5th Sunday of Lent 2012
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
In the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus or St. John on a number of occasions refer to what Jesus calls “my hour.” He first does this at Cana when his mother asks for a miracle – “my hour is not yet come”; at another place when he escapes death because – “his hour had not yet come”, and again in today’s Gospel where he says the opposite – “Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified, and once again in today’s Gospel, “And what shall I say? `Father, save me from this hour’? and finally once more, “Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee.” So, what exactly does Jesus mean by this mysterious “hour,” the hour evidently appointed by His Father which seems to control his whole mission from the Father?
Today’s Gospel gives us an answer to this question about the “hour” of Jesus. Jesus states emphatically that “his hour” is the hour of his glory, the hour for which he came into the world, the hour when he accomplishes the mission which His Father has appointed for Him, and by means of which he will give glory to the Father. The “hour” of Jesus, then, is that divinely appointed time slot in which Jesus will finally accomplish his mission and, in doing so, will simultaneously render glory to the One who sent him, and be glorified in turn by the One who sent him.
But how does Jesus fulfill his “hour” of glory? Not in the way we would expect, not in the way Peter expected, and certainly not in the way the world would understand glory. Shockingly, his “hour” is to be accomplished by His passion and death, suffered willingly so that we might have life, and have it in abundance. His hour of glory, then, is the hour of the cross, of his being crucified and put to death, and it’s a glorious hour precisely because by his self-sacrifice the whole human race will be redeemed from sin, and we all will have the chance to be saved from eternal damnation and to rise one day with him to a new and glorious life.
War stories sometimes refer to the death of soldiers as the hour of their glory, their glory as heroes due to their sacrifices on behalf of their comrades and their nation. So what could be a greater “hou of glory,” then, than that hour of Christ’s self-sacrifice by which not simply a group of comrades are saved, or even a nation is saved, but the whole human race is redeemed from Adam to the last human person who will live on this earth? Yes, Jesus’ death would redeem not just his own nation of Israel, but also all the gentile nations as well. Interestingly, he speaks of his hour of glory in today’s Gospel passage precisely in response to the fact that now some gentile Greeks were seeking him out through his disciples, an indication that his hour of glory was drawing near when he would rescue them along with the people God first called His own.
But lest his disciples mistake what his hour of glory means, He immediately adds: “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.” This is the image Jesus chooses to explain his “hour of glory” to his disciples. He is the “seed” of Adam who comes down to earth and who will die so that we all may live. And how many holy martyrs will imitate his sacrifice and die for the salvation of others, thus producing “much fruit” as well, one that knows no bounds. This fruit is a new life springing from the Resurrection of Jesus, and offered to all who believe in His name, who serve him and in turn follow him in this act of self-sacrifice. They too shall bear much fruit from the death they undergo with Jesus, indeed in Jesus.
Yes, belief in this glory of Jesus cannot remain an abstraction, a distant admiration of His sacrifice, the price He paid for our deliverance, for our life. Jesus adds in a line following today’s Gospel, “if any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also.” So, the man who truly believes in the “hour” of Jesus must follow his example, must imitate his “hour” of glory, must surrender his life to Jesus, and must die to this world and its empty promises of glory. Only thus will he gain Eternal Life and the glory that never ends. Jesus suffered, says Hebrews, and thus became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. that is, to all who follow him and become the seed that falls to the ground and produces much fruit. We may wish that there were another way to glory; indeed Jesus himself prayed to be delivered from the chalice the Father had prepared for Him. But the unbelief of the world made any other way impossible – he had to fall to the ground to rescue this sinful world.
But believers know that this death would not mean defeat, but victory, would not end in shame but in a glory that he had shared with the Father from the beginning. It would mean, literally, the rebirth of man, with God placing His law into the heart of man, so that man can obey His law as something coming from his own heart, and not as something imposed from without, that is, obey out of love, and not our of fear or servility. Thus the new man, raised to life in Christ, by Baptism, with his sins forgiven by His death, would be a truly free creature, knowing and loving God as only the son knows and loves the Father. What glory in this “hour” of Jesus, when a new humanity would be its fruit for all eternity!
Jesus foresees this rebirth of man in his hour of glory. In the Gospel he says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Yes Jesus will draw so many others to himself, to his glory, not by force, but by the strings of love, the way a hero killed in war for his comrades becomes the object of their undying love – that is how Jesus will recreate the new man, the man who obeys, as He did, out of love, not our of fear. The follower will do God’s will out of love, like Christ. because of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. The believer learns to obey from love – becomes a new man – but always first at the foot of the cross, gazing at the one who has been “lifted up” for his salvation. If we do not learn how to love God there, at the Cross, where he has been lifted up for us, if we do not have his law written upon hearts there, then we will never become the new man whom God has destined us to become in His Son.
It’s the law of love we hear from Jesus’ lips: “if any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.” Yes, where Jesus is, there must we also be in this world, not just below the Cross, but ultimately nailed with him to the Cross. There we will be given the firm hope that we also will be there with Him, there shall my servant be also, in the world to come, honored in His glory by the Father. That is the Christian path to glory, the way of love, and there truly is no other way.