Homily for 5th Sunday of Lent, Year B
By Fr. Jerome Ituah, OCD
Readings: Jer 31:31-34; Ps 50(51); Heb 5:7-9; Jn 12:20-33
Theme: The Passion, Death and Glorification of Jesus, and the New Covenant
The readings of this fifth Sunday of Lent centre around the paschal mystery, that is, the passion and death of Jesus leading to his glorification. Through the paschal mystery, Jesus makes a new covenant with his Father on behalf of humanity.
In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah speaks about a new covenant with the people of Israel. Berith, covenant, is not just a contract in the modern sense of the word, but rather a sacred family bond between God and his people. A covenant involves invoking a divine name or power (in this case, God), and an oath (or laws which have to be upheld) or sacrifice seals it. Jesus will make himself the sacrifice on the cross to seal the new covenant. The Old Testament covenant reflects a father-child relationship. Israel was God’s firstborn (cf. Exo 4:22). God made a covenant with the people of Israel when he gave them the Law (cf. Exo 19- 24). The Law, the Decalogue, which was written on tablets of stone, was to help Israel love God and keep their part of the covenant. The Law was also to help them love other human beings and live according to the ways that God had set out for them. The prophet Jeremiah underscores the failure of Israel to keep the covenant. ‘They broke the covenant of mine, so I had to show them who was master.’ Their failure led to the exile that brought deep sorrow to the people. God now wants to make a new covenant with them. The new covenant will be written on their hearts. ‘Deep within them, I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts.’ Each person will know the Law, no longer relying on people to teach them what is right or wrong.
Jesus in the last supper said to his disciples, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’ (Lk 22:20; cf. Matt 26:28; Mk 14:24). These words are fulfilled in his death on the cross. His passion and death were difficult moments in the life of Jesus. The Letter to the Hebrew highlights the pain and agony of Jesus in those last moments of his life. He offered up prayers and supplications, calling on his Father. The lowest moment was in the garden of Gethsemane, where his sweat became like drops of blood (cf. Lk 22:44) and he cried asking ‘Father if it is your will, let this cup pass by’ (Matt 26;39; Mk 14:36). He also cried out to his Father on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ (Matt 27;46; Mk 15:34; cf. Ps 22:1) before he gave up his spirit (Matt 27:50: Mk 15;37; Lk 23:46). His Father could have saved him from death but for one reason. His passion and death will lead to his glorification. Hence, the author of Hebrews says, ‘he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard.’ God answered him by allowing him to fulfil the mission of saving the world through the blood of the new covenant on the cross.
Jesus, in the gospel, attests to his mission. ‘Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’ He then goes on to foretell the journey that will lead to his glorification. The wheat grain will fall to the ground and die to produce a rich harvest. His death on the cross will lead to the glorification and triumph over Satan when he rises from the dead. ‘The prince of this world is to be overthrown’ through the death of Jesus, and when he is lifted up on the cross, he will draw all human beings to himself. Drawing humanity to himself indicates that he is establishing a new covenant on behalf of the whole human race with God. No human being could enter into a perfect covenant with God because of our human limitations. But he was able to do it because he took on human nature in all things except sin (cf. Heb 4;15). Sin limits us from offering a perfect sacrifice to God. Jesus had to do it on our behalf since he had no sin and yet fully human.
The task has been made easier for us. We now have a new covenant with God. Jesus has ratified that covenant with this blood on the cross. He has given us a new way to approach the
Law – to live by the spirit of the Law rather than focus on the letter. Above all, he invites us to follow his example. His life, passion and death stand out as example for us to live our lives. We can unite our pains, difficulties and challenges in life with those of Jesus, remembering that suffering and death did not have the final word in His life. For us, too, the glory awaits us at the end of the tunnel no matter what we are going through today.