5TH Sunday of Lent
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
In the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus, or St. John, refer on a number of occasions to what Jesus calls “my hour.” He refers to “his hour” for the first time at Cana when his mother asked Him for a miracle and he replied, “my hour is not yet come.” On another occasion, John tells us that he escaped death precisely because, “his hour had not yet come.” But in today’s Gospel, Jesus uses these words to affirm that his time has now come, when He says, “Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” And Jesus refers twice more in this same Gospel passage to his hour, when he addresses first his apostles and then His Father, “And what shall I say? `Father, save me from this hour’” and, “Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee.” So, given all these references, we must ask ourselves what exactly Jesus means by this mysterious “hour,” an “hour” evidently appointed by His Father, an “hour” which seems to control his whole mission from the Father? Today’s Gospel helps us to understand what is meant by the “hour” of Jesus. Jesus states emphatically here that “his hour” is the hour of his glory, the hour for which he came into the world, the hour in which he accomplishes the mission which His Father has appointed for Him, and by means of which He glorifies the Father most wonderfully. The “hour” of Jesus, then, is that divinely appointed time or event in which Jesus will most perfectly accomplish his mission and, in doing so, will simultaneously render supreme glory to the One who sent him, and in turn be glorified by the One who sent him.
So how does Jesus actually fulfill his “hour” of glory? Certainly he does so not in the way we would expect; indeed not in the way Peter and the other Apostles expected, and certainly not in the way the world at large would understand glory. Most shockingly, his “hour” is destined to be accomplished by His passion and death, suffered willingly so that we sinners 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 is truly a glorious hour precisely because by his self-sacrifice the whole human race will be redeemed from sin, and all will have the chance to be saved from eternal damnation and to rise one day with him to a new and glorious life.
Great war stories often refer to the death of soldiers as the hour of their glory, their glory as heroes due to their ultimate sacrifice for the sake of their immediate comrades and ultimately for their nation. So what could be a greater “hour of glory” for Jesus than that hour of His self-sacrifice, his suffering and death 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 truly is suffered to redeem all humanity, not just his own nation of Israel, his people, but also all the gentile nations as well. It is interesting in this respect that what prompts Jesus to speak at length of his hour of glory in today’s Gospel passage is the fact that some gentile Greeks were now seeking him out through his disciples. That is the context of his words here, and it may well be seen as an indication that the hour of His glory was drawing near to rescue the gentiles along with the people God first called His own.
But lest his disciples should mistake what his hour of glory actually means, Jesus immediately adds this warning: “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 telling image that Jesus chose to explain his “hour of glory” to his disciples. He is the “seed” of Adam who comes down to earth and who will “fal to the earth” and die so that we all may have life.
How many holy martyrs will imitate his sacrifice and die for the salvation of others, thus also producing “much fruit” as well, fruit that knows no limits. This fruit is in fact a new life springing from the death and resurrection of Jesus, and this fruit is offered to all who believe in His name, who serve him and in turn follow him in this act of self-sacrifice. If they follow him in this “hour” they too shall bear much fruit from the death they undergo with Jesus, indeed in Jesus.
Thus to be fruitful, 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 in this way 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 perhaps 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 His death would not mean defeat but victory, for it would not end in shame but in a glory that he had shared with the Father from the beginning. It would mean quite literally the rebirth of man, with God fulfilling the prophecy we just read in Jeremiah, by placing His law in 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, to obey out of love, and not out of fear or servility. Thus the new man, raised to life in Christ by Baptism, with his sins forgiven by His death, is truly a free creature, knowing and loving God as only the son knows and loves the Father. What glory then 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 heartstrings of love, in 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 the Father as He did, out of love, not our of fear. The true follower will learn to do God’s will out of love, like Christ, because of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. The true believer finally learns to obey from love and becomes a new man, but he learns this first and always at the foot of the cross, gazing up 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.
So it’s truly the law of love and the path to glory that 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 to the Cross with him. There alone will we be given the firm hope that we also will be 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 simply is no other way possible.