31 March 2009

No Garden, No Cross

Fifth Sunday of Lent: Jer 31:31-34; Heb 5:7-9; John 12:20-33
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Jesus is troubled. What should he say? “Father, save me from this hour” or “Father, glorify your name”? He chooses to glorify God’s name. Why? He says, “…it was for this purpose [to glorify God’s name] that I came to this hour.” By glorifying God’s name he fulfills his purpose. Does this glorification of God’s name accomplish any vital tasks other than praising the Father? Yes. Jesus says to the crowd at that time of judgment, “. . .the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself." What Jesus says and does is the engine of our salvation; his word and deed makes us sons of the Father. What does he say? “Father, glorify your name.” What does he do? He dies. And then he rises from death to take us with him. So, why is Jesus troubled? To rise with him, we must die with him and our deaths must be in service to him. We cannot hope to escape the betrayal of Judas, the passion in Jerusalem, the nails and wood of the cross, and then expect to be part of a glorious Easter harvest. If we will follow Jesus up from the earth, we must follow him on the earth. This is what troubles our Lord: “. . .unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” To rise, we must fall; to produce much fruit, we must die.

Are you ready to die? I mean, are you ready to follow Christ and produce the fruit he produced by dying on the cross? Most of us hope to avoid the kind of death that Christ died. And most of us will. At least in the particulars. Few of us will be scourged. Or forced-marched to a burning landfill and nailed to a cross. Few of us will be subjected to public ridicule and executed to spare the nation the wrath of its foreign military governors. Few of us will be accused of blasphemy, religious sedition. If we are killed for the faith, it will be incrementally. Slowly. Almost invisibly. The proverbial frog boiled by degrees of increasing heat. The Enemy’s strategy this time around is far more subtle. More understated and restrained. This time we will be accused of hating ourselves, our neighbors, our God; we will be accused of standing against truth, against the beauty of creation, against the goodness of our human natures. This time, we will be charged with being insufficiently humane, unremarkably merciful. And like all the other times, we will die. . .for preaching the simple truth of the gospel.

God’s will be done; therefore, we are troubled. So, what do we say: “Father, save us from this hour” or “Father, glorify your name”? We could ask our Lord to save us from this hour. We could. But why should we? Can we honestly claim we didn’t know what was in store for us? Can we look God in the eye and say, “Hey, this wasn’t in the brochure!”? No, to claim such a thing would be a lie. If you know what it means to be baptized into his death, then you know what it means to be resurrected into his life. If you will rise, you will die. Why would you beg God to save you from the very thing you signed on for? Yes, you were promised a garden. . .and you will have it! Look for the path marked “Gethsemane.” Ask yourself: why do I deserve a better life and death than Christ? You might say, “Didn’t Christ die so we wouldn’t have to?” No. No, he died so that we might have eternal life and have it most abundantly! That path—the Way to an abundant life, an eternal life—cuts straight through Gethsemane. There is no detour.

No detour, for sure. But there is hope; here it is: “…when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself." Though we may understandably fear the death we have signed up for, part and parcel of that death is the promise—the guarantee—the death is not the end; that is, death is not our end, our purpose. We were not created to die. We do not live to die. Though our bodies fail us, and we cease to live, we do not stop being exactly who God made and remade us to Be. In fact, in Christ, we are made perfectly who were first made to be. And only in Christ—perfect God, perfect Man—can we be perfectly who we are made to be for all time. When Christ dies on the cross, humanity dies with him. When Christ rises from the tomb—dead for three days, three nights—humanity rises with him. If you and I will be among those who rise with Christ, we must be among those who die with Christ. As Christ himself teaches us: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” If you see a detour here, you need to have your eyes checked.

Where are you? Whose path do you follow? Which Way do you go? You, like every man and woman ever created, will be offered a bag of thirty silver coins. The Powers of this world want one thing for this price: a simple, easy compromise; an answer from one who has chosen to follow the Way of Truth and Life—“So that the many may avoid persecution/pain/inconvenience/anxiety, tell us what we want to hear; tell us that this Christ is a fraud; tell us that his good news is simply one message among many equally valuable options; tell us that we do not have to suffer the cross in order to rise again; tell us that we can disobey and still reap the harvest!” At this moment, who are you? Where are you?

Before you answer. . .before you commit. . .hear again: “[Jesus] learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” If you will learn, if we will be saved. . .we will first suffer. We will obey. And in obedience, we will glorify the name of God our Father!

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  1. From your Lenten Prayer post,

    "Lord, grant us hearts bound in obedience to your Word and freed in your love. And even though we may suffer for a little while, we know our purpose is fulfilled when we offer you thanks and praise for the gift of your Son."

    Amen +

  2. Father: This is an excellent homily. Thank you.

  3. Aspiring and Patty,

    Thanks for reading and commenting...

  4. Aspiring and Patty,

    Thanks for reading and commenting...