Lenten Lesson: The Lord’s Paradoxical Plan

User’s Guide to the Fifth Sunday of Lent

How can you grow closer to Christ this Lent?
How can you grow closer to Christ this Lent? (photo: Unsplash)

Sunday, March 17, is the Fifth Sunday of Lent. Mass readings (Year B): Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33.

To the world, the Sunday Gospel is utter madness. Christ in effect declares that dying (to this world) is the only way to true life. While the world’s so-called wisdom holds that the way to life is through power, prestige, possessions and popularity, Jesus says that in order to find true life, one must die to all that. Let’s examine the Lord’s paradoxical plan to save us and bring us to new life.

As the Gospel opens, we find a rather strange incident. The text says that some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover feast wanted to see Jesus. Upon hearing of this, Jesus answered by saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Jesus’ apparent overreaction to the simple fact that some Greeks wish to speak to him surprises us. He goes on to say, “Now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”

In effect, the arrival of the Gentiles fulfills a critical prophecy about the Messiah, wherein he would gather the nations unto himself and make of fractured humanity one nation, one family. Scripture says, “‘I come to gather nations of every language … bringing their offering to the house of the Lord in clean vessels. Some of these I will take as priests and Levites,’ says the Lord. … ‘All mankind shall come to worship before me,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 66:18, 23). Many other passages say similar things. Jesus said elsewhere: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:14).

So it is that this apparently simple request of the Greeks (Gentiles) to see Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, carries such significance. But why did Jesus not run and greet them at once? Simply put, the call and salvation of the Gentiles must wait for his death and resurrection to be accomplished.

Note how Jesus says, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”

Jesus goes on to say, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” But the dying and rising of Christ is not only for him; it is for all of us. It is our cooperation, and dying to worldly divisions, that will bring unity to the Church, inclusive of Jews and Gentiles alike, people of every race and tongue.

Jesus speaks of a great promise of new life but presents it in a very paradoxical way. He says, that whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. In other words, if we go on clinging to our worldly notions of life, if we live only for ourselves, if we live only for power, possessions, popularity and prestige, we are already dead and will lose all. Note that Jesus calls this new life he offers “eternal life.” Eternal life means far more than living forever; it means becoming fully alive, starting right now.

The promise is real, but it is paradoxically obtained. The world calls all this foolishness. You must decide. Choose either the “wisdom” of this world or the “folly” of Christ.