5th Sunday of Lent – B

Jer 31:31-34; Heb 5:7-9; Jn 12:20-33

Three pastors were discussing the results with one another after their parish faith renewal program. The Methodist minister said, “This program worked out great for us! We gained four new members.”  The Baptist preacher said, “We did better than that! We gained six new members.” The Presbyterian pastor said, “Well, we did even better than that! We got rid of our ten biggest troublemakers!” I know everyone who participated in the Four days retreat and 3 days Lenten mission talk on Forgiveness benefited spiritually in our parish. No gain or loss in members. Thanks to all the participants and all who sponsored it.

Today’s gospel presents us with a challenge: Just as Jesus became the “Promised Messiah of Glory” and the “Conquering Son of Man” by offering his life for others, we, too, must possess Heaven by dying to self and spending our lives in self-giving, sacrificial service.

In gospel we see, some Greek pilgrims who were either new converts to Judaism or mere ‘truth-seekers’ were greatly impressed by the royal reception given to Jesus on Palm Sunday and by the subsequent cleansing of the Temple by Jesus.  Hence, they approached the apostle Philip who had a Greek name and requested a private interview with the Master. Jesus uses the occasion to declare that he is the “Son of Man” prophesied by Daniel, and that his time of glorification is at hand.  He immediately corrects the false notion of a political messiah by stating that he will be glorified by his suffering, death and Resurrection.

It becomes clearer and clearer to Jesus that his life will soon come to a violent end. He is indeed troubled. But he makes the decision that if this is what God is asking of him, he will trust in God’s plan. He will trust in God’s love. He will give himself completely to what God asks him to do. His line, “Father, glorify your name” is Jesus’ way of saying “Yes, I am all in.”

There are many times in our life when we are not all in. When we have to face a difficulty in a relationship or some situation in our life, we sometimes try to hold as much of ourselves back as possible. We give as little as we can. But the scripture tells us our future will be determined not by what we hold back but by what we freely give.

Jesus explains to his apostles that it is by his suffering and death that he is bringing life and liberation to the sinful world, just as a grain of wheat sown in the field ceases to remain itself alone, “just a seed,” by germinating and then growing into a plant which produces many new grains of wheat.  In the same way, it is by the self-sacrificial lives of holy men and women that life and salvation come to mankind.  In other words, when we “die” to our selfishness, we “rise” to new life in Jesus Christ.  To be “buried in the earth” means avoiding sin, accepting suffering and living for others.

The farmers in town decided that each year they would take the biggest and best potatoes of the harvest and use them for food. They would store the smallest potatoes and use them to plant the fields in the upcoming year. Initially this plan was a great success, because each year people had the best potatoes to eat. But over time the flaws of the plan emerged. Because they were planting the smallest potatoes year after year, soon the size of the potatoes which were harvested were reduced to the size of marbles. The farmers had to learn the hard way that holding back the best for now was not the best for the future. Nature had decreed that the harvest would be determined by the planting.

Each time we give ourself in sacrifice to another we are planting a seed that will grow. Today’s gospel asks us to plant the best seed that we have. If we are married, it is easy to take our relationship for granted, to let things ride. But, Jesus asks us in the gospel to give ourself as fully as we can to our spouse, to plant the best seeds of communication, support, and forgiveness.  The seeds we plant will determine our marriage relationship in the years to come.

If we are parents, we are charged with a difficult task. Children have many needs and pose constant demands. We can be tempted to hold back and protect ourselves. Of course sometimes that is necessary. But the gospel challenges parents to plant the best seeds of our time, concern, and wisdom in our children.  Those seeds will determine who they become and what our future relationship with them will be.

When we face an issue at work, in our family, or in any area of our life, the word of Jesus warns us not to hold back. We should place ourselves as fully as we can into whatever God is calling us to be. The seed which dies produces fruit.  The better the seed that we plant, the richer the harvest will be.