5th Sunday of Lent – 21 March 2021 – Bible readings for Mass: I: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Responsorial: Psalm 51; II: Hebrews 5:7-9; Gospel: John 12:20-33
As we begin this fifth week of Lent we can sense the Holy Spirit drawing our souls ever closer to Christ and His holy loving passion. As we allow the light of Scripture to shine on this time and especially in our hearts we can see a message of great hope and challenge. Regardless of where we may be in the journey of our faith (novice or seasoned pilgrim), we can see the message of Jesus, His witness and welcome and His call to share this same message with others. There is a call from God to grow beyond our religious knowledge and practice rooted in the Law to an even greater relationship with the Living Word at home in our hearts.
In our Old Testament reading from the Prophet Jeremiah, we come upon the beautiful message of healing hope. The words come about midway in the book of prophecy. Jeremiah has been sharing with stern clarity the need of repentance and conversion for the people of Israel. The Hebrews had fallen into the idolatry and rebelliousness of the world and their walk with God had mostly fallen to faithless futility. Yet in the warnings of coming judgment God shows us this bright hope of something better. He promised the hope that all would know the Lord, that His living Word would be alive in their hearts and the freedom of forgiveness would grow in their lives. God promised His WELCOME to hearts that sought His blessing and mercy and the WITNESS of His grace and love. He spoke of true holiness alive in the lives of His people.
This message of our hearts cleansed and welcoming for God is at the very core of The Responsorial Psalm. This great prayer of contrition and repentance was shared by David, King of Judah, at what was perhaps the lowest point of his life. He, a man after God’s own heart, had committed adultery and murder. While the evidence of his sin and guilt was undeniable the Holy Spirit inspired David giving this fallen man, this great Psalm of the penitent. David, like all humanity, had failed, horribly. But God’s welcome and witness of grace would prevail. From his brokenness God’s wholeness and holiness would be witnessed by His blessings.
This brings us to the Gospel for today. It is from the Gospel of John’s account of Holy Week. It includes this seemingly parenthetical yet significant episode in the events that were unfolding. A group of Greeks (Gentiles) had come to worship for the Jewish Passover. They could have been converts to Judaism or inquirers. But they were not Jews. They come to the disciples saying they want to see Jesus. The apostles, Phillip and Andrew, are unsure if this is alright. After all…. they were Gentiles. For a faithful Hebrew to conceive of and allow a Gentile into the blessings of their faith was very difficult. To allow them to see Jesus, to be blessed by their Messiah was problematic more than we realize. But it seems the Holy Spirit reminded the followers of Jesus of His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. And the healing of the Roman Centurion’s beloved servant and other prejudice quenching experiences they had witnessed. They went and told Jesus. It was as they, in essence, prayed our Lord spoke to their hearts of His Welcome and Witness. There is no mention of what happened with this group of Gentiles. But the Gospel offers a far broader answer from God.
The scope of this welcome and witness of God was not realized by the disciples during Holy Week. Sadly it seems it is often not realized to this day. But there was one particular event that should open the hearts of the faithful to the infinite dimensions of this miracle of grace. The Feast of the Lord’s Supper that we celebrate on Holy Thursday is a treasure mine of the graces of God. The sacred meal establishes the pinnacle of the seven sacraments, that of the Eucharist. It sets before all would-be followers of Christ the path of faith-filled service and love. And it gives us a lesson of the Welcome and Witness in the mercy of Jesus. As we think of those gathered around that first Eucharist, as we think of those gathered for the Eucharist today we don’t see a gathering of pious, holy, perfect Christians. We see a gathering of Christ’s followers who are uncertain, frightened and struggling with their faith. None of those present at that first sharing of Holy Communion had it all figured out. Their knowledge, their understanding of doctrinal matters, of the complex theories of natural law, of the profound wealth of religious teachings and philosophy that would evolve over the millennia was barely awakened. But they knew Jesus. They had sought to follow Him. All the chosen Apostles but one would run and hide at His Passion. One would betray Him. One would deny Him. But Jesus Welcomed and Witnessed to them all. And He gave to them and to all who would seek to follow him the mandate to go and do likewise. He gave to each of us the Truth that where He is also are His servants. He showed us we are the Body of Christ. He gave us each the call to Welcome and Witness of Him.
In this final week of Lent our hearts would be drawn ever closer to the welcoming Presence and graces of our Lord. We would be called to witness His mercy and forgiveness as we seek His blessings of grace, forgiveness and love. But we as individuals and as the Church the Body of Christ should hear the call the Holy Spirit bring us to be a people of Welcome and Witness for Christ. We will be privileged, like the early disciples, to encounter those who are seeking Christ, hungering for the blessings of God and His holy kingdom. And it will be difficult because we may well encounter those who might sin differently than us. We may see and hear of those whose faith journey and lives covered a far different path than what we might think as best. But we must remember the living words of our Lord, our Savior, Jesus: “And when I am lifted up from this earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” It brings us to hopefully realize that our task is to welcome and bring others into the witness of His mercy. And it is for God to choose to bless.
Holy Jesus, may our words, our actions, our choices lift You up, that you may draw everyone to your saving Presence. Jesus, Love, help us share Your Welcome and Witness, Your Blessings.