Mar. 17, 2018

Fifth Sunday of Lent, 2018

“I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE”: THE JOY OF SEEING JESUS

Readings: 1st- Jer. 31: 31-34; 2nd- Heb. 5: 7-9; Gospel- Jn. 12: 20-33

Let’s start our reflection today with looking at the Jesus’ hour, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (Jn.12:23). It is the hour of fulfilment of His mission. We see in today’s gospel Jesus’ use of the metaphor of “the grain of wheat” where Jesus explains the meaning of his mission; “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it produces much fruit”. The image here is that of his death and resurrection. If we take our minds back to the beginning of his mission, Jesus gives us a glimpse of this hour from the beginning. At the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee, his mother approached him with a request for the couple, “They have no wine”. To that request, Jesus responded, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn. 2:3-4). Then, Jesus’ hour hadn’t come because he was yet to undertake the journey of the Cross. Today, he tells us that his hour has come.

Jesus uses that opportunity to give a picture of his imminent death. He is that “grain of wheat” grounded for our sake, the “grain of wheat” that must die to germinate eternal life for his people. Last Sunday, he told Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn.3:14). He explains the meaning of his hour. Jesus is troubled like any other human being would, in the certainty of his death. He calls on his Father, “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.”

As human being, Jesus feels pains. He laments, cries, experiences sorrows like us. The Hebrew author describes him in the flesh, “he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears” (Heb. 5:7). But Jesus must go through this hour. It is the hour of his glory. The Father testifies by the voice from heaven. The Father glorifies the Son through suffering. That glory is for our sake, that we may be saved. So, Jesus explains that the voice from heaven is for our sake. It is the voice reminding us of God’s love for us in Christ. It is the voice confirming the mission of the suffering servant. It is the voice that echoed at baptism, “This is my beloved Son”. It is the voice sealing the “hour” when everything is consummated in his Son. It is the voice endearing us to the glory of the Cross, thus, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (Jn. 12:32).

The first reading draws our attention to the new covenant that God is making with his people. The prophet Jeremiah uncharacteristically, presents a “book of consolation” -God’s healing, hope and newness. God reassures the people of Israel, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33). The new covenant is no longer a covenant written on tablets of stone but now engraved in our hearts. It is a covenant of engagement with God in a most intimate way. It is a covenant of love. That is what Jesus does. He draws us into God’s covenant through the Cross.

To see Jesus, we must be drawn into His covenant. The Greeks (gentiles) search for Jesus. The disciples lead them to him. The Jews look for him even though some plan to kill him. In the Gospel, “Simon and his companions went to look for Him, and when they found Him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you” (Mk. 1:36-37). There is a great joy in seeing Jesus. That joy is manifested in our encounter with him in the Blessed Eucharist.

In today’s gospel, the Greeks come to receive the Holy Communion. They seem not to understand fully what it means, and they seek Philip to help them. Philip takes them through the doctrine of the sacrament of the Eucharist, presents them to Andrew. Then Andrew and Philip, together take them to Jesus. This demonstrates the sanctity which we should give the Blessed Eucharist, which is our place of encounter with Christ. The Blessed Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, crucified for our sake. It is in the Eucharist that Christ draws everyone to himself. It is the reenactment of the sacrifice on the Cross. Christ says, “When I am lifted up, I’ll draw everyone to myself”. He is lifted on the Cross, crucified at Calvary. At Mass, the priest lifts the species of bread and wine which become the Body and Blood of Christ. It is a memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection. We are invited to see Jesus as He really is in the Blessed Eucharist.  

Let me use this opportunity to communicate that the Blessed Eucharist cannot be blessed outside of the Mass. I had someone who is a catholic come to me few days ago to ask that I bless the host for the Eucharist. This is the second time I am getting that request, hence the need to clarify. Once at a different time, while I worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital, I had a non-Catholic chaplain who wanted to bless the host to give to a Catholic patient. I corrected him and instructed him that the host cannot be blessed by anyone who’s not a catholic priest. But it was more shocking to me to hear Catholics ask me to bless the host outside the Mass. Let’s know that the bread and wine changes into the Body and Blood of Christ only during the Consecration at Mass. The consecration begins with the invocation of the Holy Spirit. This is when the priest extends his hands over the bread and wine and asks God, “that they may become for us, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The priest uses the same words that Christ used at the Last Supper, and invites the people to “Take and eat… Take and drink”. It is a memory of Christ’s death and resurrection as he invites us, “Do this in memory of me”. The Blessed Eucharist is only consecrated at Mass. Christ is lifted in his Body and Blood. We watch him, encounter him, and are drawn to him for our salvation.

There’s a great joy in seeing Christ and in encountering him in the Blessed Eucharist. The Greeks say to Philip, “Sir, we will like to see Jesus”, because they recognize that He is the life of the world. Aren’t we privileged to see him ourselves and to consume him in the Blessed Eucharist? Are we eager to see him? And Christ tells us, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single grain”.  Fr. Tony Adawu wrote an article in the Winter edition of the Family Apostolate Magazine titled, “We are a Consecrated and Eucharistic People”. He explained the metaphor of the grain of wheat this way: “We receive an invitation to become what we eat and what we drink. Since one piece of grain does not make bread and one fruit does not make wine, instead multiple grains and grapes do, and they do so by being ground together. In a sense then, our consecration as individuals is not complete without the consecration of the whole Body of Christ. Like Christ, each grain and grape must fall to the ground of the Altar of the Cross, so that we can be lifted up to draw all people into communion with God (cf. Jn. 12:24, 32). That’s the joy of seeing Christ; “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33).