5th Sunday of Lent Year – B – 2015
Jer.31:31-34; Heb.5:7-9; Jn.12:20-33
A married couple in their early 60s was out celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary in a quiet, romantic little restaurant. Suddenly, a tiny beautiful fairy appeared on their table and said, “For being such an exemplary married couple and for being faithful to each other for all this time, I will grant you each a wish.” Ooh, I want to travel around the world with my darling husband,” said the wife.
The fairy moved her magic stick and two tickets for the new luxury liner appeared in her hand. Now it was the husband’s turn. He thought for a moment and said, “Well, this is all very romantic, but an opportunity like this only comes once in life time, so I’m sorry, my love, but my wish is to have a wife 30 years younger than me.”
The wife and the fairy were disappointed but a wish is a wish. So the fairy made a circle with her magic stick and there it was – the husband became 92 year old. The best part is towards the end, not only in the story but even in our life. By mentioning the statement, “The Best part is towards the end,” I remember what Scot Peck had said in his book, “The Road Less Travelled.”
He says that one of the techniques in developing discipline is delaying gratification. Delaying gratification is the process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with. The experience of dying or giving up a part of our own self is always rewarding and that reward is eternal life.
This dying to self or to put it in another way, unless we die to our own will we cannot bear fruit. And that is what Jesus is telling us in today’s gospel. He said that unless a grain of wheat dies, it couldn’t bear fruit. Each act of kindness, toward a loved one or a stranger is a step in the right direction.
A husband meets his greatest challenge to die to self as he devotedly cares for his terminally ill wife unto the end, never counting the coast in dollars or days. So it is with a wife attending to her paraplegic husband in a heroic sacrifice of her life. So it is with a parent unconditionally loving his child with Down syndrome.
Concretely, what does all this dying to self or dying to our own will mean for you and me every day of our lives? It means dying to our pride and asking for help; admitting our problem and seeking help from others and God; forgiving the person from our hearts and treating her/him with love once again.
Mr. Ernest Tan in his book, “Living Life Fully”, said: “Self-investment is a key to growth. The more investments we make in life, the more we gain.” Similarly, this is what we hear now from today’s gospel: “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.”
In today’s gospel Jesus is speaking of ‘hating’ too. Hating one’s life. But we all know that life is sacred and no man can take it away from you. The context of the gospel shows that to ‘hate’ is to give less preference. The comparison here is between life in this world and eternal life.
Here Jesus makes us realize that attachment to home, loved ones and possessions may prevent us from following Him and closing our eyes to the values of the Kingdom. He is telling us to yield up the love of life for the sake of the life of love. If we are going to choose between life in this world and eternal life, which one we choose?
Today’s readings focus on the upcoming death of Jesus, which is interpreted not only as a priestly sacrifice but also as the moment of his “exaltation” and “glorification.” In a way, the gospel reading explains the paschal mystery of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. Let us try to reflect on the important points found in the gospel passage.
First, Jesus gives us the image of the “grain of wheat” to describe his coming death. If we are familiar with farm life, we can easily understand what Jesus meant. There is a contradiction here: a grain has to fall or die in order to produce fruits. A grain, when it falls to the ground, ends its being a grain and is transformed into a new life.
Jesus now foresees that his impending death would mean life for his followers. His death is an act of self-offering par excellence. It can never be a useless and meaningless death because it brings salvation and eternal life to believers. Thus, he has to die so that we may live. His death means our life.
Second, he gives another contradiction: hate one’s life in order to preserve it. He says, “Whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” We can think of some people who were able to live this out. St Francis Xavier left or abandoned a glamorous life in the university, and instead, became a missionary.
Likewise, we heard about the life of Albert Schweitzer, who abandoned a lucrative career in music and instead, he works as a missionary doctor in Africa. There are many more inspiring stories of people on how they fought against the values of the world, and instead embrace the values of the kingdom. By doing so, they are able to preserve themselves “for eternal life”.
Third, Jesus emphasizes the need for discipleship or following him. He says, “Whoever serves me must follow me.” Indeed, we are servants of the Lord. But Christ expects more than that. It is necessary for us to follow him. Following him would mean following in his self-offering.
We need to reflect on the suffering of Jesus. His suffering is a redemptive suffering. He suffered for our sake; he offered his life for our salvation. Suffering is not alien to us. Almost every day we can experience suffering. We suffer from relationships, and we also suffer from illness. But suffering without Christ is senseless and meaningless.
It is good that we take the opportunity to find the meaning of our own suffering. It can be a graced moment if we see it as our participation in the suffering of Christ on the cross. Today’s Gospel teaches us that new life and eternal life are possible only by the death of the self through suffering and service. Salt gives its taste by dissolving in water.
A candle gives light by burning its wick and melting its wax. The oyster produces a priceless pearl by transforming a grain of sand through 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 that we may acquire this self-sacrificial spirit, especially during Lent.
Only a life spent for others will be glorified here in this world and in Heaven. It is better to burn out than rust out. So let us learn to live this Lenten period “burning out,” spending our time and talents for others around us by humble, selfless and 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) Amen.