In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ response to the request by a group of Greek-speaking pilgrims to see him is: “Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). What hour has come? The hour to consummate his earthly mission of restoring communion between God and man. Let us bear in mind that at the wedding ceremony of Cana, when his mother told him the wine had run out, his response was: “My hour has not yet come” (John2:4). Also, once during the Feast of Tabernacles, when his brothers encouraged him to minister publicly in Judaea, he responded: “My time has not yet come” (Jon.7:6). And even when his teaching in the Temple upset some people, we are told that: “No one seized him, because his hour had not yet come” (John 7:30). There fore,by declaring today that the hour has come, Jesus is making it clear the moment is ripe for him to shed his blood for our redemption.
Accordingly, he lays out the condition for those wishing to see him: The sure and only path to glory is by dying to oneself. This flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that promotes self-preservation as the first law of nature. It was Herbert Spencer, the English philosopher who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest”. Spencer’s outlook is that of a world of unending struggle among the species such that the stronger survived and multiplied while the weaker ones disappeared. However, Jesus turns this mind set on its head by proposing self-sacrificeas the way to go. He then uses an analogy from nature to reinforce his point: “Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.”It is amazing how a seed germinates! Once inside the soil, the outer skin breaks open, then the seed itself breaks into two and therefrom emerge the root and the stem. Finally, the seed slowly fades away. This is a model of the spiritual life that Christ proposes today. The seed of faith has been planted in our hearts through baptism, and it only is by a life of total self-giving that we can bear a rich harvest. The path to glory is to live no longer for ourselves but for God and for others.
Dear friends, eternal life begins here on earth for those who choose to die to self – those who accept St Paul’s challenge to offer their bodies“as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1-2).Our Lord himself is clear that anyone who clings to his life will lose it. But, sadly, this teaching means little to those bent on “enjoying” this life to the full. The truth is that self-obsession is a recipe for self-destruction. We can only secure our life by spending it for God and for others, and that is the spirit of Lent. As Henri J.M. Nouwen once said: “Our humanity comes to its fullest bloom in giving. We become beautiful people when we give whatever we can give: a smile, a handshake, a kiss, an embrace, a word of love, a present, a part of our life…all of our life.”
Today, therefore, the hour has come as promised through Jeremiah in the First Reading, when God will make a “New Covenant” with the House of Israel. This is the only mention of the New Covenant in the Old Testament. This New Covenant differs greatly from the Old: It is eternal and ratified not by the blood of animals but by the blood of the very Son of God. The New Covenant is written not on stone-tablets or paper but on human hearts. This amazing newness is only possible because the Lord will grant the prayers of our Responsorial Psalm today- to create a new heart and steadfast spirit within each of us (Ps. 51:10). The hour has come for that!
Consequently, let us live in imitation of Christ! As we see in the Second Reading, Jesus embraced suffering and offered prayers aloud and in silent tears. He accepted hardships not with bitterness but with total submission to his Father’s will. And by overcoming all the difficulties of earthly life, he became our path to eternal salvation. Our Lord is emphatic today that the hour has come to gather all nations into the family of God. As the Catechism says: “By his word, through signs that manifest the reign of God, and by sending out his disciples, Jesus calls all people to come together around him. But above all in the great Paschal mystery – his death on the cross and his Resurrection – he would accomplish the coming of his kingdom” (CCC542). By his crucifixion, Jesus would reveal himself to everyone, including the Greeks who came to see him.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus invites us today! He wants us to seek him, to see him, to know him, and to love him – that’s why he came in the first place! That’s why he let himself be crucified, to show us his outer self, and his inner self as well. The crucifixion unveils his heart for all to see – a heart aflame with so much love that he is willing to die for our sake, to suffer unspeakable pain and humiliation so as to reopen to us the gates of heaven. The crucifix is the great revelation of the heart of God. If we want to “see Christ,” to see and know God, we have only to raise our eyes to behold him dying on the cross for us. There, Christ is most attractive to us and we should always remember that we are no less attractive to him when we bend under the weight of our own crosses. May the Lord empower us to accept the challenge of the hour today. Amen!