, to a great extent, constitutes the basis of man’s interior dignity and, at the same time, of his relationship to God.” (RP 18) It will also be the power that will shape man from within and God will be the protagonist to teach man to know more the Lord. Jeremiah proclaims that God acts directly on man so that man will be formed according to His conscience. God said to Jeremiah, “no longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD.”
2. Sincerity of Heart- God draws the sincerity of heart to Himself. Jesus is the primordial example of one who has the sincerity of heart and was listened to by God. His Father never closed His ears on Him. The Letter to the Hebrews describes the manner Jesus relates with the Father: “he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death.” In this chapter, the author compared Jesus with Aaron as High Priest. There are similarities: a) like Aaron he was taken from among men, b) like Aaron he was chosen by God, c) like Aaron he had compassion, d) like Aaron he learned obedience, e) like Aaron he prayed to the Father, f) like Aaron he suffered. Yet there were differences: a) unlike Aaron Jesus was a unique Son. He was God yet became man in all things but sin; b) unlike Aaron Jesus was a Priest after the line of Melchizedeck who offered also with tears and loud cries; c) unlike Aaron He becomes the author of eternal salvation. In the readings today, Jesus’ sincerity in His relationship with the Father is remarkably shown in three ways: a) he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears; b) he was heard because of his reverence; c) he learned obedience from what he suffered. In the Season of Lent, our sincerity of heart counts most in order for the Father to listen to our prayers and supplications.
3. Honest Search- Man by nature seeks for God because he is created in God’s image and likeness. Yet God can be found and encountered in the Scriptures, in the Church, in the Sacraments, in daily experiences of life, in our consciences, in prayer, and in every human person. God delights in a person who seeks for Him and God responds to human search. Pope Francis says: the “religious man strives to see signs of God in the daily experiences of life, in the cycle of the seasons, in the fruitfulness of the earth and in the movement of the cosmos. God is light and he can be found also by those who seek him with a sincere heart.” (LF 35) In the Gospel today we find Greeks desiring for Jesus. They came forward to Philip during the Passover feast and said “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” And because of this honest search and when this desire reached Jesus, He said “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The Greeks who supposed to be non-believers and were marginalized by the Jews are now searching for Jesus become now the fulfillment of His mission. This was the reason why Jesus came that both Jews and Greeks be believers of Him. Immediately Jesus said three exhortations that will glorify Him and what makes a person glorified in Christ. First, the act of dying to oneself: Jesus says that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.” Humility and dying to oneself are important paths towards salvation and bearing “much fruit.” Second, the act of hating his life in this world makes room for loving life that is beyond this world. Jesus says that the one who loves his life in this world will never preserve his life in the world to come. Third, the act of serving the Lord is indeed following Him. Jesus says that the one who serves follows the path of pain and suffering like Him yet there will always be the reward of following Him; the servant will be where Jesus would be.
(Acts 10:34, 37-43; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9)
Easter Sunday marks the end of the Holy Week and the Beginning of the Easter season. It is the last or culminating event of the Gospel. It is the last day of the Easter Triduum and it commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is the longest celebrated feast of the Church because his resurrection is not only the greatest of all Christian feasts nor does it only confirm the prophecies of old and the fulfillment of the Father’s plan of salvation for mankind but it demonstrates man’s capacity to hope for God even in the midst of impending death especially in various forms of pain and suffering. Jesus is the primordial example who demonstrated that man is never alone when faced by challenges and tribulations. God is always present to those who trust in Him. Jesus hoped and expressed his desire to be with the Father while on the Cross when he shouted “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.” Jesus demonstrated vividly the nature of the heart of man when in pain, it cries out to the God who never abandons His people and a heart that is always heard and acknowledged. God raises up those who are bowed down, destroyed, abused, and pinned to death. Thus, when the disciples saw Jesus alive, they saw hope in life. God manifested the transition from pain to joy; death to life, and they had to announce that he was alive and truly risen. When they began to announce that Jesus is truly risen, their proclamation became the source of their service to Christ and they became servants of the Easter grace. The three readings today form a description of servanthood as the fruit of the Easter celebration.
3 Forms of Service for the Risen Lord
The first reading brings us back to the initial experience of the disciples of the Lord with regard to the resurrection. When Mary Magdalene discovered that the stone that used to cover the tomb has been rolled back, she ran to announce it to Peter and John. So both Peter and John also ran to check it out and saw only the burial cloths there. We were told that John immediately “saw and believed” that Jesus resurrected from the dead. Initial faith in the resurrection took place in four different aspects that shaped the nature of a witness namely: 1) to see. Jesus had stir up faith among his disciples by seeing. His resurrection served as His definitive sign his disciples could see that they may believe. We remember Jesus saying to those who were around Him when He healed the son of a royal official in Cana “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” (Jn 4:48). 2) to ran. Mary Magdalene ran to the other disciples and breathlessly announced: “I have seen the Lord!” (Jn 20:18). When the announcement came, the other disciples immediately “ran” to check what had happened. Running entails geographical considerations like distance, location, and peoples. Faith can never remain only a personal gift but an interpersonal grace. It suggests to be shared to others and thus entails distance and geographical dimensions. Faith travels and journeys to the other. 3) to believe. The resurrection of Christ was ultimately for faith. It is a faith that transforms and renews. True faith is a true encounter with the Lord. Benedict XVI, in his message for Easter in 2012 said that every Christian relives the experience of Mary Magdalene. It involves an encounter which changes our lives: the encounter with a unique Man who lets us experience all God’s goodness and truth, who frees us from evil not in a superficial and fleeting way, but sets us free radically, heals us completely and restores our dignity. This is why Mary Magdalene calls Jesus “my hope”: he was the one who allowed her to be reborn, who gave her a new future, a life of goodness and freedom from evil. “Christ my hope” means that all my yearnings for goodness find in him a real possibility of fulfillment: with him I can hope for a life that is good, full and eternal, for God himself has drawn near to us, even sharing our humanity. 4) to announce. The resurrection experience made the disciples announce what they saw that form the “Good News.” Easter is the feast of the new creation. It is now the “Good News” that one “cannot stop but speak” (Acts 4:20) about. It is a grace of new life, new perspective and a new imperative that will bring new faith and a new vision of God. John Paul II affirms “Faith is strengthened when it is given to others!” (RM 2)
The resurrection implies a new response from those who are witnesses to this. The journey is no longer to walk with Jesus like what He did in Nazareth, Jerusalem, Capernaum, the Decapolis, the lake of Tiberias, Caesarea Philippi, Cana, etc., but a journey of faith. In the second reading, St. Paul illustrated the direction of faith that comes from the grace of the resurrection: 1) it becomes an imperative to seek for the things that are above. 2) it makes one think of the things of Heaven and not to rely ultimately on the things of the earth, 3) it encourages a believer to journey to Christ where the mysteries of the Kingdom are hidden. The journey which the resurrection brings is a collective journey of faith. The witnesses of Christ form a collective group who announced that they saw the Lord and they boldly said “we are witnessed to these things.” Three times the word “witness” was emphasized in the first reading today. First, witnessing had something to do with the disciples’ knowledge about what Jesus said and done. Witnessing Jesus’ ministry was developing in them the idea about His identity. Second, witnessing became associated with vocation. Peter claimed that they were the chosen witnesses to be with Him. Third, witnessing is linked to the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. Jesus is the fulfillment of what the prophets bore witness to. The reason for this was the eternal life that is offered to those who will believe in Him.
Easter celebrates the victory of life of over death, love over hatred and indifference, mercy over vengeance. It is a grace that makes the believer’s faith born anew. It creates a new vision of celebrating God. To celebrate Easter becomes a new form of service to the Risen Lord. Peter and the other disciples recounted that one of the things Christ did with them after he rose from the dead was to celebrate the Eucharist. Jesus now becomes the new presider over the celebration revisiting the Last Supper. In the first reading we were told that Peter said to the crowd, Jesus did not appear to others “but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” To “eat and drink” indicated one of the first things Jesus did after His resurrection and this foreshadows the celebration of the “bread and wine.” The Eucharist becomes now the new celebration, a new Passover, and a new service. The new faith brought about by the Resurrection is manifested by the new way of celebrating Jesus presence through the appearances of Bread and Wine. The Bread and Wine is what Jesus makes of Himself which is now the new food for the new life journey of every man and woman of faith.