5th SUNDAY OF LENT (Cycle B)

Readings:
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalms 51:3-4, 12-15
Hebrews 5:7-9
John 12:20-33

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: A New Covenant for Transformed New Lives
Today's readings are filled with hope and promise.  "The days are coming" (First Reading), Jeremiah prophesizes, and Jesus announces the "hour has come" (Gospel Reading).  The New and final Covenant God promised to Jeremiah is made in the "hour" of Jesus' Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father.  Jeremiah writes that this New Covenant will initiate the return of Israel's exiled people from the ends of the earth (Jer 31:1, 3-4, 7-8), and will create a new heart in God's New Covenant people (Jer 31:33).  Jesus' "hour" will bring about a New Covenant in His Blood (Lk 22:20) in which God's people will "worship ... in spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:23).  And all nations will look to Christ when He is "lifted up" on the Cross for their salvation (Jn 12:32).  But Jesus isn't only referring to His coming crucifixion (Jn 3:14-15); He is also referring to His ascension when He will be raised high and greatly exalted (Is 52:3) as Davidic kings were elevated above their subjects (1 Mac 8:13).  The Lord will create in His spiritually reborn people a "clean heart" (Psalms Reading) in the Sacrament of Baptism, and will welcome them into a New and eternal Covenant through the One who became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Second Reading).

The First Reading Jeremiah 31:31-34 ~ The Prophecy of a New Covenant
31 The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  32 It 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; for they broke my covenant, and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD.  33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD.  I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  34 No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD.  All, from the least to the greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

The words of this prophecy are central to Jeremiah's message.  It is a prophecy that has a profound impact on the New Testament and on Christian teaching.  The promised "New Covenant" is more than a political or national restoration of the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah.  It will bring about a universal, spiritual restoration of all God's covenant people (Jer 31:1, 3-4, 7-8, 34). 

The prophecy of a New Covenant is presented in two parts:

  1. Part I in verse 32 describes the Old Sinai Covenant that has been broken by Israel's sins.
  2. Part II in verses 33-34 speaks forcefully of the New Covenant which will forgive sins and is destined to endure forever.

In verse 32 the Old Sinai Covenant is described as having three key characteristics:

  1. It was a covenant made "with the fathers" and therefore carried the force of tradition (verse 32a).
  2. It was a sign of Israel's divine election in the Exodus liberation (verse 32b).
  3. It showed Yahweh's divine authority as the Master over His people (verse 32c).

The promised New Covenant also has three key characteristics:

  1. It is "new" and unlike the "old" that was dependent on external acts of obedience, it will bring about an interior, heart-transforming change.  It is not written on stone but on the hearts of believers (verse 33).
  2. It is "new" because no previous covenant will be able to compare with it.  It is definitive and will not be superseded; it is eternal (verse 34).
  3. It is "new" in that sins will be forgiven not through animal sacrifice but by God Himself.

Jesus' New Covenant is the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy.  His Passion will call together the dispersed children of God as prophesied by Isaiah (Is 66:18-21) and will even gather in the Gentiles, as prophesied by Simeon at Jesus' Temple dedication (Lk 2:32).  But unlike the Old Sinai covenant that was ratified in the blood of sacrificed animals (Ex 24:3-8), Jesus instituted this New Covenant in His Blood.  At the Last Supper, He told those assembled for the meal "this cup is the new covenant in my blood" (Lk 22:20; repeated by Paul in 1 Cor 15:25).  He accomplished the fulfilling of the Old and the inauguration of the New as He shed His blood on the altar of the Cross.  In one of His last statements from the Cross, Jesus pronounced the Old Covenant "fulfilled/finished" (Jn 19:30; Heb 8:12).  The New Covenant community of the faithful was baptized by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus' Ascension.  This New Covenant community of God taught their brothers and their neighbors (Jer 31:34), forming a holy New Covenant people made up of Jews and Gentiles and making them one, not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit of God.

Responsorial Psalms 51:3-4, 12-15 ~ Lament of a Repentant Sinner
The response is: "Create a clean heart in me, O God."
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.  4 Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me.
Response:
12 A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.  13 Cast me not out from your presence, and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
Response:
14 Give me back the joy of your salvation and a willing spirit sustain in me.  15 I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners shall return to you.
Response:

This psalm, attributed to David, is the most famous of the seven Penitential Psalms.  The psalmist expresses his heart-felt contrition for his sins and his deeply felt desire to reconcile himself with the Lord.  He begins his prayer by acknowledging that he is a sinner and asking God to take away his sins that have damaged his relationship with his Lord (verse 3-4).  Verses 12-13 focus on God's grace.  More than simply wiping the slate clean of his confessed transgressions the psalmist seeks nearness to God.  He seeks a profound change of heart, similar to the relationship between God and His people described in Jeremiah 31:33-34 in the First Reading (written 5 centuries after David).  He asks God to restore him with God's own Spirit so he will be allowed to dwell in the presence of God and to have a place in the future salvation.  Restored to fellowship/nearness with God brings him the authority to teach other sinners about God's grace and mercy and to encourage them to repent and return to fellowship with God (verses 14-15). 

The Second Reading Hebrews 5:7-9 ~ Jesus the Obedient Son
7 In the days when Christ was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.  8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; 9 and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Hebrews 5:7-9 contains a concise summary of Jesus' life on earth.  St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote that Jesus "... offered his life as a model of saintly existence to be used by earthly beings, he took on the weaknesses of humanity, and what was his purpose in doing this?  That we might truly believe that he became man, although he remained what he was, namely God" (Letter to Euopitus, Anathema, 10).

Jesus came in the flesh to redeem mankind, and in His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death.  Paul continues in verse 7 by saying that God heard His prayer, and the answer was "submit in obedience."  The Son's response was "not my will Father but Yours" (Mt 26:42).  Jesus was "heard" (verse 7) because He did not disobey.  In His response the Son was "made perfect" (verse 8).  In His obedient response Jesus, the new Adam, overcame the sin of the first Adam whose disobedience had brought sin and death into the world (1 Cor 15:45-49; CCC# 411; 504).  In being "made perfect" He became the source of our salvation for all who obey Him (verse 8).  In His "perfect" obedience, the Son submitted Himself to death on the Cross for the salvation of man.  St. Ephraim writes concerning this passage, "He became the source of our eternal salvation" by replacing Adam, who had been the source of our death through his disobedience.  But as Adam's death did not reign in those who did not sin, so life reigns in those who do not need to be absolved.  Even though he is a liberal giver of life, life is given to those who obey, not to those of fall away from him" (Ephraim, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews). 

It is not through this submission that Jesus "learned" obedience as though He did previously know about obedience, but rather that He "experienced" obedience.  It is easy to be "obedient" to one's superior or to one's parent when what is required is pleasant, but it is something else entirely when obedience is submission to something that one does not want to experience.  St. John Chrysostom advised the faithful: "If he, though the Son, gains obedience from his sufferings, how much more shall we?  Do you see how many things Paul says about obedience in order to persuade them to obedience?  [..].  'Though what he suffered' he continually 'learned' to obey God, and he was 'made perfect' through sufferings.  This, then, is perfection, and this means we must arrive at perfection.  For not only was he himself saved; be also became an abundant supply of salvation to others" (The Epistle to the Hebrews, 8.3).

The Gospel of John 12:20-33 ~ Jesus prophesizes His death and glorification and tells the Parable of The Seed that Dies
20 Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast.  21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, "Sir, we would like to see Jesus."  22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.  23 Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  24 Amen, Amen, I say to you, 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.  25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.  26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.  The Father will honor whoever serves me.  27 I am troubled now.  Yet what should I say?  'Father, save me from this hour'?  But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.  28 Father, glorify your name."  Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it and will glorify it again."  29 The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, "An angel has spoken to him."  30 Jesus answered and said, "This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.  31 Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.  32 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself."  33 He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

After His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the 10th of Nisan, which we celebrate as Palm Sunday, Jesus came to the Temple to teach the people and challenge the chief priests, Pharisees and Scribes every day that week.  St. Luke provides the information: He taught in the Temple every day.  The chief priests and the scribes, in company with the leading citizens, tried to do away with him, but they could not find a way to carry this out because the whole people hung on his words (Lk 19:45-47).  The event in our Gospel Reading took place on Wednesday of His last teaching day in Jerusalem when some Greek culture Gentiles wanted to have an audience with Jesus.  Their request "to see" Jesus may only mean that they wanted a private audience but in John's symbolic and spiritual Gospel "to see" may also mean "to believe in" Jesus.  That these Gentiles have come seeking the Messiah shows that Jesus' Gospel of salvation has spread beyond the Jews.

These Gentiles, who were probably praying in the Court of the Gentiles at the Temple, approach Philip, an Apostle with a Greek name.  Most scholars suggest that these Gentiles assumed that the Apostle with the Greek name could take their request to Jesus and act as their interpreter.  Philip went to his hometown friend Andrew to assist him in dealing with their request.  You may recall that Philip, Andrew, and his brother Simon-Peter all came from Bethsaida (Jn 1:44), a town in Northern Galilee with a large Greek culture population (see Mt 4:15 which quotes Is 9:1).  Andrew's name is also Greek with no Hebrew equivalent.  Most scholars assume these Greeks are "God-fearers", that is Gentiles who believe in Yahweh and try to follow His Law but who have not undergone the rite of circumcision and therefore are not part of the covenant family.  This is really the only possible explanation that makes sense when you consider Jesus' response.  If these people had been Gentile converts to Judaism, they would not have been in Jesus' eyes any different than the other covenant people of Israel who are the ethic Jews and Israelites to whom He was obliged to bring the message of salvation before any others.  But this is a new event; it is a definite turning point in His ministry.

27 "I am troubled now.  Yet what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour?'  But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour."
In fact this event is so significant that it prompts Jesus to declare that His "hour" has come!
It is the "hour" He first mentioned when His mother came to ask Him to make more wine for the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:4).  References to the coming "hour" will be made 14 times in John's Gospel.

Scripture reference in John's Gospel Scripture passage referring to the "hour"
1.  2:4 Jesus to His mother: "My hour has not yet come"
2.  4:21 Jesus to the Samaritan woman:  "Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem."
3.  4:23 Jesus to the Samaritan woman: "But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth..."
4.  5:25 Jesus to the Jewish crowd: "Amen, amen I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and all who hear it will live."
5.  5:28 Jesus to the Jewish crowd cont.: "Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out ..."
6.  7:30 So they tried to arrest him, but no one laid a hand upon him, because his hour had not yet come.
7.  8:20 He spoke these words while teaching in the Treasury in the Temple area.  But no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.
8.  12:23 Jesus answered them: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified."
9 & 10.  12:27 Jesus to His disciples: "I am troubled now.  Yet what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour?'  But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour."
11.  13:1 Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus, knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.  He loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end.
12. 16:25 Jesus to the disciples: "I have told you this in figures of speech.    The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father."
13. 16:32 Jesus at the Last Supper linking His "hour" to the disciple's "hour": "Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone."
14. 17:1 When Jesus had said this, he raised his eyes to heaven and said: "Father, the hour has come.  Give glory to your Son so that Your Son may glorify you..."

To some scholars the reference to "the hour" in the Gospels refers to the "hour" of his glorification.  To others it is the "hour" that marks the beginning of His public ministry and His manifestation as the Messiah.  But all scholars will agree that in John's Gospel the reference to Jesus' "hour" most often points to the "hour" of Christ's Passion and death on the Cross.  It is an hour that man will not determine but an "hour" that is completely in God's control.  That interpretation fits in the context of the passage John 12:27.

For the first time people outside the Sinai Covenant have come in search of Jesus that makes them the "first fruits" of the spread of the Gospel among Gentiles!   In this verse, Jesus is referring to His "hour" of glorification in terms of His death and resurrection.  At times Jesus has used the term to refer to the "hour of judgment" as in Matthew 13:32 and John 5:25, but in this case as in Mark 14:41 and the passages in John 2:4; 4:23; 7:30; 8:20; 12:27; 13:1; and 17:1, Jesus is speaking of the hour of His Redemption through His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection.  This request of the Gentiles has now set the "countdown" to His glorification in motion.  It is His sacrificial death that will secure eternal blessings not only for God's covenant people Israel but for all mankind who will become partakers in the gift of eternal life (see Jn 1:29; 4:42; & 1 John 2:2 = He is the sacrifice to expiate our sins, and not only ours, but also those of the whole world).

The Parable of the Seed that Dies: 24 Amen, Amen, I say to you, 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.  25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.  26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.  The Father will honor whoever serves me. 
The seed in the parable represents Jesus' Body.  Jesus makes a comparison between a seed and His Body in speaking of His sacrifice being a condition of His glorification and of death as the means of gaining life.  Just as a seed must be covered in the earth before it sprouts new life, so too must Jesus endure physical death to bring us new life that lasts eternally. 

St. Augustine addressed this apparent paradox between Christ's humiliation in death and His glorification: "... it was appropriate that the loftiness of his glorification should be preceded by the lowliness of his passion" (The Gospel of John, 51.8).  St Paul expressed this same paradox when he wrote to the church at Philippi: But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.  And for this God raised him high, and gave him the name which is above all other names... (Phil 2:7-9).

This same principle is true for each of us who follow Christ, as Jesus says in verses 25-26:

  1. Anyone who loves his life (more than me) destroys it.
  2. Anyone who hates his life in this world preserves it to live eternally in the next life.
  3. Anyone who serves me must follow me.
  4. Anyone who follows me will be rewarded.

The principle in verse 25: Whoever serves me must follow me ... holds true for the disciples in 30 AD and each of us who make the commitment to "follow" Christ today.  We must die to self and to this world and we must live for Christ to receive the fullness of life from God and to become channels of life to others.  Through the Sacrament of Baptism we die to sin and to this world.  After our spiritual rebirth in the water and the word we must go forward in our faith journey in which we must daily take up our cross and die to sin to live for Christ.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

 St. Paul wrote of the necessity of dying to sin and living in Christ in 2 Corinthians 4:11-12Indeed while we are still alive, we are continually being handed over to death, for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our mortal flesh....  We will also, like Jesus, face physical death at the end of our faith journeys but with the promise of "new life." St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:35-38: Someone may ask: How are dead people raised and what sort of body do they have when they come?  How foolish!  What you sow must die before it is given new life; and what you sow is not the body that is to be, but only a bare grain, of wheat I dare say, or some other kind; it is God who gives it the sort of body that he has chosen for it, and for each kind of seed its own kind of body.

 In Mark 8:34 Jesus made a similar statement: If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.  A living and dying reminder of faithfulness to this teaching is found in the life and death of St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, a disciple of St. John the Apostle, who died a martyr's death in 107/110 AD.  In his last letters written before his martyrdom, he expressed the willingness to hate his life in this world in order to live eternally with Christ.  In his death he gave us an example of how a faithful servant should follow Christ.  He ended his last letter to the Church in Rome with the words "I am God's grain!"  (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Romans 4:1).

27 I am troubled now.  Yet what should I say?  'Father, save me from this hour'?  But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.  28 Father, glorify your name."  Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it and will glorify it again."  29 The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, "An angel has spoken to him."  30 Jesus answered and said, "This voice did not come for my sake but for yours. 
Jesus felt deep emotion at the thought of what awaited him, and so He turned to the Father in prayer seeking refuge, strength and love.  This very human feeling of anxiety and fear will be intensified at the Garden of Gethsemane (see Mt 26:39; Mk 14:36 and Lk 22:42) and serves as a reminder that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.  It is the same human anxiety and fear that the sinless and immortal Adam must have felt when confronted by the Serpent/Satan (Rev 12:9) at the time of our original parent's fall from grace.  But in Jesus' case, as the second Adam, He will triumph over death and Satan in His willingness to die for the salvation of humanity for as Jesus says in John 12:27d: "But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour."

"Father, glorify your name!"
In ancient cultures one's name signified the entire person.  Jesus worked for the Father's glory, and His sacrificial death, now freely offered, is the fulfillment of that work because it shows the Son's love for the Father as the Father will show His love for the Son. The message for us in this passage concerning Jesus desire to pray is, if Jesus, in a moment of trial and sadness turned to the Father in prayer, shouldn't we follow His example when we are burdened with the struggles of life? 

Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it and will glorify it again."
In John 12:28b God speaks from heaven, divinely and publicly sanctioning Jesus' coming death.  The crowd hears thunder just as the Israelites heard thunder when Yahweh spoke to them from Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19:19.  This is the third time God the Father has spoken from heaven to the Son during His ministry, bearing witness to the divinity of the Son:

  1. At Jesus baptism (Mt 3:17; Mk 1:11; Lk 3:22)
  2. On the Mt. of Transfiguration (Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7; Lk 9:35)
  3. Here in John 12:28b, sanctioning Jesus' self-sacrifice

31 Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 
The word in Greek for "judgment" is krisis, from which we get our word "crisis."  The "ruler of this world" who will be driven out is Satan (see Le 4:6; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2; 6:12; Rev 12:9).  Jesus will refer to Satan as the "prince of this world" 3 times in the Gospel of John:

  1. John 12:31
  2. John14:30
  3. John 16:11.

Jesus' sacrificial death breaks Satan's dominion over humanity which began with Adam's fall in Genesis 3:1-19.  Jesus will defeat Satan on the cross and will destroy him when He comes again in glory in His Second Advent (see Rev 20:10 and CCC# 550, 2853).

32 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself."  33 He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.
Jesus is referring to being "lifted up" on the cross in His crucifixion as well as to His "lifting up" in His resurrection and later to heaven in His ascension where He takes His place as the true Davidic King.  The cross and the resurrection/ ascension are both aspects of the same mystery, and when Christ ascends to the Father's right hand in glory He will send God the Holy Spirit through whom all mankind will be called to Him and His kingdom will spread across the earth.   But Jesus may also be alluding to the prophecy of the 8th century prophet Isaiah in the fourth Servant Song which is found in Isaiah 52:13-53:12.  The fourth Servant Song is a prophetic vision of the suffering of Jesus the Messiah. St. John will begin his summation of Jesus ministry at the end of this chapter with a quote from the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah in 12:38.

Jesus' statement in John 12:32 is an answer to the request of the Gentiles in 12:21 "see" Jesus.  The crucified Christ will be set before the eyes of the world, Jews and Gentiles, as Savior and Lord, when He is "lifted up".  Concerning Jesus' statement in verse 32 the Catechism teaches: "'And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself'.  The lifting up of Jesus on the cross signifies and announces his lifting up by his Ascension into heaven, and indeed begins it.  Jesus Christ, the one priest of the new and eternal Covenant, 'entered, not into a sanctuary made by human hands...but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.'  There Christ permanently exercises his priesthood, for he 'always lives to make intercession' for 'those who draw near to God through him.'  As 'high priest of the good things to come' he is the center and the principal actor of the liturgy that honors the Father in heaven." (CCC# 662; quoting from Jn 12:32; Heb 9:24; 7:25; 9:11).

Catechism References:
Jeremiah 31:31-34 (CCC 64, 715, 762, 1965); 31:33 (CCC 368, 580, 2713)
Psalms 51:12 (CCC 298, 431)
Hebrews 5:7-9 (CCC 609, 2606); 5:7-8 (CCC 612, 1009); 5:7 (CCC 2741); 5:8 (CCC 2825); 5:9 (CCC 617)
John 12:24 (CCC 2731); 12:27 (CCC 363, 607); 12:28 (CCC 434); 12:31 (CCC 550, 2853); 12:32 (CCC 542, 662, 786, 1428, 2795)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015