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DEALING WITH REALITY
The Fifth Sunday of Lent - Year B
No matter how much I flew while working as a liturgical designer I was never comfortable with turbulence. I had no control over it and just had to sit back, tighten the belt and ride it out. A pilot once described it as “mere bumps in the road.” Right. I spoke about my uneasiness with turbulent skies during one of my project meetings. A Catholic sister on the staff said to me, “just think of it as God rocking you safely in his [sic] arms.”
In commenting on this week’s biblical texts, Mary McGlone wrote, “It seems that our life is one continual process of becoming our true selves; we are molded by our responses to events over which we have varying degrees of control.”
In today’s gospel (John 12:20-33), we read about the time Jesus of Nazareth confronts his forthcoming death, something he had no control over. He must have been thinking, “Is there anyway out of this mess or is this what I am meant to do … to challenge the injustices all around?”
Jesus had to find a way to cope with the reality that the authorities wanted to get rid of him. He had to dig deep into his own being to recall that his purpose in life was to free up people from all oppression. The same is true for us. Learning to accept both the good and the bad in life is linked to how we view ourselves and our purpose in life. God uses everyday ordeals to test our tenacity, our faith, our moral fiber.
Jesus was arriving in Jerusalem for Passover. A huge crowd of Jews and non-Jews was there to greet him. God’s plan for peace and justice is designed for all creatures of God and not just a few. Jesus’ ambition was to reveal the presence of the Creator God through a witness of kindness, gratitude, and blessing. But why did he have to die?
According to Greek scholar Alicia Myers, “For [the evangelist] John, Jesus’ mission is indeed this in-gathering of the world, but it will come about only through his death and resurrection … Jesus reminded us, she wrote, “we cannot avoid darkness and death, but instead, must trust that God will bring about life.”
Perhaps, in his final days, Jesus was more accepting of the divine plan that he would be the One to claim victory over sin. Although he questioned God while suffocating on the cross (“Why have you abandoned me?”) Jesus ultimately accepted the reality that his spirit, his life on earth was over. John’s gospel says that Jesus admitted to some of his closest followers, a “grain of wheat must die in order to produce much fruit.”
As we deal with realities in our own lives how are we to continue the work started by Jesus but not fully finished? The first reading from Jeremiah 31:31-34 offers a key word — obedience. Jeremiah pointed out in this “Oracle of Salvation” that God will establish a new covenant with Judah and Israel. It will be unlike the Mosaic one that fell apart because of the people’s collective disobedience.
The new deal would require a transformation on the part of the people. They were invited to enter into a new long lasting relationship with God that included being obedient to the commandments. In turn God would bring them safely home to the promised land, free of subjugation. Do we know God well enough to trust that God is “rocking us safely in God’s arms” especially in turbulent times?
The second reading from Paul (Hebrews 5:7-9) explains the word “obedient.” Although Jesus had a difficult time in accepting the reality in front of him he had to learn how to accept his destiny. Suffering and dying was something he had to endure for the sake of others. Jesus was obedient to that “divine” expectation.
Plenty is expected of us today. And, although we cannot control everything that happens to us or others, we are summoned to deal with countless realities in front of us. One example among many is fresh in our minds. In 2019 the Department of Justice reported there were 7,314 hate crime incidents in the United States involving 8,559 offenses. Further, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported there were 838 domestic hate groups in this country in 2020. Bias-based hate crime continues to plague us, the most recent one being the murders in Georgia.
As spring dawns upon us we continue the Lenten journey with renewed hope. We still have time to grasp the realities of our own time and to find ways to accept our responsibilities, actions that are necessary and even urgent. We are expected to protect all of God’s creatures regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or social status. Attention is needed particularly towards those who are visibly and invisibly vulnerable. They are waiting to be acknowledged and met with acts of love, generosity, and kindness.