Fifth Sunday. Year B. March 21, 2021
St. John’s Cathedral
We’re getting near Easter. Today’s Gospel presents us with Jesus already in Jerusalem for that Feast of Passover/Easter that will see him captured, tortured and die.
We hear Jesus say “my soul is troubled”. He knows what’s ahead. Calvary looms. Humanly, he is, of course, troubled, afraid, instinctively wanting to avoid it. As the second reading puts it, in his life Christ offered up prayer and appeals to God, aloud and in silent tears. He learned through suffering.
But he also knows what he is living for – to gather all into one, to spread the Kingdom of God, all children of the one Father, all brothers and sisters to one another. He knows that has to be the final outcome of his life. And so here’s the answer to the request that Philip and Andrew put to him about meeting with the Greeks who had come to Jerusalem and hoped to meet him. Jesus says, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself.” Not just the people who were hoping to see him that day in Jerusalem but all people will have a chance to encounter Jesus and when they do, they will enter into his logic, his way of seeing things, his way of living.
In today’s Gospel Jesus offers us the law of life with a simple parable: “I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.”
There’s nothing wrong in itself with a single grain. It’s fine. It’s doing no harm. It’s nice to look at. But it’s alone. It’s only by dying that its potential is released. It’s only by dying that it yields a harvest. It’s Jesus’ way of explaining his life and explaining life to us. The potential of his life will be fully released in his death and resurrection. But he is saying to each of us that you can’t live life closed in on yourself, your wants and your needs only. You need to go through those daily “deaths” to yourself for the potential of love in your heart to be fully released in loving others. In this way, your will be fruitful.
A Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, is famous for his 1923 book on relationship called I and Thou. Buber makes the point that each “I” can only reach who the other person is by treating them as a “Thou”, as a unique person distinct from themselves. Some years later, Buber spelt out the two components in any genuine relationship: first, the setting at a distance that involves fully respecting the other. And only after that, the second step, entering into relation with them. So, ‘distance and relation.’
In other words, we must respect each other person with his/her gifts, unique personality and differences to me. I cannot “possess” others for myself. That is closure, that is the single grain wanting to have everything in itself. Whereas, for Jesus, the law of life (which is the law of heaven) is to live as a gift for others and recognising how others in their difference to me are a gift for me and I can be a gift for them.
If I love you only for myself, I never love at all, I’m locked-into my selfishness. As Jesus says, “those who love their life lose it.” But if I’m prepared to die, hate my life (be careful – that doesn’t mean hate myself in a negative way; rather it means taking on the difficult work of turning myself around towards living for others and not simply for myself) then I will find a new life in this world and keep it for eternal life.
When Jeremiah spoke about a New Covenant, he said it would be written deep within our hearts. That is what the Holy Spirit does in our lives. The Holy Spirit pushes us to overcome those temptations to have the world revolve around us instead of us revolving around our sisters and brothers, with everything revolving around God.
Jesus today in the Gospel explains this but he will show us all of this dying on the Cross.