March 21, 2021 – Fifth Sunday of Lent
by Fr. Manoling Thomas, CSsR
Click here for the readings (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/032121-YearB.cfm)
Today’s Gospel begins with “some Greeks” approaching Philip with a request: “to see” Jesus! The Greek word used means: “to visit or to meet with.” But for John “to see Jesus” means “to believe in Jesus”! So these Greeks really wanted “to believe in Jesus”. The Gospel never told us whether they actually had the chance “to see” Jesus! But these two statements of Jesus in today’s Gospel provide us the answer. Jesus said: 1) “Very truly, I tell you unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit.” [Jn. 12:24]; and 2) “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” [Jn. 12:32]
From Grades One to Four, I studied at the public school in my hometown. To take a “short-cut” to and from the school, we had to pass through rice paddies! I remember being fascinated observing the cycle of growth of these rice planted there! First the palay seeds were sown in a small section of the rice field. When the rice seedlings had sprouted and grown up to a foot, these were carefully transplanted by rows to the rice paddies. As these seedlings continue to grow, they start to bear flowers, which turned into bunches of new grains. These green bunches of grains turn golden, and soon they are ready for harvest!
Although Jesus’ imagery was about “the grain of wheat”, but I could imagine that the process of growth has some similarity to the rice! Jesus is the “grain of wheat”. Jesus is talking about himself: his dying, burial, and rising up again! Jesus’ death and resurrection brought about “the plentiful harvest of redemption” just like the grain of wheat, or rice! Jesus had to let go of his life and to die, before the rich harvest of salvation for humankind could take place!
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
The phrase, “to be lifted up” in John has a double meaning! This phrase refers to both Jesus’ crucifixion, and resurrection! When Jesus was crucified, he was “lifted up” from the ground. At Jesus’ resurrection, the Father “lifted” him up from death, from the ground, and from the tomb!
These two statements of Jesus answered the request of those Greeks to Philip: “to see or to believe in Jesus”! “Seeing or believing in Jesus” could only take place after Jesus’ death and resurrection! Only after Jesus was “lifted up” that Jesus was able “to draw all people” to himself! It was only after Easter that both Jews and non-Jews began to join Jesus’ new family, new community!
But Jesus also invites and challenges all his followers to take part in “this process of dying and rising with him” so that the yielding of a rich harvest will continue on! True disciples of Jesus, must go through the process of growth of the “grain of wheat or rice”, by letting go and by losing one’s life for the sake of Jesus and his teaching! “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” [Jn. 12:25]. If the “grain of wheat or rice” does not let go of itself allowing itself to die and be buried in the soil, it will remain on its own. There will be no rich harvest to look forward to! If Jesus did not let go of his life, there would have been no salvation for humankind! Jesus modeled a life of total surrender to the Father’s Will, for a greater good and for the service of humanity. To this kind of life, Jesus invites and challenges all would-be followers!
“Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” [Jn.12:26]. Jesus promises, and assures us of the eternal life, that he received from the Father after his suffering and death! Jesus guarantees us that, living “the Jesus way”, will end up the way Jesus’ life ended up! Where Jesus is now, we will also be there! Just as the Father honored Jesus with his resurrection, so too will the Father honor us with that same gift!
As we come to the end of our 40-day journey with Jesus, he asks us this question: “Do you want to continue your journey with me, until you reach your own “holy week”?