Jn 12:20-33 – Sunday Gospel Reflection
John 12:20-33 – The Coming of Jesus’ Hour
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Sunday Gospel Reflection
Paradox, literally speaking, is a form of speech that contains a “seeming contradiction.” It has been said that “Life is a paradox.” There are many things in life which seemed to be a sort of contradiction but in truth and in reality they are not. The same also with our Christian life.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gave his disciples one of the most popular biblical paradox commonly referred to as the Paradox of the Grain of Wheat, when he said to his disciples, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24).
What Jesus, indeed, introduces is a divine paradox. The seed must die if it is to bear fruit. The person who strives to play it safe, in his relationship with God dies, while the one who sacrifices life, lives. The road to glory is servanthood. That was true for Jesus, and it is true for all who would follow him. “Preachers should preach regularly on the apparent failure the Gospel invites to, ending in death. A message of ‘success’ has to contain large elements of a siren song of ‘this world’…. In John, cross and crown are one” (Sloyan, 156). Like Jesus, we are expected to be faithful even unto death and to trust God for vindication. “If Jesus’ willingness extends to the point of death, his ‘deacons’ must follow him there. It is a hard place to go…, but if (this step) is taken, it is rewarded with a great gift: ‘honor’ from the Father” (Howard-Brook, 281).
Pope John Paul II said something very beautiful about this divine paradox:
Christian logic is really ‘original.’ Nobody can consider himself safe except when he risks all for the Lord; neither always can he consider himself saved if, in turn, he does not make himself an instrument of salvation, since spiritual gift grow when they are shared” (L’osservatore Romano, June 1991).
The Church in her Catechism (CCC 1816) teaches how to be productive Christian:
“The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: “All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks.” Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: “So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
The imagery of the grain of wheat and the message it contains and wishes to deliver illustrates the life, teaching and the fate of Jesus and his disciples. Before his passion and death, Jesus is limited to his earthly ministry and he was met with opposition, hostility, rejection, and persecution not only of the Scribes and Pharisees in particular and the Jews in general but also of his relatives to the point that he was thought to be mad or out of his mind. But after the resurrection, his life gains a cosmic dimension. Many people repented, converted and began to believed him as their Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit is sent and the disciples are given knowledge of Jesus and his teachings. They are also inspired to spread and give witness to the Gospel to all peoples: Jews and pagans alike. Jesus by being faithful to saving mission entrusted to him by God the Father to the end has become a fruitful servant of God. Jesus in his life, death and resurrection, like a grain of wheat who was sown and died, lives and produces and abundant harvest.
The imagery of the grain of wheat also illustrates the life of Lawrence, a deacon and martyr of Rome. Tertullian, an irascible Carthaginian theologian around A.D. 200, writes: “We become many whenever you mow us down; the blood of Christians is seed” (Apology, 50). Simply said, the “Blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity.” Martyrs like Lawrence, “are truly a luminous beacon for the Church and for humanity, for they have made Christ’s light shine in the darkness. They strove to serve Christ and His “Gospel of hope” faithfully, and by their martyrdom expressed their faith and love to a heroic degree, putting themselves generously at the service of their brethren” (Pope John Paul II, Message for eighth Public Meeting of the Pontifical Academies, November 3, 2003).
Christianity, like any other system of belief, thrives on commitment, and the commitment of martyrs is inspiration for the ages. As a Christians by virtue of our baptism and confirmation, we are anointed by the Holy Spirit as a prophet, priest and king. As a prophet, therefore, we should “be ready and willing to become a consistent witness even at the cost of suffering and great sacrifice. Because as a prophet, even in the most ordinary circumstances we are called to a sometimes heroic commitment” (see Veritatis Splendor, 93).
How can we be faithful and loyal prophets in the midst of this corrupt and depraved generation? When we consistently hold to what is right, true and beautiful and reject what is evil, denounce injustices, decry violence, condemned human rights violations, take care of our environment, protect human life and dignity and promote integral human development.
Not all of us are called to martyrdom in the real sense of the word. Not all of us are called to follow the footstep of Lawrence. But all of us are called to become consistent witnesses of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Every time we choose life over death its also bloodless martyrdom. Every time we choose good over evil, its also bloodless martyrdom. Every time we choose grace over sin, its also bloodless martyrdom. Every time we choose truth over lies, its also bloodless martyrdom. Every time we choose God over Satan its also bloodless martyrdom. Every time we choose heaven over hell its also bloodless martyrdom.
The countless thousands of Christian martyrs who have gone to their deaths for “the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine” (cf. CCC 2473) are the ultimate witnesses. Be counted among the chosen ones, therefore, and make your “consistent witnessing a seed of the Church and of Christianity, a “fragrant offering” (Eph 5:12), “holy, living and acceptable sacrifice to God” (see Rm 12:1).