Commentary: 5th Sunday Year B

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31–34

On this 5th Sunday of Lent, the Church no longer looks back to salvation history in the Old Testament but rather forward through the prophets to the New Testament.

Jeremiah was prophesying during one of the hardest times in Israel’s history, he knew how much Israel had failed, out of the depths Jeremiah prophesies that a day will come when the covenant will be sealed and be written on the hearts of the people Israel, a hope against hope so it must have seemed to his hearers at the time.

A covenant is a sacred family bond between God and His chosen people.

This is the one explicit mention of the new covenant in the Old Testament — an interior covenant expressed through forgiveness of sins. The Church is preparing us for Holy Week, where Jesus will inaugurate the new covenant on Holy Thursday, specifically fulfilling this new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah (new covenant… for forgiveness of sins). In Jesus’ act of shedding his blood, God and his people finally became blood-brothers.

Psalm: Psalm 51:3–4, 12–15

1Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy

blot out my transgressions.

2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

and cleanse me from my sin.

10Create in me a clean heart, O God,

The Psalmist is not talking about low cholesterol levels here ! but a heart free from all sin and attachments.

and put a new and right spirit within me.

11Do not cast me away from your presence,

and do not take your holy spirit from me.

12Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and sustain in me a willing spirit.

13Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

and sinners will return to you.

This is the psalm of penitent sinners. 

The new covenant is more than a political or national restoration. As we sing in today’s Psalm, it is a universal spiritual restoration. In the “hour” of Jesus, sinners in every nation can return to the Father – to be washed of their guilt and given new hearts to love and serve Him.

Second Reading: Hebrews 5:7–9

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Troubled in His agony, Jesus didn’t pray to be saved. Instead, as we hear in today’s Epistle, He offered himself to the Father on the cross – as a living prayer and supplication. For this, God gave Him dominion over heaven and earth (see Acts 2:33; Philippians 2:9) ~ Dr. Scott Hahn

“In the Gospel John muffles the pointedness of suffering; for him everything, even the darkest, is already an appearance of Love’s glory. In the second reading, the letter to the Hebrews lets the harsh tones of the Passion ring out… in the darkest suffering everyone, even Christ, must learn obedience in a new way.” ~ Balthasar, LW, 180

Gospel: John 12:20–33

This is Jesus’ final public statement before His Passion begins in John 12.

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.

The context is the Feast of Passover, a spring pilgrimage festival in Jerusalem.

21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

The Greeks happen to go to the two of Jesus’ disciples who have Greek names, Filippos and Andreas, who act as intercessors for Jesus through their common language with the foreigners.

“This is a very important moment because it means that people of a non-Jewish culture came in search of Christ: which would make them the first-fruits of the spread of the Christian faith in the hellenic world” (Navarre Bible).

23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Hour: After 11 chapters stressing that ‘My hour had not yet come’ or ‘the hour is coming’ in the future tense, here we have Jesus, after the Greeks start looking for Him, immediately say that His hour has come. Link to prophecy of coming Messiah ushering in conversion of Gentiles.

Glorified: a technical term for His passion and death, as the ultimate act of glory to God the Father.

Our readings today are filled with anticipation. The days are coming, Jeremiah prophesies in today’s First Reading. The hour has come, Jesus says in the Gospel. The new covenant that God promised to Jeremiah is made in the “hour” of Jesus – in His death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father’s right hand.

24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Jesus draws an analogy between the planting of a seed of wheat and his own passion and death. Jesus must be buried in death before He can bring everlasting life.

Connection between grain of wheat and Eucharist — the celebration of the Mass makes present the mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection (St. Irenaeus of Lyons). 

St Thomas — the eucharist is the fulfilment of the law b/c the eucharist is the moment when the law of God is written in our hearts, when the covenant becomes our flesh and our blood.

If I become a blood brother with God, I will learn to give my life way for others to bear much fruit.

“If the grain of wheat does not die, it remains unfruitful. Don’t you want to be a grain of wheat, to die through mortification, and to yield a rich harvest? May Jesus bless your wheatfield!” (St J. Escrivá, The Way, 199).

25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Hate their life: Jesus does not mean ‘I hate my life’ in the way we speak of it today but rather a hyperbolic statement for radical detachment — if you are not willing to lay down your life, you will not have eternal life. 

Those who love their life: On psychē (translated here as “life”) in the sense of a person’s human experience of life.

26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

This is the Synoptic version of taking up your cross and following Jesus to be His disciple.

27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.

What is your Hour? What is the passion and death God has called for you to endure in our to bear much fruit for the world? We can’t do this on our own. God has written his covenant in our hearts through the holy spirit’s power. Let us ask the holy spirit to help us on our way to holy week… 

Now is my soul troubled: As Schnackenburg, Gospel 2:387, rightly comments: “Even in John, the cross has not lost its human darkness.”

28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.

This is the 3rd time the Father speaks in Jesus’ public ministry (Baptism & Transfiguration other two).

Most scholars think that this is an allusion to the two most important moments in salvation history:

  1. Incarnation — And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
  2. Passion.

“Do you ever wish that you could hear the voice of God? In today’s Gospel, we see one of these moments when God’s voice booms out of the clouds. What happens? Some were amazed and said it was angels, others were sceptical and said it was thunder… If you were there, which side are you on? It’s up to you. You choose. You decide.” ~ Dominick Albano, Dynamic Catholic

“The Father’s voice confirms that the entire plan of salvation, all the way to the Cross and Resurrection, is a single “glorifying” of divine, merciful love that has triumphed over evil (the “prince of this world”). ~ Balthasar, LW, 180

29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

Jesus reveals that the Cross will be the great cosmic exorcism of the world ~Dr. Pitre.

32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Just as the prophets predicted how Jerusalem would one day draw all men to itself to worship God in the Temple, Jesus reveals that, as the true Temple, He will definitively draw everyone to Himself.

Jesus says when I am lifted up I will draw all people to myself. He is saying, I will make the whole world into the blood-brothers & sisters of God. Jesus is the moment when faithful Yahweh meets faithful Israel ~ Bishop Barron

In predicting He will be “lifted up,” Jesus isn’t describing only His coming crucifixion (see John 3:14-15). Isaiah used the same word to tell how the Messiah, after suffering for Israel’s sins, would be raised high and greatly exalted (see Isaiah 52:3). Elsewhere the term describes how kings are elevated above their subjects (see 1 Maccabees 8:13) ~ Dr. Scott Hahn

The parallel drawn between Moses’ lifting up of the serpent and the lifting up of the Son of Man in 3:14 also points to a physical lifting up on a stake. There is no suggestion of the serpent ascending into heaven. ~ Daniel Harrington

“If you put me at the centre of all earthly activities, he is saying, by fulfilling the duty of each moment, in what appears important and what appears unimportant, I will draw everything to myself. My kingdom among you will be a reality!” (St Josemaría Escrivá, Christ Is Passing By, 183).

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