Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B—March 17, 2024


In our Gospel, some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem to worship at Passover asked to see Jesus.  When told about this, Jesus announced that His “hour” had come.  Why?

By Gayle Somers

Gospel (Read Jn 12:20-33)

St. John tells us that when Jesus was in Jerusalem for His final Passover festival, “some Greeks who had come to worship” desired to see Him.  These were non-Jews who were strongly attracted to the God of Israel and so participated in the liturgical feasts at the Temple.  They may have been actual converts (meaning they had been circumcised), but, more probably, they were “God-fearers,” Gentiles who tried to keep the Law of Moses and to observe the pious practices of the Jews.  We see they approached Philip with their request.  He had a Greek name and was from Galilee, so he probably spoke some Greek.  These men may have heard stories about Jesus’ miraculous works, especially the raising of Lazarus, recorded in the previous chapter of the Gospel.   When Philip and his brother, Andrew, tell Jesus about the Greeks’ request, He begins speaking about His “hour,” His glory, and His death.  We might imagine Him to say these things if the Pharisees were looking for Him, because He knew they wanted to be rid of Him.  But why did He talk this way when pious Gentiles wanted to see Him?

To understand the importance of this moment, we need to remember that the Jews’ original vocation from God was to be a “nation of priests.”  They were “chosen” in order to proclaim, in word and deed, God’s truth to all the nations on earth.  In fact, God’s promise to Abraham was for universal blessing through his descendants.  When news that non-Jews were seeking Him reached Jesus, He recognized that in order for the Gentiles to know God in the way they desired, a way must be opened up for them.  He would need to be “lifted up from the earth” so He could “draw everyone” to Himself.  This, of course, meant the Cross.

Notice, however, that before Jesus speaks of His death, He refers to His glorification.  Ultimately, it would be His glorification that would enable both Jews and Gentiles to see that He is the Son of God, who humbled Himself out of love to die for all sinners.  We usually associate “glory” with power, yet here Jesus helps us see that it can actually begin under a very different guise.  The glory of His “hour” would first appear as defeat and humiliation, but upon His Resurrection (“lifted up” out of death) and His Ascension (“lifted up” out of this earthly mode of existence), it would break through as the unbounded, limitless love and power of God on behalf of all sinners, of all times and places.

Jesus uses this moment to explain that His disciples must also follow this path to glory: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”  Those who want to be with Jesus will need to be as willing as He was to let go of everything to obey God, even when it means humiliation, suffering, and death to ourselves.  Jesus acknowledges how difficult this is, even for Him: “I am troubled now.  Yet what should I say?  ‘Father, save Me from this hour’?  But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.  Father, glorify Your Name.”  His singular purpose is to glorify God; a Voice from Heaven assures Him that His obedience will be rewarded.  

When the Voice speaks, some thought it was thunder, but “others said, ‘An angel has spoken.’”  St. John regularly reveals how differently people in Jesus’ day reacted to the same event (i.e. the healing of the man born blind, the raising of Lazarus from the dead).  The outward reaction reveals the disposition of the hidden heart.  Jesus tells the crowd that the Voice came for their sake.  In a sense, the Father’s Voice declared the beginning of the battle that would end in the Son’s glory: “Now the ruler of this world will be driven out.”  Jesus’ death and Resurrection would be judgment on Satan, who has terrorized mankind ever since the Garden of Eden.  The victory Jesus would win on the Cross frees all men from the Enemy’s grip; it would draw everyone to Him.

The Cross continues to do that today.  Looking at it, the whole world now can do what the Greeks sought at Passover: “see Jesus” there.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, when I must deny myself to do the Father’s will, please help me to have Your singular vision: “For the glory of God.”

First Reading (Read Jer 31:31-34)

Jeremiah, a prophet in the 6th century B.C., announced news of a “new covenant” God would make with His people.  Why was a new covenant necessary?  There was no fault in the covenant God made with them “the day [He] took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt.”  It was God’s people themselves who broke that covenant.  The Law, written on tablets of stone, did not penetrate their hearts.  They were unfaithful to their promises to Him.  Something really new had to be done to change that.  So, through Jeremiah, God says, “I will place My law within them and write it upon their hearts.”  How could that happen?

As we know, when Jesus accomplished His work on the Cross and ascended victoriously to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to give believers new birth.  In that new life, the Spirit works from the inside out.  No more tablets of stone!  The Spirit writes the law of love into us; now, in baptism, we are God’s people, “from the least to the greatest.”

Notice that God promises to “forgive their evildoing and remember their sins no more.”  What’s “new” about that?  Hadn’t God done that countless times before in Israel’s long history?  The difference in the “new covenant” is what Jesus described as His “hour” in our Gospel reading.  The animal sacrifices and personal repentance of the Old Covenant all anticipated the One sacrifice that can actually pay man’s debt and clear his conscience (as animal sacrifices never could)—Jesus on the Cross.  Justice (punishment for sin) and mercy (forgiveness) met there.

Finally, the “new” covenant was going to extend to all people, not just the Jews: “No longer will they have to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD.”  What was once privileged knowledge of God, given only to the Jews, would be opened to everyone.  That is exactly why, when the Greeks came seeking Jesus, He knew the “hour” of the new covenant had arrived.

Possible Response:  Father, Your promise of a new covenant teaches me that You know all about my weakness, yet You never give up on me.  Help me not to give up on You.

Psalm (Read Ps 51:3-4, 12-15)

The psalmist, after an experience of sin, longs for God’s mercy to “wipe out” his offense.  He wants a thorough cleansing from his guilt.  He knows that apart from God’s compassion he would be “cast out” from His presence.  He desires a “willing spirit” to be able to live again in the “joy of [God’s] salvation.”  When we ponder this psalm, we begin to understand why God promised a “new covenant” to His people.  This kind of restoration was not possible in the old one.  We should also recognize the great price Jesus paid for all these desires to be granted.  His “hour” on the Cross enables us to pray, “Create a clean heart in me, O God” and to rejoice in the knowledge that He will.

Possible response:  The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings.  Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.

Second Reading (Read Heb 5:7-9)

We have been thinking about Jesus’ “hour” in our readings.  In the epistle, we get to taste, if only briefly, what He experienced in that “hour.”  It included “prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears.”  Jesus knew His Father “was able to save Him from death.”  Although “He was heard because of His reverence,” God allowed Jesus to “learn obedience through what He suffered.”  This does not mean, of course, that Jesus had to tame a rebellious spirit in order to obey (the way we do).  No, it means that He had to “learn” or “experience” the full cost, humanly speaking, of that obedience.  He knew it in the sense of having lived through it.  Then, when He “was made perfect”—or, when His obedience reached its fullness, even though it cost His life—He “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.”  His perfect obedience broke the shackles of death and the sin that causes it.  He became our New Covenant in His “hour,” doing for all mankind what the Old Covenant could not.

No wonder the Greeks were looking for Him.  Aren’t we all?

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, when I make the sign of the Cross on myself, help me remember that it was through Your suffering that I was made clean and free.  Nothing You ask of me will be harder than that.