Gospel John 12:20-33
Today’s First Reading is drawn from one of the most famous passages of the Old Testament; the prophet Jeremiah’s announcement that God was to make a new covenant with His people. In the first part of today’s reading the Lord replies to this question: the northern kingdom was destroyed because it failed to keep the covenant. The people of Israel had made a pact with their God at the foot of Mount Sinai. The Lord, who took them “by the hand” to bring them out of Egypt had undertaken to protect them and to shower them with good things. He had promised them a good and happy life provided they kept His commandments and listened to His prophets. The people had promised their fidelity to their God, but history showed a succession of betrayals, and the consequence was ruin at the hands of their enemies.
In the second part of the reading, God is telling us what He is going to do to cope with the infidelity of His people — He will make a new covenant. The new covenant was to be different. It would no longer be engraved on stones, but in the most intimate part of the humans — in their hearts —because God is kind and patient. In spite of man’s infidelity/straying away, God offers him a chance, and establishes the covenant of love with him.
Coming to the second reading, when thinking of Christ, we often make the mistake of looking on Him only as God. We are too afraid of looking at Him as a real man. This mistake is made, for instance, by those who think that Jesus, as a child knew everything, didn’t need to learn things, and could not be deceived, could not feel or be moved the same way we do, could not experience fear, etc. Because He was God.
The letter to the Hebrews tells us very clearly that Jesus did not pretend His humanity. He was truly a man and went through all the difficulties and temptations we all experience. The only difference is that, He was never overcome by evil and was faithful to the Father, while we often given in. The passage of today stresses the reaction of Jesus to suffering and death, He felt what every person feels in these circumstances. He addressed His Father, asking for help and, if possible, to be spared suffering and death. He prayed to His Father to discover His will and to have the courage to fulfil it.
Let me share a short story which has some resemblance to the Gospel.
A married couple in their early 60’s were celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary in a nice restaurant in a romantic setting. All of a sudden a beautiful fairy appeared on their table and said to them, “For being such a romantic couple who are faithful to each other, I am going to grant you each a wish.” Oh, the wife was so excited and said, “I would like to travel the world with my darling husband.” The fairy with her magic wand produced two tickets for a new luxury liner and handed it to the wife. She then turned to the husband and asked him what his wish was. He thought to himself, “Such an opportunity comes once in a lifetime.” So he turned to his wife and said, “Sorry my love, but my wish is to have a wife 30 years younger than me.” The wife and the fairy were deeply disappointed. But a “wish is a wish.” So the fairy made a circle with a magic wand and there it was —the husband became 92 years old.
My brothers and sisters – we all love life. We like to have the best things in life – even a young wife. (Not me!) We want to live as long as we can. We plan for a better, deeper and meaningful life. We look for new ways, directions, orientations and dimensions to make life fulfilling. But how often we experience the contrary; suffering, sickness and death. Trials and difficulties intensify our longing for a fuller life. At any rate we want to cling to life. Modern science offers man a pleasant and comfortable life. Modern propaganda promises him ways of making life enjoyable and he believes in them. But what happens ultimately? He ends up in despair.
People came to Jesus to experience life in fullness and expected from Him satisfaction of their desires. Jesus’ reply was amazing – a reply which they scarcely appreciated or understood. What did Jesus say? “He who loves his life loses it; he who hates his life in the world will keep it for eternal life.” How do we react to these words of Jesus? What does Jesus mean by this apparent paradox of losing and gaining life? Let me try to explain.
- Firstly, Jesus teaches that only death brings life. A grain of wheat is fruitless so long as it is preserved, but once sowed and buried as if in a tomb, then it produces fruit; it lives a new life. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. They sacrificed themselves and contributed to the life and growth of the church. But burying our own personal ambitions, selfishness and narrow mindedness, we become children of God.
- Secondly, Jesus teaches that by dying to earthly life, we attain eternal life. Selfishness urges man to look for earthly security. A typical example is that of St. John the arc who prayed to the Lord in the face of death. “I shall only last a year, use me as you can.”
- Thirdly, Jesus teaches that Christian vocation is to serve. Our attitude to life should be one of love and service. Love is the wealth of life.
In his autobiography Mahatma Gandhi tells how in his student days in South Africa be became deeply interested in the Bible, especially the Sermon on the Mount. He became convinced that Christianity was the answer to the caste system that had plagued India for centuries, and he seriously considered becoming a Christian. One day he went to a Church to attend Mass and he got instructions. He was stopped at the entrance and gently told that if he desired to attend Mass he was welcome to do so in a Church reserved for blacks. He left and never returned.
That is the sad paradox in many Churches. The Church does not practice what it preaches. Do we accept Jesus’ teaching with all our hearts? Do we give it practical expression in our day to day life? The paradox in Christian life is that we attain fullness of life by giving, renouncing, in love and service of others. More than anyone of us, Jesus suffered bitter agony and death on the cross and showed that suffering is meaningful. Jesus taught us this and proved by His life that it leads to eternal life. And what He promised once, He repeats to each one of us today – “If a man serves me, he must follow Me, wherever I am, My servant will be there too.”
Let me end with some humor.
At the end of the Mass, the priest usually greets the congregation with “The Lord be with you.” One particular Sunday, something went wrong with the microphone as he was about to greet the people. So checking the microphone the priest said, ”There is something wrong with the microphone.” Although the congregation didn’t hear what the priest said, they faithfully responded – ”and with your spirit.”