Do They Turn against You? Don’t Bother, Jesus Takes You to Your Reward (Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B, 2021-03-21)


Homily for Fifth Sunday of Lent


Year B: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ps 51; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)


Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

We live in a time of great confidence in technological and scientific achievements. And in many areas, the technological development has brought enormous gains for health and prosperity – only look at what we expect from the corona vaccines, developed in record time – and when we seek solutions for the environment and climate, we put our hope in new technology.

To rejoice over the use of technological progress to do good is fully in order. But a one-sided focus on our physical and material problems, no matter how difficult, and our physical and material solutions to them, no matter how brilliant, can get in the way of our spiritual life. We can easily forget what is most important from an eternalperspective: not what we ourselves and our technologies can do, but what God once and for all has done for us. Jesus is the Saviour, not a peace prophet or moral teacher; not an advisor, consultant, in spirituality; not a promotor of our technological progress.

The prophet Jeremiah makes this very clear in today’s first reading, where we heard God proclaim that he will make a new and an eternal covenant with his people, where freedom and inner peace live in peoples’ hearts, and where God will forgive sins and erase debts. The second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews makes the same point. Jesus does not point out the way to eternal bliss and then sends us away as if we could make the journey by own power, helped by our technology and material assets. Rather it is Him, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, who through his life, death and resurrection becomes “the source of eternal salvation”; the way, the guide and the vehicle on the same time.

And in today’s gospel Jesus himself explains how his total love for the Father and for us, and his total obedience to his mission, to bring God to an encounter with death and thus blow it up from the inside, as it were, is the very turning point of history. Through Jesus’s crucifixion “the prince of this world is … overthrown”. In other words: the faithful love of Christ repeals the sin of Adam, of the first humans, and conquers the sinful rebellion of the devil, source of evil in the world, whose existence one only denies if one does not listen to what the Lord himself says. By explaining his upcoming suffering in advance, before it happens, Jesus clarifies that he will meet what awaits him completely voluntarily; and of free will fulfil the salvific plan of God the Father. The plan, which gives all who believe a share in God’s eternal life.

What God does through Jesus Christ, he does for us. In every Sunday Mass this reappears in the Creed and its description of Jesus: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven”; and in every Holy Mass and the Words of consecration in the Eucharistic prayer, where the priest, ordained in apostolic order and faith and only therefore acting in Jesus’s place, pronounces: “This is my body which will be given up for you … my blood which will be poured out for you”. Jesus has performed and fulfilled his whole life work for us, which he also points out when he, as we heard, describes himself and his sacrifice as the wheat grain that “falls on the ground and dies” and “yields a rich harvest”. Or, as the responsorial psalm expressed it, that sinners can be taught God’s ways and “turn … back” to God; i.e. to eternal life, for which we were created.

This is how the Saviour acts, much more than anything we can do with our own knowledge and technology. And when we can sense the breadth of God’s action and hence love, Jesus wants us to walk in his footsteps; to follow him, as we heard, to be where he is. Yes, such is the Christian vocation to discipleship, sanctification, the process through which we become holy, completely for God. To follow Jesus. Jesus’s phrase about “hating” one’s life comes from a Hebrew saying to distinguish something that is less loved. We shall, like Jesus, put our love for God, i.e. our will that God’s will be done, first, and make all other values that we can, and even ought to, love for good reasons, like e.g. our own life, relative in the sense that they depend on, come from, point at and facilitate the absolutely most central: the love for God.

Because everything Jesus does is for us, as consequence of the love for God, who has created us and whose image we all carry deep down, we also must do everything, yes, give ourselves up for one another, because that is the way God loves, the way His will is done. This means concretely to pray for one another, to suffer with one another and for the salvation of one another, to live for one another and for the relation of one another to God. The Season of Lent is an excellent time for posing oneself the question: where can I better be the wheat grain?

But to follow Jesus also means to risk the disapproval of others, for His sake, i.e. for the sake of truth about God and humanity. In our time and culture, this means to be prepared for “the martyrdom of unpopularity” because our faith in Christ and the Catholic Church. Several times in the gospels, Jesus foretells that we will be hated for believing in Him, and urges us to willingly accept it. Our Christian vocation is not to spread comfort and feelgood. No, our vocation is to give testimony, in words and deeds, to the truth in Jesus Christ. With love, which includes respect for each person’s freedom to give his or her response; but nonetheless to give testimony. And it will always arouse more resistance than approval because of our and the world’s sin. Your loss of honour, even isolation from others, more lukewarm Christians and Catholics perhaps distancing themselves from you because of you being “too dogmatic”, you will have to put into the hands of God. The martyr’s service to Christ ultimately accomplishes most when it is disliked.

To follow Jesus – to live for God’s truth and thus for the best of the other, and to relate everything else to that – will ultimately pay off. Not because a life of discipleship seeks its reward, it only seeks to do the will of God. But through what former Pope St. John Paul II called “the Law of the gift”, a spiritual law of nature. “The Law of the gift” says that when you empty yourself in service for Truth and Love, wanting the salvation of every soul, you will get more in return. Not as you had expected. But much, much more. And not from those you had hoped for. But from God. What else is then needed?


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