Lent Sunday 5 B The Hour has Come

From Fr. Tony Kadavil:
Readings


First Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Second Reading: Hebrews 6: 7-9
Gospel: John 12: 20-33


Anecdotes 


1) "I made a difference for that one." (Adapted and condensed from “The Star Thrower” – a story by Loren Eiseley (1907-1977), from the book Unexpected Universe): One day, a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, "What are you doing?" The boy replied, "Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going down. If I don't throw them back, they'll die." "Son," the man said, "don't you realized there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can't make a difference!" After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, "See? I made a difference for that one." "The Star Thrower" is a classic story of the power within each one of us to make a difference in the lives of others. Today’s gospel challenges us to make a difference in the lives of other people by our sacrificial service to those around us in the family, in the workplace and in a wider society.

 2) “Would you please occupy my room for the night?” One stormy night many years ago, a man in his forties and his wife from New York entered the lobby of a small hotel in Philadelphia. Trying to get out of the rain, the couple approached the front desk hoping to get some shelter for the night. "Could you possibly give us a room here?" the husband asked. The manager, a friendly man with a winning smile, looked at the couple and explained that there were three conventions in town. "All of our rooms are taken," the manager said. "But I can't send a nice couple like you out into the rain at one o'clock in the morning. Would you perhaps be willing to sleep in my room? It's not exactly a suite, but it will be good enough to make you folks comfortable for the night." When the couple declined, the Philadelphia manager pressed on. "Don't worry about me; I'll make out just fine," the manager told them. So the couple agreed. As he paid his bill the next morning, the New Yorker said to the manager, "You are the kind of manager who should be the boss of the best hotel in the United States. Maybe someday I will build one for you." The manager looked at them and smiled. The three of them had a good laugh. As they drove away, the couple agreed that the helpful manager was indeed exceptional, as finding people who are both friendly and helpful isn't easy. Two years passed. The Philadelphia manager had almost forgotten the incident when he received a letter. It was from the man, who recalled in it that stormy night and enclosed a round-trip ticket to New York so the manager could pay them a visit. The man from New York met him in airport. He then pointed to a great new building there, a palace of reddish stone, with turrets and watchtowers thrusting up to the sky. "That," said the New Yorker, "is the hotel I have just built for you to manage.” “You must be joking," the Philadelphia manager said. "I can assure you I am not," said the New Yorker, a sly smile playing around his mouth. The New Yorker’s name was William Waldorf Astor, and the magnificent structure was the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, one of the world's most glamorous hotels. The Philadelphia guy who became its first manager was George C. Boldt. Here is a striking proof of what Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, “If a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it produces much fruit.” Young George Boldt buried his own comfort and convenience by giving up his room. His sacrifice sprouted and brought forth the reward of becoming the manager of the most outstanding hotels in the world.


 


Introduction


 


Lent's fifth Sunday’s readings present us with a challenge. Just as Jesus became the “Promised Messiah of Glory” and the “Conquering Son of Man” by offering his life for others, we too can only possess heaven by dying to self and spending our lives in self-giving, sacrificial service. Today’s readings focus on the upcoming death of Jesus, which is interpreted not only as a priestly sacrifice (Heb 5), but also as the moment of his "exaltation" and "glorification" (Jn 12). The first reading, taken from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, explains how God will replace the Old Covenant of Judgment with a New Covenant of Forgiveness of Sins. This new, or renewed, covenant prophesied by Jeremiah has been fulfilled, at least in part, through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In the second reading, St. Paul tells the Hebrews that it is by His suffering and death, in obedience to His Father’s will, that Jesus established the New Covenant. Quoting the full text of Jeremiah 31:31-34, St. Paul explains that the new and better covenant was inaugurated through the high priest Jesus’ offering of himself as the one perfect sacrifice for sins. We cannot appreciate adequately the “blood of the new and everlasting covenant” that we share in the Eucharist without recognizing the joys and sufferings, triumphs and setbacks that marked the history of God’s covenant relationship with his people. Using metaphors of the “sown wheat grain” and the “spent life” in today’s gospel, Jesus teaches the same lesson. The gospel hints at Jesus’ inner struggle in accepting the cup of suffering to inaugurate the new and everlasting covenant. However, Jesus accepts the cross as his “hour,” meaning the stepping stone to his passion, death, resurrection and exaltation. Further, he considers his “hour” as the way of glorifying his heavenly Father and of being glorified by his Father. It is also the way by which he draws all people into the saving action of God. In addition, the “lifting up” of Jesus is the assurance of our own exaltation and glorification, provided we accept our crosses.


 


First reading, Jeremiah 31:31-34


 


Jeremiah lived from about 650 BC to perhaps 580 BC Most of his work was in Judah's capital, Jerusalem. Called by God as a young man, Jeremiah lived through the tragic years preceding and succeeding the ruin of the kingdom of Judah. In 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem and deported part of its population to Babylon (Iraq). A second Judean revolt brought back the Chaldean armies once again, and in 587 BC, Jerusalem was captured, the Temple burnt and more of the inhabitants deported. When Jerusalem fell, Jeremiah remained in Palestine with his friend Gadaliah whom the Chaldeans had appointed governor. When Gadaliah was assassinated, a party of Jews, fearing reprisals, fled to Egypt, taking Jeremiah with them. It is probable that he died there.


Jeremiah lived as God’s messenger through these catastrophic events by preaching, prophesying disaster, and vainly admonishing the incompetent Davidic kings. He tried to keep the people, the priests and the kings faithful to God in an atmosphere of political intrigue. He was blunt in his words, and although some passages in today's reading seem gentle, in his confrontations with erring people, priests and kings, Jeremiah was always firm and strong. He asked questions and supplied answers: Why was there a need for God to make a new covenant? It was because the people, priests and kings had broken the original one. How would the new covenant be different from the old? It would be written on the hearts of the people and, hence, could not be erased by cowardly leaders. Why would there be no need for teachers in the new covenant? Because the present teachers -- the priests and kings -- had failed miserably. The passage reads as follows: "I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts.” This new covenant does not abolish the earlier covenants with Noah, Abraham and Moses. These covenants are really different, earlier stages in the history of the one great covenant between the one God and His people. Jeremiah’s hope for a new or renewed covenant has been fulfilled, at least in part, through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.


 


Second Reading, Hebrews 5:7-9


 


This passage from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews is chosen to fit today’s gospel which contains an ominous prediction of Jesus’ passion, and some details of Jesus’ prayer to his Father. The verses preceding these describe the priests of ancient Judaism, and then describe Jesus as the priest of the new covenant. Today's verses expand on that theme of Jesus as God's Son and at the same time emphasize his human nature (learning obedience through suffering, thus made perfect). They also indicate his superiority to the priests of his day in that He "became the source of eternal salvation" to others. Since Jesus suffered and prayed with tears to be saved from death, he can sympathize with our sufferings. Since Jesus knows our human condition and is touched by our anguish and distress, he pleads with God the Father on our behalf.


 


Exegesis


 


Context


 


Some Greek pilgrims who were either new converts to Judaism or mere “truth-seekers,” were greatly impressed by the royal reception given to Jesus on Palm Sunday and by the subsequent cleansing of the Temple by Jesus. Hence, they approached the apostle Philip who had a Greek name and requested a private interview with the Master. Jesus uses the occasion to declare that he is the “Son of Man” prophesied by Daniel, and that his time of glorification is at hand. He immediately corrects the false notion of a political messiah by stating that he will be glorified by his suffering, death and resurrection.


The hour of glorification for the “Son of Man”: The “hour” Jesus refers to is his time for glorifying his heavenly Father and of being glorified by his Father. It is also the means by which he draws all people into the saving action of God. Jesus’ being “lifted up” on the cross to glorify his Father reminds us that we, too, can glorify God by wholeheartedly accepting our crosses from our loving heavenly Father.


The term “Son of Man” (translated as “a son of man” by the RSV), is taken from Daniel 7:13. The seventh chapter begins with the description of a frightening vision of Daniel in which he sees the cruel and savage world powers of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes and the Persians as wild beasts – a winged lion, a bear with three tusks, a four -headed leopard and a terrible, ten-horned wild beast. At last, Daniel sees a gentle, humane and gracious ruler in the form of a man. The Jews, under repeated foreign rulers and bondages, dreamed of such a God-sent ruler and preferred to call this “promised Messiah” by the title “Son of Man.” In the apocryphal Book of Enoch, this Jewish dream of a world conqueror is clearly stated. It was only natural that the apostles shared this view and consequently saw in Jesus the “Son of Man.” Jesuspromptly corrected them, however, replacing their dream of conquest and political power with a vision of His cross and suffering.


The metaphors of the “dying grain of wheat” and of “surrendered life”: Jesus explains to his apostles that it is by his suffering and death that he is bringing life and liberation to the sinful world, just as a grain of wheat sown in the field ceases to remain itself, “just a seed,” by germinating and then growing into a plant which produces many new grains of wheat. In the same way, it is by the self-sacrificial lives of holy men and women that life and salvation come to mankind. In other words, when we "die" to our selfishness, we "rise" to new life in Jesus Christ. To be “buried in the earth” means avoiding sin, accepting suffering and living for others.


 


Life messages :


 


1) To receive new life and eternal life we need to die to ourselves through suffering and service. Salt delivers its taste by dissolving in water; a candle gives light by having its wax melted and its wick consumed. The oyster produces a priceless pearl through a long and painful process. Loving parents sacrifice themselves so that their children can enjoy a better life than they themselves have had. We need to pray for this self-sacrificial spirit, especially during Lent.


 


2) Only a life spent for others will be glorified here in this world and in heaven. We know that the world owes everything to people who have spent their time and talents for God and for their fellow human beings. Mother Teresa, for instance, at the invitation of Jesus, gave up her comfortable teaching career and, with just 17 cents in her pocket, began her challenging life for the “poorest of the poor” in the crowded streets of Calcutta. Thus she became, in the words of the Secretary General of the U.N., “the most powerful woman in the world.” We see similar cases in the histories of great saints, scientists and benefactors of mankind in all walks of life.


 


3) It is better to burn out than to rust out. This is one of the pieces of advice Jesus gives us repeatedly (Mark 8:35; Matthew 16:25; 10:39; Luke 9:24; 17:33). Bernard Shaw in his play, Joan of Arc, shows the saint as praying: “Lord I shall last a year; use me as you can.” Many charitable foundations and research institutions are financed by generous millionaires who have understood this great principle of life (e.g. The Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill Gates Foundation for AIDS Research), though others selfishly keep their God-given wealth and talents for themselves. Let us learn to live this Lenten period “burning out,” spending our time and talents for others around us by humble, selfless, self-giving service. “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can” (John Wesley).


 


Additional Anecdotes


 


1) "All you have to do is to add water: Years ago, when General Mills first began marketing the Betty Crocker cake mixes, they offered a product which only needed water. All you had to do was add water to the mix which came in the box, and you would get a perfect, delicious cake every time. It bombed. No one bought it and the company couldn't understand why, so they commissioned a study which brought back a surprising answer. It seemed that people weren't buying the cake mix because it was too easy. They didn't want to be totally excluded from the work of preparing a cake; they wanted to feel that they were contributing something to it. So the company changed the Betty Crocker formula and required the customer to add an egg as well as water. Immediately, the new cake mix was a huge success. Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake when it comes to "packaging" or presenting the Christian religion. They try to make the call of Jesus Christ as easy as possible because they're afraid people won't "buy" it if it seems too hard. You hear this expressed all the time by popular religion, in everything from well-known gospel songs and best-selling books to earnest evangelists standing on your doorstep. "All you have to do is tell Jesus you love Him. All you have to do is accept Him as your personal Lord and Savior. All you have to do is pray to Saint Jude and put an ad in the newspaper classifieds. All you have to do is ask for what you want in the name of Jesus and it will be done for you.” Whenever you hear someone say "All you have to do" in relation to Christian faith, all you have to do is walk away as fast as you can! You don't want to buy a religion where you don't even have to break an egg, where it's all pre-mixed for you in the box. That kind of faith has an immediate appeal, but it lacks the depth to sustain you over the long haul of Christian living. Jesus did not "package" Himself in this way. Jesus said a number of things about the blessings of faith, and He talked about asking in order to receive, but He never presented the overall Christian life as being particularly easy as described in today’s gospel


 


2)”Hoc feci pro te; quid fecisti pro me?” When Count Nicholas Zinzendorf was a young man, he had an experience in an art gallery that changed his life forever. He was born an aristocrat and had always known wealth and luxury, and he was an extremely gifted individual. Zinzendorf had been reared and trained for a diplomatic career in the Court at Dresden. Beyond all of this, it has been said of him that he was a child of God. One day, on a trip to Paris, he stopped for a rest in Düsseldorf; during his stay in the city, he visited the art gallery. There he caught sight of Sternberg's painting of the crucified Jesus that he calls "Ecce Homo." The artist had written two short lines in Latin beneath the painting: Hoc feci pro te: Quid fecisti pro me? ("This is what I did for you: what have you done for Me?") As the story goes, when his eyes met the eyes of the thorn-crowned Savior, he was filled with a sense of shame. He could not answer that question in a manner which would satisfy his own conscience. He stayed there for hours, looking at the painting of the Christ on the cross until the light failed. And when the time arrived for the gallery to be closed, he was still staring at the face of Christ, trying in vain to find an answer to the question of what he had done for Christ. He left the gallery at nightfall, but a new day was dawning for him. From that day on, he devoted his heart and soul, his life and his wealth - all that he had - to Christ, declaring, "I have but one passion; it is Jesus, Jesus only." The sight of the crucified One "high and lifted up" on the Tree made a sudden and permanent change in his life, and the resurrection bore fruit then and there in his heart and soul. [Weatherhead, Leslie D. Key Next Door - and Other London City Temple Sermons. (New York and Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1960).] So it is, then, that the crucified Jesus "draws all people to himself,” as stated in today’s gospel - because the cross concentrates the love and mercy of God the Father into one tremendous event, Jesus' death and resurrection.


 


3) Sacrifice of Olympic champions: When we watch the Olympics, what do we see but young athletes who have made enormous sacrifices over the years? They have sacrificed a normal childhood for countless hours of hard work, pain and solitary training, and they have done it all just for that moment when they would stand on the winner's platform at the Olympic Games. If few of us are Olympians, many of us are parents, and what is parenthood but a whole slew of sacrifices? You sacrifice all of your privacy and a piece of your sanity. You sacrifice a neat, orderly environment in which to live, where things stay just where you left them. You make a huge financial sacrifice - between children and taxes, you're lucky to have a dollar in your pocket at the end of the day - but you do it all for the sake of something which money can't buy. In these and in many other ways, we are perfectly used to the idea of losing one thing in order to gain something else. It all makes me wonder: if we are so willing to sacrifice and even suffer for things which matter for us in our worldly lives, why shouldn't we do even more for the sake of our spiritual lives? Why should we shy away from the full meaning of what Jesus said in today’s gospel: "If you love your life you will lose it, but if you hate your life in this world, you will gain it for eternal life."


 


4) “They do come to you, but you do not hear them.” In George Bernard Shaw’s play St. Joan, which is about Joan of Arc, Joan tells of hearing God’s messages. She is talking to King Charles. Charles doesn’t appreciate this crazy lady in armor who insists on leading armies. He’s threatened by her. He says, “Oh, your voices, your voices, always your voices. Why don’t the voices come to me? I am king, not you.” Joan replies, “They do come to you, but you do not hear them. You have not sat in the field in the evening listening for them. When the Angelus rings . . . you cross yourself and have done with it. But, if you prayed from your heart and listened to the trilling of the bells in the air after they stop ringing, you would hear the voices as well as I do.” [Bruce Larson, My Creator, My Friend (Waco: Word Books Publisher, 1986).] Joan heard the voice of God; the king, if he heard anything at all, heard only thunder. Why? Because she was listening for that voice. Some people are so disconnected from God that they never hear God’s voice, as described in today’s gospel.


 


5) “Are you a philosopher?” Two men went up in a hot-air balloon one May morning. Suddenly they were enveloped by clouds and lost track of where they were. They drifted for what seemed like hours. Finally the cloud parted, and they spotted a man below them on the ground. “Where are we?” one of the passengers hollered down. The man on the ground looked around, looked up at the balloon, looked around some more and then yelled back, “You’re in a balloon.” The two balloonists looked at one another and then one of them yelled down again, “Are you a philosopher?” “Yes,” the man hollered up from below.


The other balloonist said, “How did you know he was a philosopher?” His friend replied, “No one else could give an answer so quickly that’s so logical and yet tells you so little about where you are and where you want to be!” (Donald J. Shelby). Jesus was not a philosopher. He did deal in paradox, which is a favorite tool of philosophers, in seeking truth. Yet, he had a way of using the simplest examples from daily life to make plain the truth of his paradoxes. In today’s gospel Jesus uses the paradox: We must die if we want to live.


 


6) "Doctors' dilemma: The ethics of not prolonging life." A sign of our times appeared in recent newspaper headlines: Benjamin Weiser, a Washington Post reporter, wrote: "For eight weeks in 1979, Frederick Schwab, a 25-year-old medical student training in a Pennsylvania hospital cancer ward, braced himself each time he entered the rooms of his five dying patients. Especially Sarah's." Sarah was dying a slow, painful death. "Her tiny, darkened room smelled of decay. Her pain seemed the worst. Her cheeks were sunken. She lay motionless in her bed, staring at the ceiling, whimpering as Schwab gingerly searched for one more vein from which to draw blood." Weiser says, "It wasn't until the ninth week, Schwab recalls, that he saw a strip of yellow tape on her door." It had been there all along, but Schwab had not noticed it. The nurse whom he asked about it told him that it was a "no code" sign, and that "no code patients were not to be saved when their hearts stopped or their lungs failed. A decision had been made in advance," she said, "that the hospital resuscitation team, called the 'code team,' was not to be summoned."1 No one had ever told him about that. Schwab, almost by accident, learned that not all patients receive the full benefit of medical knowledge; those who are terminally ill may be allowed to die. A life-and-death decision has been made for them; their ultimate fate has been taken out of their hands. That is the "doctors' dilemma": who should be kept alive and who should be permitted to die without employing extraordinary means to keep them alive a bit longer? Jesus faced no such dilemma as described in today’s gospel. The choice was his to make, not that of others. Not Herod's, not Caiaphas', not the other priests' - it was his to determine his own fate when he was in the very prime of life. Only by dying (there was no other way), could the Father's purpose for him and his life be completed.


7) Lance Armstrong endured the pain by focusing on just completing each day's journey. One hero who has captured the attention of our world is cyclist Lance Armstrong. Armstrong overcame such great odds. He not only won his battle against cancer, but he won one of sport's premier showcases of determination and endurance, the Tour de France bicycle race, for a record seventh time. Armstrong is not alone among determined cyclists. Let me tell you about another man whose dedication equals that of Lance Armstrong. In the 2003 Tour de France, American cyclist Tyler Hamilton suffered a fractured collarbone when another cyclist slid and fell in front of the pack, causing a crash that involved thirty-five other riders. Collarbone injuries are notoriously painful, and they heal slowly because the collarbone cannot be isolated and immobilized by a cast. No one expected Hamilton to return to the race. But the following morning, Tyler Hamilton set out on the next leg of the Tour de France. Against all predictions, he finished the race. How tough was it? According to one report, the pain was so great that he destroyed eleven of his teeth from gritting them so hard. This feat of finishing with a broken collarbone was so unprecedented that competitors demanded proof of Hamilton's injury. His doctors had to release his X-rays to the newspapers in order to prove that Hamilton really had ridden this grueling race with a broken collarbone. Hamilton explained that he endured the pain by focusing on just completing each day's journey. [John Eliot, Ph.D. Overachievement (New York: Portfolio, 2004), pp. 129-130]. Can you even imagine that? Hurting so bad that he destroyed eleven teeth from gritting them so hard. That reminds me of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane while sweat like great drops of blood rolled off of him. Of course, Jesus was not trying to win a bicycle race. He was winning our souls. But we read about such determination as Tyler Hamilton's, and it says to us that this is what it takes to be successful in this world, whether you are building a career or a family or a life. Are you willing to give your all? Then we come to these words of our Lord found in John's Gospel, "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." And deep in our bones we realize that Jesus is talking about a way of life that doesn't stop at the Mediocre Inn.


 


8) "Will I do?" In 1992, the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl with an explosive victory over the Buffalo Bills. Seventy-five thousand people gathered on the mall between the Capitol and the Washington Monument to cheer their team and Coach. Four days later, Chuck Colson called the Redskins' office to see if any football players could attend a rally at a prison the next day. Many of the players had given their lives to Christ. Joe Gibbs the head coach answered the phone and told Colson that all the players had left the city for a well-deserved rest. With his characteristic humility, Joe Gibbs asked Colson, "Will I do?" Colson immediately accepted the offer by the coach of the championship Washington Redskins. Five days after winning the Super Bowl, Joe Gibbs could have opened any door in Washington, DC, but he was willing to walk behind the locked steel doors of the penitentiary for the District of Columbia to speak to men about his faith in Christ. Joe Gibbs stood up to speak to the cheers, whistles and applause of 500 prisoners five days after he had won the most prestigious event in pro sports. He told those men: "A lot of people in the world would probably look at me and say: ‘Man, if I could just coach in the Super Bowl, I'd be happy and fulfilled...’ But I'm here to tell you, it takes something else in your life besides money, position, football, power, and fame. The vacuum in each of our lives can only be filled through a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Otherwise, I'm telling you, we'll spend the rest of our lives in a meaningless existence. I've seen it in football players' eyes, and I've seen it in men who are on their deathbed. There's nothing else that will fill the vacuum." [Chuck Colson, The Body (Dallas TX: Word, 1992), 377.]


 


9) “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound!” One man who learned what there is to lose and gain was an eighteenth century slave-trader named John Newton. Captain of a trans-Atlantic slaving ship, he had everything this world can offer as he made a lucrative living from the brutal business of buying and selling human cargo. Eventually, he was confronted by Jesus Christ, and he was converted to the gospel truth which makes us free (John 8:32). He spent the rest of his life crusading to abolish the very business which had proven so materially enriching. He also wrote a number of great hymns, including a familiar one which goes:


“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound! That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found, Was blind, but now I see.” Once, John Newton thought that he was on top of the world, but in truth, he was wretched and blind. He lacked the moral clarity to see that he was nothing more than a cynical businessman making money in an evil enterprise; he was allowing the agnostic's law of supply and demand to separate him from his Christian conscience. Then Jesus came along, and the old John Newton died. A new John Newton was born. An old life was lost, and a new one was found, a new life whose melodic fruit remains with us to this day. What about yourself? What have you got to lose? You've got to die to yourself in order to live with Christ! You've got to sacrifice and give up to gain! So what about it? What have you got to lose? What about selfishness? Shouldn't we lose that narrow-minded little love which only extends to family and friends?


 


10) Peace on earth for sale at Jesus’ shop: There was once a woman who wanted peace in the world and peace in her heart. But she was very frustrated-- the world seemed to be falling apart. She would read the papers and get depressed. One day she decided to go shopping, and picked a store at random. She walked into the store and was surprised to see Jesus behind the counter. She knew it was Jesus, because he looked just like the pictures she’d seen on holy cards and in devotional paintings. At last she got up her nerve and asked, “Excuse me, are you Jesus?” “I am.” “Do you work here?” “No,” Jesus said, “I own the store.” "What do you sell?” “Oh, just about anything! Feel free to walk up and down the aisles, make a list of things you want, and when you come back and I will see what I can do for you.” The lady walked up and down the aisles and saw all sorts of things she wanted: peace on earth, no more war, no hunger or poverty, peace in families, no more drugs, clean air, and careful use of resources. She made a list of the things she wanted. By the time she got back to the counter, Jesus read through the list, looked at her and smiled. “No problem,” he said. Then he bent down behind the counter and picked up a number of small packets. “What are these?” she asked. “Seed packets," Jesus replied. "This is a catalogue store.” In surprise, she said: “You mean I don’t get the finished product?” “No," he answered. "This is a place of dreams. When you choose what you want, I give you the seeds. You plant the seeds and watch them grow. There is one catch, however: you will not receive the benefit of your good work -- others will.” “Oh,” she said with disappointment. "Then I'm not interested." And she left the store without buying anything. Today’s gospel instructs us to bury ourselves in the soil of life by selflessly and sacrificially spending our lives for the temporal and spiritual welfare of others just as Jesus did.


 


11) “How could you pick up the sound of a cricket in all this noise?” There is a time-honored story about an old farmer who was persuaded by his nephew to visit the big city. The young man proudly took the farmer on a tour of the large metropolis. At one point as they walked down the street the old man suddenly stopped and asked, “Did you hear that?” The young man looked at the milling pedestrians and the traffic and replied, “Hear what?” “A cricket,” the old man said as he walked toward a little tuft of grass growing out of a crack next to a tall building. Sure enough, there tucked in the crack was a cricket. The young man was amazed. “How could you pick up the sound of a cricket in all this noise?” he asked. The old farmer didn’t say a word and just reached into his pocket, pulled out a couple of coins and dropped them on the sidewalk. Immediately a number of people began to reach for their pockets or look down at the sidewalk. The old man observed, “We hear what our ears are trained to hear.” Psychologist Ellen Langer says that many people are so preoccupied with their daily tasks that they rarely listen to those around them. Today’s gospel presents a few Greek visitors who came, eager to meet and listen to Jesus.


 


SYNOPSIS FOR LENT V (MARCH 25) ON JN 12:20-33


 


Introduction


 


Today’s readings focus on the upcoming death of Jesus, which Paul considers as a priestly sacrifice and John considers as the moment of Jesus’ "exaltation" and "glorification." They offer us a challenge. Just as Jesus became the “Promised Messiah of Glory” and the “Conquering Son of Man” by offering his life for others, we, too, can only possess heaven by dying to self and by spending our lives in self-giving, sacrificial service.


Scripture Lessons


The first reading from the book of the prophet Jeremiah explains how God replaced the Old Covenant of Judgment with a New Covenant of Forgiveness of Sins. This new, or renewed, covenant prophesied by Jeremiah was fulfilled, at least in part, through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In the second reading, St. Paul tells the Hebrews that it is by his suffering and death, in obedience to his Father’s will, that Jesus established the New Covenant. Using metaphors of the “sown wheat grain” and the “spent life” in today’s gospel, Jesus teaches the same lessons St. Paul does. The gospel hints at Jesus’ inner struggle in accepting the cup of suffering to inaugurate the new and everlasting covenant. However, Jesus accepts the cross as his “hour,” meaning the stepping stone to his passion, death, resurrection and exaltation. He considers his “hour” the way of glorifying his heavenly Father and of being glorified by his Father. It is also the way by which he draws all people into the saving action of God. In addition, the “lifting up” of Jesus on the cross, and later into heavenly glory by His resurrection and ascension, is the assurance of our own exaltation and glorification, provided we accept our crosses.


 


Life Messages


 


1) Today’s gospel teaches us that to receive new life and eternal life we need to die to ourselves through suffering and service. Salt gives its taste by dissolving in water. A candle gives light by having its wax melted and its wick consumed. The oyster produces a priceless pearl by transforming a grain of sand in a long and painful process. Loving parents sacrifice themselves so that their children can enjoy a better life than they themselves had. Let us pray for the gift of this self-sacrificial spirit, especially during Lent.


2) Only a life spent for others will be glorified here in this world and in heaven. We know that the world owes everything to people who spend their time and talents for God and for their fellow human beings. Mother Teresa, for instance, gave up her comfortable teaching career, and with just 17 cents in her pocket began her challenging life for the “poorest of the poor” in the crowded streets of Calcutta. We see similar cases in the history of great saints, scientists and benefactors of mankind in all walks of life. They preferred to burn out rather than to rust out. Examples are the Rockefeller Foundation for scientific progress and the Bill Gates Foundation for AIDS Research. We need to spend ourselves for others.


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From sermons.com
Sermons for March 25

John 12:20-33 - "When a Grain of Wheat Falls"
John 12:20-33 - "Get Out of Your Big Pickup Truck"

 Years ago, when the Betty Crocker Company first began selling their cake mixes, they offered a product which only needed water. All you had to do was add water to the mix which came in the box, and you would get a perfect, delicious cake every time.

It bombed. No one bought it and the company couldn't understand why, so they commissioned a study which brought back a surprising answer. It seemed that people weren't buying the cake mix because it was too easy. They didn't want to be totally excluded from the work of preparing a cake; they wanted to feel that they were contributing something to it. So, Betty Crocker changed the formula and required the customer to add an egg in addition to water. Immediately, the new cake mix was a huge success. Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake when it comes to "packaging" or presenting the Christian religion. They try to make the call of Jesus Christ as easy as possible because they're afraid people won't "buy it" if it seems too hard.


Jesus said, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it bears much fruit. Jesus then explained what he meant. He said, "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it." It's true in life isn't it? If we are going to get anything out of it we have to invest ourselves in it. Do you remember the second to last album by the Beatles? It was called "Abbey Road" and for my money it was their best. The last song is a little musical reprise called "The End." It's the last lyrical statement the Beatles make on the album. And it went, "And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make."

The truth of this is written in creation. It is evident for everyone to see. It even is found in something as small as grain of wheat, a seed. Jesus said,

1. First, when a grain of wheat falls it dies.
2. Second, when a grain of wheat falls it bears much fruit.
3. Finally, Christ is the grain of wheat that dies and bears much fruit.

A few years ago, just before Thanksgiving, Tom Lind, a salesman from Montana, was making his rounds, traveling his regular route along the southern Oregon coast. As usual he was in his older model pickup, piggybacked with his small camper. Looking to continue his route south and east, Lind made a fateful spur-of-the-moment decision. He opted to take the scenic route. Only a few miles on this blue highway, however, the elevation rose rapidly and good ol' Oregon drizzle transformed into swirling snowflakes. Tom was in his big pickup, so he kept going. But the snow kept coming. Soon Tom found himself in the middle of a blizzard whiteout.

Forced to pull over, Tom stopped for the rest of the day. By nightfall his pickup was a slightly discernible lump of white in a vast landscape of snow. Still Tom wasn't terribly worried. He was in his big pickup Soon the road-clearing crews would be along and would help him escape the cold clutches that held him and his truck captive.

What Tom didn't realize was that the scenic route he had chosen was closed after the first winter snowfalls. The Forest Service didn't maintain that road in any way. They would not be coming up that way until spring thaw.

But Tom didn't know that. Convinced that someone would be along as soon as there was a break in the weather, Tom determined to do the smart thing: stay in his big truck. Avoid the risks of exposure or getting hopelessly lost in a snow drift by hunkering down in his big truck.

As soon as he failed to arrive at his next sales appointment, family and friends, state and local police forces began searching for Tom. No one thought to venture up the little used, completely snow-blocked back track Tom had chosen. When the weather cleared and blue skies and sun shone down on Tom's trapped vehicle, the salesman opted to continue being smart and safe: he stayed with his big truck.

It seems impossible to understand now, but Tom stayed with that big truck for over eight weeks. He kept a journal of his thoughts, his hopes, his fears, his considered options. But still he sat in that big truck. Eventually he grew too weak to have any real options anymore. By Christmas he couldn't have walked out if he had wanted.

At the end of January a group of back-country skiers inadvertently came across Tom and his safe haven big pickup truck. Tom's journal revealed he had finally died sometime around January 15. His emaciated, dehydrated body was still in his truck. In trying to minimize his risks, Tom thought he was opting to stay safe. It turned out Tom was opting out of life.

Life is risky business. Right now we may be focused on those who are standing at risk as members of the armed forces. But the truth of creation is that all of us stand in harm's way every day of our lives. We may no longer think of ourselves as part of the food chain. But the truth is the mere fact we're breathing puts us on the list to someday NOT be breathing.

Like Tom and his big pickup truck, we may believe that seat belts, FDA regulations, security alerts, and smoke detectors can keep us safe. But the truth is we're fragile, fallible, fractured creatures whose lives are always hanging in the balance. Every one of us is only one breath away from eternity. Five seconds is all that separates us from forever.

Getting stuck on a snowy road is an experience with which all of us can identify. So too is the example Jesus gave his listeners of the wheat grain. Just as we're (almost) all drivers, so was Jesus' audience almost all farmers. The weaknesses and fallibilities of a car-the weaknesses and fallibilities of a crop-these are common, personal, everyday information. The organic nature of the wheat grain led to Jesus' natural rendition of the conclusion: the grain of wheat would either submit itself to death--falling into the fertile ground voluntarily--or would experience dying on the vine. When the wheat grain falls into that fertile ground, it is then, and only then, assured of a new starting point in life...