V Sunday of Lent

V Sunday of Lent: “You will lose your life if you try to control all of it, all of the time.”

March 21, 2021

Today is the last Sunday of Lent.  Next week is Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord and the beginning of Holy Week.

The Gospels and the Scripture Readings of each Sunday have presented the fundamental principles of the Catholic spiritual life.

I want to return to the Gospel of last week where Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about not pegging Jesus into some intellectual religious hole.  “Eternal life” is Jesus’ main concern for each of us and how to get there.

Most of the history of the Old Testament and its Jewish culture did not believe in an eternal life after this life, but rather some vague place of shadows. They called it “going to be with the ancestors” or as the Greeks and Romans, Hades – a greyish underworld that looked something like life was on earth.

We heard Jesus say: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” St. John writes, remembering what Jesus had said to 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.”

St. John’s gospel this morning does not tell why these Greek-speaking people want to see Jesus.  Were they just inquisitive or wanted some favor? It is suggested by some scripture scholars that perhaps they wanted to become his disciples, but in John’s gospel today, Jesus cuts to the quick: “The grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die before it can produce fruit again.”

Then he adds a caveat: “You will lose your life if you try to control all of it, all of the time.”

Were these Greek visitors ready to hear this?  At the ultimate moment of life as I face my death, I have no control.  Jesus reflects a question back to these visitors: “I am troubled now.  Yet what should I say?  Father save me from this hour?” No, he says, this is why I came into this world, to show everyone how to get out of it.  

“Now is the time of Judgement on this world,” Jesus says.  He says that he is about to draw everyone to Himself and indicates the kind of death he would die [that he was going to die as an insurrectionist], talking about a God who loved people, and talking about being a human being and about what a humane government should [look] like.

Jesus did not necessarily have to die on a cross, but he had to die, because he had to show us “how,” he had to go before us.  Jesus reveals that the long-held belief that life ends at our physical death is not the end of the story.

Jesus is asking us again today to believe in what he is saying, to listen deeply in our souls and spirit to what He is saying.  (We do not have control and cannot control God, even by our prayers.)

There are many situations and experiences in life that we cannot control… like Covid-19, like unfortunate accidents, like what just happened in Atlanta, like pushing life around, and over-controlling, and experiencing no meaning and no love.

These words of Jesus came to me: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:25-30).  Is that why these Greek visitors came to Jesus?  Is that why we are here today?

Jesus tells these visitors: I know my Father… “I am meek and humble of heart… learn from me… and find rest for yourselves.”

As we journey into life and there are less days in front of us than there are behind, will we be ready to fall into the ground so that we can produce more fruit?

Will we accept the invitation or fight with stubbornness and control using every bit of science to rescue us from what God knows that is best for us?

What is the source of our fear?  A new experience over which we have little control?  Or a pattern of life where we have tried to control everything?  A life of only fulfilling obligations, a life of work where humility and love took a second or third place, a kind of a relationship with God that placed too much trust in the forms of religion and less in the heart of it?

I learned my Catholic faith at a time where the Catholic Church emphasized the divine nature of Jesus, like he had no problems or difficulties because he was God’s son.  Well, today’s letter from the Letter to the Hebrews describes him “crying out to God with loud cries and tears” to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his reverence.  We see how complicated and complex Jesus was and we are.  Jesus knew that “his hour” had come, and he wanted to escape.  The author of the letter continues: “He learned obedience from what he suffered, the letter tells us.  Not a kind of suck-it-up, get over it, get through it, but a courage, a hope, a joy, a peace — like the falling into place of all the pieces of life.  St. Paul once called it “a momentary light affliction producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”  

How do we learn this kind of obedience?

By developing a soul and a spirit that loves God and who knows God’s personal love for you.  The prophet Jeremiah reminds us that God has always reached out to his chosen people wanting a personal and responsive relationship, but history shows that they were faithful and responsive sometimes, and more often, not.  We heard what happened to the chosen people when God’s anger erupts — off to Babylon all of you!

Jeremiah the prophet wants us to realize again today as he did 2500 years ago, that God wants to place a new, personal law and awareness of being inside of our soul, our hearts, our thinking process, our goal-setting plans for our life –“written upon hearts,” he describes it.

If we are only following laws, even Church laws, if we are only motivated by the self-made principles that we made up for the success of our life, if all we follow is some “hard-assed approach” to life, we will find ourselves very frightened and filled with fear as we face what appears to be the end.

The pain and suffering is a psychological reality more than physical.  We fight death because we fear to trust God and to place who we are and what will happen to us in God’s heart and hands.

If we could come to realize that “the hour” that Jesus feared was the hour that He was going to “come into his own” and become his truest self — what would we fear?

How can we develop such reverence, such openness, such peace, such welcome to God’s final plan for us?

Instead of owning life and trying to make something out of it that we can’t, we need to pay much more attention to listen to the voices of God in our activities and relationships. We need to love real people and real situations as God does, and ultimately, we need to be seeking God’s will and what God knows should be happening for us.

We don’t know what happened to those Greek visitors in today’s gospel.  Did they leave unfulfilled?  Did they conclude that Jesus was not what they wanted?  Or did Jesus spark a new light in their minds?  A new life in their souls?

We do not need to fear “being lifted up from earth” as Jesus was, but we must be willing!

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