(Photo by Oleksandr P: pexel.com)

Fifth Sunday in Lent
“Laudato Si’ Journey – Sunday Gospel”


Sunday, March 17
Jn 12:20-33


We come to the fifth Sunday of Lent, in which we catch a glimpse of the twilight of the life of Jesus….. His Passover. Today’s passage is almost a condensed version of John’s gospel. Although we are in Chapter 12, the last day will be recounted throughout the next seven chapters. In this account we find what is missing from the fourth Gospel, the account of the Garden of Gethsemane.

The passage begins by saying “Now there were some Greeks.” A few lines earlier the Pharisees complained, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after him.” The whole world, including the Gentiles, want to know Jesus. They are not actual Jews but they are sympathizers, neither insiders nor specialists in the law. We, on the other hand are the Greeks, the converts who come to the feast in Jerusalem attracted by the masses without perhaps knowing the whole story. We are animated by the spirit of the people.

They do not go directly to Jesus just as perhaps none of us are called directly to him, but we nearly always look for intermediaries—be they priests, brothers, teachers or spiritual directors. The Greeks go to Philip, perhaps because his name is familiar (Φιλίππῳ is a Greek name) or perhaps he was one of the disciples present when John the Baptist pointed and said “Behold the lamb of God.” We, too, seek contact with those we consider familiar, those who inspire us with confidence. Philip goes to  Andrew, (Ἀνδρέᾳ, another Greek name) a disciple of the tenth hour. They go to Jesus together.

Jesus’ response throws us off guard. We are used to weighing cheques and balances and measuring success by results. Here, instead of rejoicing in the results of a successful mission, Jesus says to Philip and Andrew, “The hour has come.” Coming at the end of the gospel is the word ὥρα, the time, the hour that has marked the various moments of John’s narratives. At Cana he had said, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn. 2:4); to the Samaritan woman at the well he had said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth;” (Jn. 4:23); in Chapter 5 he had said: “the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (Jn. 5:25); they could not catch him, “but no one laid a hand upon him, because his hour had not yet come.” (Jn. 7:30). And on Jesus’ last day, it shall always be reiterated how the hour has come. What hour? The time of the cross, of glory.

The glory, the meaning of Jesus’ mission, can be seen in the grain of wheat. If we eat a grain, we eventually bite a seed. If the seed is planted, it dies, produces fruit, and we are satiated. That’s the difference. That is the gift of bearing fruit. It is not just dying for the sake of dying nor suffering for the sake of suffering, but it is giving up everything in order to bear fruit. The ultimate gesture of love. The whole passion that will be narrated from here on in John’s gospel is a tale of this grain of wheat dying. The Greeks want to see Jesus and He tells them that they will be able to see him when He is placed high up on the wooden cross.

“He who loves his life, loses it” is an expression that encapsulates the meaning of life, taking us back to the origins of God’s Creation. Why were we created? What is God’s dream for us? To love! But we must be careful what we want to love: the risk is to become selfish. Let us think of air, that absolutely precious commodity that none of us can do without for more than a few seconds, a commodity so precious that God offers it to us freely. Let us imagine that we want to take possession of this commodity, to store it and keep it only for ourselves. We would all end up asphyxiated! Similarly, without realizing it, when we withhold things and take possession of relationships and our common home, we end up losing everything. Francis of Assisi had found happiness in living without anything of his own. Francis hated his own life.

The consequence is a full life, rich in relationships, nurtured in service. “If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” How much dignity there is in these words and how many people serve God in silence. All this, as we well know, is no joke, and Jesus first wrestled with the very anguish of this hour. It is Gethsemane untold by John: “Now my soul is troubled.” We may not notice it, but all the elements we will later contemplate on Holy Thursday are there. There is the turmoil, as we said; there is the prayer to the Father, Abba, implored by throwing himself to the ground; there is the request to take away this cup, saying, “What shall I say, save me from this hour?“; there is the theme of the will, not mine but your will, when he says, “Father, glorify your name.” In his own way and in another time context, John also delivers the drama of the olive grove near Jerusalem.

The Transfiguration, another event not recounted in John’s gospel, is contained in the next scene, the voice coming from heaven which invites all of us by saying, “I have glorified him and will glorify him again!” As in the synoptic account, the Tabor event was not for the benefit of Jesus (He did not need to enter into dialogue with Moses and Elijah), but for the benefit of the three disciples who represent all our human limitations. Jesus, responding to the crowd who does not  really understand, explains the meaning of the cross… judgment of this world. We frequently imagine God as a judge ready to condemn but Jesus instead, shows us the face of the Father, lifted up on the wood of the cross

St. Francis of Assisi in the Canticle of the Creatures extols those who offer their lives for others when he sings, “Praised be you, my Lord, through those who give pardon for your love, and bear infirmity and tribulation. Blessed are those who endure in peace for by you, Most High, shall they be crowned.” (FF 263). It is no accident that the theme of coronation appears in Francis, inspired by the glorification of which the voice from heaven speaks.

We warmly wish you a lovely Sunday, as we journey toward the Lord’s Easter, accompanied by His word!

Laudato si’!