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).
Mk 9:2-10 – The Transfiguration of Jesus
Second Sunday of Lent
Sunday Gospel Reflection
In today’s gospel’s account, Jesus who took Peter, James and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves “was transfigured before their eyes, and His clothes became dazzlingly white – whiter than the work of any bleacher could make them” (Mk 9:2-3). At the Transfiguration, Jesus’ face was no longer emptied (see Phil 2:7) of His divine glory. His face was clearly recognizable as the face of God.
From the day Peter confessed that is Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the Master “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things…and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Mt 16:21). Peter scorns this prediction, nor do the others understand it any better than he (Cf. Mt 16:22-23; Mt 17:23; Lk 9:45). In this context the mysterious episode of Jesus’ transfiguration takes place on a high mountain (Cf. Mt 17:1-8 and parallels; 2 Pt 1:16-18), before three witnesses chosen by himself: Peter, James and John. Jesus face and clothes become dazzling with light, and Moses and Elijah appear, speaking “of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Lk 9:31). A cloud covers him and a voice from heaven says: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him” (Lk 9:35) (CCC 554)!
For a moment Jesus discloses his divine glory, confirming Peter’s confession. He also reveals that he will have to go by the way of the cross at Jerusalem in order to “enter into his glory” (Lk 24:26). Why? Because this is His Father’s will and as a Beloved Son in order to please the Father he is to serve and obey Him (see cf. Is 42:1). On this event, “the whole Trinity appeared: the Father in the voice; the Son in the man; the Spirit in the shining cloud” St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III, 45, 4, ad 2).
What are the meanings and significance of the Lord’s Transfiguration that we read this gospel two times a year: on the 2nd Sunday of Lent and on August 6th?
First, Jesus revealed his splendor and glory as the beloved Son of God to his disciples to strengthen them for the scandal of the Cross. “The Gospels report that at two solemn moments, the Baptism and the TRANSFIGURATION OF Christ, the voice OF the Father designates JESUS his ‘beloved Son’.[Cf. Mt 3:17 ; cf. Mt 17:5 .] JESUS calls himself the ‘only Son OF God’, and by this title affirms his eternal pre-existence.[Jn 3:16 ; cf. Jn 10:36 .] He asks for faith in ‘the name OF the only Son OF God’.[Jn 3:18 .] In the centurion’s exclamation before the crucified Christ, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God’, [Mk 15:39 .] that Christian confession is already heard. Only in the Paschal mystery can the believer give the title ‘Son of God’ its full meaning” (CCC 444).
Jesus went to the mountain knowing full well what awaited him in Jerusalem – his betrayal, rejection and crucifixion. This will definitely scandalize his apostles. Hence, the need to reveal to his disciples his divine splendor and glory to strengthen them when that moment of crucifixion and death comes.
Second, “The Transfiguration gives us a foretaste of Christ’s glorious coming, when he will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:21). “His glory shone from a body like our own, to show that the Church , which is the body of Christ would one day share his glory (see Preface of the Transfiguration). But it also recalls that “it is through many persecutions that we must enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
Third, “The Word became flesh to be our model of holiness: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.’ ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. ‘[Mt 11:29 ; Jn 14:6 .] On the mountain of the transfiguration, the Father commands: ‘Listen to him!’ [Mk 9:7 ; cf. Dt 6:4-5 .] Jesus is the model for the Beatitudes and the norm OF the new law: ‘Love one another as I have loved you. ‘[Jn 15:12 .] This love implies an effective offering OF oneself, after his example. [Cf. Mk 8:34 .] (CCC 459)”
Jesus possesses the glory, a manifestation of divinity, because He is God, equal to the Father. Hence he is entitled to all our reverence, worship, praise, petition, obedience of faith and love. He, like the father, has to be glorified too.
Friends, for you and your salvation “you have been purchased by Jesus, and at a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:20). How?
- by your offering your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God as your spiritual worship (see Rm 12:1);
- by your good works and practice of virtues. “People, in seeing your good works [and virtues], give glory to God our Father who is in heaven (see Mt 5:16);
- by your life of total dedication and consecration to God. “Use all that is in you, as if it were his own, for the service and glory of the Father” (St. John Eudes, Tract. De admirabili corder Jesu 1, 5). “Whatever you do, either you eat or drink, do it for the glory of God.”
“The glory of God is a man fully human, fully alive!” (St. Ireneus).
Mk 1:12-15 – The Temptation of Jesus
Sunday Gospel Reflection
The longing and desire for heaven or the single indestructible longing for God, for an eternity spent in intimate, blessed communion with him is the deepest desire of human heart. Heaven is “the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (CCC 1024). This is always what we pray for, what we strive for, what we hope for. But there were and will always be temptations, trials and tests on the way that will prevent us, hinder us and steal away from us the heaven that we long for.
The Gospel for today tells of Jesus’ retreat and temptation in the desert and the beginning of his preaching of God’s good news. Today’s Gospel simply tells of Satan tempting Jesus. But Jesus passed the test and overcame the test and temptation.
What is temptation? A temptation is anything than inclines a person to commit sin. It is enticement to evil, seduction to sin and death. Though it is not a sin it is more than trial or test because it lead us to sin. Once we enter into, give in to and submit to, temptation we are already committing sin which will bring us alienation, corruption, death and ultimately hell where Satan reigns and where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth because of it unquenchable fire.
What distinguishes temptation from trial? Trials or tests are necessary for growth while temptations incline us to sin. “No one who is tempted is free to say, “I am being tempted by God.” Surely God, who is beyond the grasp of evil, tempts no one” (Jas 1:13). God tests the heart puts his own in trial (1Th 2, 4) while only Satan tempts them (Lk 22,37; Ap 2, 10; 12,9). Trial is indispensable condition for growth (cf. Lk 8, 13ff), for sturdiness (1 P 1, 6f), for the manifestation of the truth (1 Co 11, 9: the reason for Christian divisions) and humility (1 Co 10, 12). When we overcome trials, temptations we are proven to be steady and strong (subok na matatag at subok na matibay. Thus freed, tried and tested Christian knows how to discern, verify and “try” everything (R 12, 2; E 5, 10). Trial is therefore the condition of the Church which is still to be tested, although she is already pure; stll to be reformed, although she is already glorious.
St. Paul assures us that “God will not let you be tested beyond your strength. Along with the test he will give you a way out of it so that you may be able to endure it” ( 1 Cor 10:13; cf. CCC 2848). In fact St. Paul wrote that we should even boast of our tests/afflictions, knowing that afflictions produce endurance, and endurance, proven virtue (cf. Rom 5:3-5; CCC 2897).
Sources of temptations:
- Some temptations arise from within ourselves. “The tug and lure of his own passion has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin reaches maturity it begets death” (cf. Jas 1:14).
- Our passions and emotions incline us to long for attractive gratifications even through doing acts we know are evil.
- Pride incline us to sin.
- Imperfection of our very nature are sources of sin more particularly concupiscence and bad habits or vices.
- We also experience temptations from the world. Persons, places and things can be occasion of sins to us. Even things good in themselves can be incitements in us to seek the attractive goods in unreasonable ways.
- Faith also recognizes Satan, once an angel, but now hostile to God and to us, as one source of temptation. In his hatred for God, he seeks to drive us toward sinful and self-destructive choices (CCC 394-395).
Consequence of being tempted: slavery to sin, alienation and separation, death and ultimately hell where Satan dwells and where Satan reigns and where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth because of it unquenchable fire.
How do we handle with temptations?
- Avoid temptations and keep yourself busy. Idleness is the workshop of the devil.
- Resistance, faith and vigilance. Stay sober and alert because your enemy the Devil is like a prowling lion, waiting for someone to devour. Resist him and solid in your faith.
- Prayer. In communion with their master, the disciples’ prayer is a battle; “only by keeping watch in prayer can one avoid falling into temptation” ( cf. Lk 22:40, 46). “Pray that he will not let you be tested beyond your strength” (cf. 1 Cor 10:13). Pray that the Father “lead us not into temptations and allow us to be overcome by it (cf. CCC 2846). Nothing is equal to prayer; for what is impossible it makes possible, what is difficult, easy…Those who pray are certainly saved; those who do not pray are certainly damned.
- Repentance and conversion. Always return to the Lord with fasting, weeping and mourning. For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness and relenting in punishment.
- Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Always seek in everything the will of God. Nothing more, nothing less and nothing else.
Temptations are not themselves sins and no one entirely escape temptation. Hence, be vigilant and pray that God our Father may “lead us not into temptation” or allow us to be overcome by it and “seek it with all our hearts His sufficient grace to overcome temptation and to remain faithful to God (cf. CCC 2848).