Father Leslie Hoppe, OFM

March 17: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Embracing the cross

Jer 31:31-34; Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15; Heb 5:7-9; Jn 12:20-33

It’s a natural enough scene: People want to meet the young rabbi that everyone has been talking about. Some Greek-speaking Jews from the diaspora have come to Jerusalem on the pilgrimage for the feast of Passover. They approach Philip and Andrew, two members of Jesus’ entourage with Greek names that had no Hebrew equivalent. Perhaps the pilgrims thought that Philip and Andrew would be willing to introduce them to their rabbi.

The two disciples did take the pilgrims’ request to Jesus, but the evangelist does not tell us whether the pilgrims ever met Jesus. Instead, the evangelist uses the incident to portray Jesus preparing his disciples for his impending death. Jesus recognized that his death would have a profound effect on those who placed their hopes for the future on him.

The disciples surely would experience Jesus’ unexpected death as a horribly tragic end to a life of great promise. Jesus, however, does not speak of his death as a tragedy, but the beginning of his glorification.

He warns his disciples that he will die soon, but he affirms that his death will have unexpected and extraordinary effects. He also compares his impending death to that of a grain of wheat sown in a field. The grain of wheat will die, but its death will be fruitful, contributing to a great harvest. 

Jesus’ death will make eternal life possible. Those who come to believe that he is the one whom God has sent will themselves not die.

This is the paradox of the cross: Death brings life. This paradox will be replicated in the lives of believers who, by all appearances, will lose their lives, but will preserve them for life eternal.

The crowd listening to Jesus heard a thunderclap and believed they were hearing the voice of God confirming Jesus’ words about the significance of his death. The death that is coming to claim him is not a tragedy; it is quite the opposite. The dying Jesus will draw everyone to himself, offering them the gift of everlasting life.

The death of Jesus fulfills Jeremiah’s prophecy of a new covenant in a manner that is beyond the prophet’s wildest expectations. Jesus’ death will not merely establish a new covenant, but it will offer everlasting life to those who believe.

Jeremiah was convinced that his people’s future was entirely in God’s hands. The people of Israel showed themselves unwilling to maintain their commitment to their ancestral deity, but God will provide the way to a future marked by a covenant written on the hearts of God’s people. Christians believe that this new covenant that the prophet envisioned has been given through Jesus Christ.

The reading from Hebrews affirms that it was Jesus’ embrace of his fate that brought eternal salvation to all who believe. Hebrews underscores the paradox of the cross: Jesus’ death brings salvation and life.

As the church draws closer to Holy Week, the liturgy offers us Scriptures that, each in its own way, illuminate the paradox of the cross. The reading from the prophecy of Jeremiah affirms that our future is a gift of God that we can only humbly and gratefully receive. The story of Israel’s infidelity is our story as well. It is the fidelity of Christ even to death on the cross that establishes a new covenant that leads to forgiveness and life. The reading from Hebrews underscores the fidelity of Jesus to the mission entrusted to him by God even in the face of death. The Gospel reading sees that Jesus will draw everyone to himself when he will be lifted up on the cross. His death will be the source of salvation.

Today’s Scriptures draw us to the cross, the wellspring of forgiveness and life. Are we ready to embrace the cross?



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