Fifth Sunday of Lent
In our Gospel reading from John (12:20-33), when Philip and Andrew tell Jesus that there are "some Greeks" who want to see Him, He does not respond to their request. Instead, He says, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." What does it mean to be "glorified?" This is what Jesus says: "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. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life." Jesus is glorified by His sacrifice.
Later on, another reference is made to glorification. Jesus admits he is troubled by the thought of His coming death. But He asks, "Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name." And then, the Father responds. A voice comes from heaven, saying, "I have glorified it and will glorify it again." God is glorified through the sacrifice of the Son, and the sacrifice is vindicated by the Resurrection!
This is what our faith tells us. And yet, we can fall into the temptation to seek glory according to how the world defines it. We want others to take notice of what we do. We seek the applause. We yearn for the exaltation of self. Maybe we’re trying to prove our worth to others and even to ourselves. But our worth does not lie in worldly fame and recognition. It lies in God’s love for us! And so Jesus tells us that unless we can die to self, we will not be able to bear "much fruit." We are called, then, to forsake the world’s understanding of glory, and take on the Gospel’s understanding of it. We’re called to give thanks to our loving God. We’re called to love and sacrifice for the sake of others. We’re called to be like Philip and Andrew, and bring others to Christ.
For it is in Christ that the prophecy we hear from Jeremiah (31:31-34) in our first reading is fulfilled. Through Jeremiah, God promises His people a new covenant: "I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. … All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more." God reveals Himself in a most direct way in Jesus Christ. God gives us a way to know Him and to know His love for us. As Jesus was "lifted up" on the Cross to free us from the power of sin, and was "lifted up" in the Resurrection, to give us the promise of everlasting happiness, God shows us how much we are loved. Christ, in the words of our second reading from Hebrews (5:7-9), is "the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him."
So, if we are to seek any kind of glory, it is the real glory of everlasting life in God. We attain that glory, neither by pushing others to the margins, nor by domination or violence, nor by promoting ourselves to the exclusion of everyone and everything else. We attain the glory promised by God not by any means of our own, but by humbly sharing what God has given us – love in Jesus Christ.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is the director of St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.