5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

We’re a week away from Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week, and in today’s Gospel you can feel the tension in the air, both on Heaven and on earth. The Gospel starts with a simple request to see Jesus, but, by the end, Heaven and earth are crying out about what’s about to happen, something that we will remember in the liturgy in a special way next week: the Passion of the Lord, and our Redemption.

Heaven and earth are exulting today because the Lord’s wish expressed in today’s First Reading is about to become a reality. The Lord wants to go beyond just being a legislator in our lives of a Law. It is for our good, but that Law seems to too strict, too hard, too impersonal to keep. The Law is how the Lord tried to stay in the lives of his people Israel for thousands of years, and, as he laments, they broke it over and over in the wilderness. Nevertheless, as a good Father he had to be strict with them so that they’d keep trying, since the Law was the way they could be re-united with him.

The Lord wants to write that Law on our hearts because once written there it cannot be erased: when we go against our conscience, that Law in our hearts keeps reminding us that we should have done something different in our lives. When we break that Law it not only puts distances and barriers between God and us, but all of humanity is kept away from him due to our lack of love. Jesus taught us that we should build our lives on two fundamental commandments from which all others flow: to love God above all else, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. All God really asks for is love, and that doesn’t seem unreasonable, considering all the love he has shown us, but, despite all that love he’s shown us, we still treat him many times like a cold-hearted legislator bogging us down with rules and regulations. In our lives we know there’s no substitute for God’s love. We can’t even find it just by loving ourselves. His Law, written in our hearts, shows us how incomplete we are when we don’t have his love and don’t share his love with others.

By the time we come to the moment in Jesus’ life that is recalled in the Gospel today, there’s a big void of love that everyone is feeling, but that no one can fill. It’s a void that’s begun and grown since the Fall of Adam and Eve. It’s caused by our sins, which put distance between us, God, and others. Our Lord was sent to bridge the gap, fill the void, and enable us to love the Father again and be re-united with him, but that comes with a price, a price about which Jesus today is “troubled.” In a few weeks, in the garden of Gethsemane, we’ll see him tremble: in his heart, he knows he can fill that void of love by obeying his Father and suffering and dying on the cross to re-unite us with him.

The Second Reading today reminds us that the work of Redemption was not just turning a blind eye to what had happened between us and God: “he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears.” Our Lord becomes the grain of wheat that can only bear fruit by dying so that wheat can grow and be made into bread that gives life. He becomes the way for us to return to the Father again, and he stays at our side so that we remain united with him, in good times and bad, until one day we’re re-united with the Father forever.

Jesus’ love for his Father never failed, so, as he finishes his mission on earth, and is drawn back to his Father in Heaven, we must unite ourselves to his love for his Father so that we too can be drawn to Heaven. When we love Jesus, we unite our love to his love for God the Father. It fills us and draws us deeper and deeper into God’s love. When we stay close to Christ, we go where he goes. He takes us with him. Today he reminds us in the Gospel that we stay close to him by serving him and following him, just as he teaches us by his example of serving his Father until death on the cross.

Our Lord shows us in today’s Gospel that there’s a temptation to just focus on our personal salvation alone and put a big limit on our love. He says in the Gospel today, “where I am, there also will my servant be.” If everyone needs to draw nearer to Christ, so that Christ can lead them and draw them into the love of God, he counts on us, by serving him, to make him seen by others who are not so close to him. The Greeks wanted to see Jesus, but they didn’t, and couldn’t, go to him on their own. They went to people they knew were closer to him: Phillip and Andrew. Jesus founded a Church that serves him and follows him and makes him present in the world, even today, so that people can draw closer to him, and be re-united with the Father by remaining united among themselves. We stay close to Christ by staying close to him together as a family through the Church, prayer, the sacraments, and giving good Christian witness. That shines out to others and becomes a force of attraction so that they can start drawing close to Christ through us, drawing closer to the Father in the process. Examine yourself this week and consider whether the limits of your love might be putting limits on Our Lord’s. He wants us to help him.

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31–34; Psalm 51:3–4, 12–15; Hebrews 5:7–9; John 12:20–33.