Bulletin: March 21, 2021
Fifth Sunday of Lent
The prophet Jeremiah, in today’s first reading, is looking beyond the often-messy history of Israel and Judah to a time when the people will no longer be disobedient to God, because God’s law will be “written on their hearts”—that is, their natural inclinations and desires will be oriented toward God’s will. The psalmist gives voice to the sorrow that Israel and Judah experienced in their separation from God “Have mercy on me, O God . . . A clean heart create for me.” According to Saint Paul, the earthly Jesus, “son though he was,” like his ethnic ancestors, he “learned obedience from what he suffered.” The Gospel reading is part of Jesus’ discourses not long before the Last Supper. Instead of a social encounter with Philip’s friends who had come to see him, Jesus is grappling with his approaching death and its ultimate meaning for the world.
JEREMIAH: LOOKING BEYOND EXILE AND SUFFERING
The readings today remind us how close we are to Easter—only two weeks from now. They also remind us that the path to resurrection and Easter always includes suffering and death. The prophet Jeremiah spent his whole life proclaiming the word of God to kings who would not listen. As an old man, he saw Jerusalem defeated and the inhabitants taken into exile. Jeremiah himself suffered in being left behind, but in today’s reading, he is looking beyond those sufferings to a time when the previously disobedient people would be transformed and live in harmony with God’s law.
LOOKING FOR JESUS, FINDING THE CROSS
In the Gospel reading, friends of Philip come to him and ask about meeting Jesus. When Philip and Andrew take the request to Jesus, he begins a cryptic discourse on discipleship, transformation, and divine judgment. We never hear whether Philip’s friends got to personally meet Jesus. Perhaps they simply blended in with the crowd.
Jesus says, “[W]hen I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” The narrator says that Jesus’ words indicate how he will die; the readers already know Jesus will be crucified. Jesus also speaks of divine judgment driving out the world’s rulers and of the need to be transformed, like a seed growing into a productive plant. He warns about loving our life and losing it. Unlike Jeremiah’s detailed vision, Jesus only hints at what kind of transformed life his death will bring.
What if we, like Philip’s friends, want to get close to Jesus? Does that mean that the discourse on death and judgment is addressed to us? If Jesus will draw everyone to himself as he is “lifted up,” does being closer to him mean joining him on his cross? (Do we want to be that close to Jesus?) Do we want to be transformed? If we say “yes,” the liturgy these next two weeks can show us the only way the Church knows to get closer to Jesus: to be willing to be “lifted up” with him in his suffering—and in our own.