We must surrender to God's will

  • March 23, 2009
Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year B) March 29 (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33)

Ignorance is the breeding ground for human sin. This is especially the case when the ignorance refers to the quality of one’s knowledge of God. It is paradoxical that one can be quite religious in the conventional sense and have little or no direct or personal experience or knowledge of God. True knowledge of God consists in far more than what is gleaned from books, teachers, culture, family, friends and authority figures. In these cases a personal quality is lacking and the deeper levels of the heart, mind and soul remain untouched. This can easily spin off in either of two directions — fanaticism on the one hand or apathy on the other.

In the midst of Israel’s failures and tribulations, God promises through the prophet Jeremiah a new covenant and relationship. To make sure that people get it right and have no excuse, God is going to write His Law and covenant directly on their hearts. No need to depend on outside sources or the interpretations of others. God will not be “managed” or parcelled out by anyone but will be known directly and personally by everyone — even the lowliest. Our spiritual struggle, ethical confusion and search for God would be made so much easier if we would look within ourselves — the true temple.

Even the Son of God is not exempt from human struggle and suffering. The passage from Hebrews is very stark and is guaranteed to be nettlesome to conventional piety. Jesus offered up prayers, loud cries and tears to God. But deliverance from the bonds of death and perfection of His humanity came only through the acceptance of His suffering and surrender to God’s will. Jesus knew fear and temptation as well as desolation, grief, anger, joy and a host of other human emotions. But His trust in God was absolute, and that was the source of His strength and power.

Nobody desires suffering for its own sake. We needn’t look for it — usually suffering will hunt us down without much effort on our part. When it does find us, we can try to change the things we can change and accept those things that we cannot change — and do so gracefully and without anger or bitterness. So the master so the disciple — those who claim to follow Him can expect greater rather than lesser challenges. We agree to that when we sign on. Met with the right spirit our own suffering can be our greatest teacher and become the source of grace and strength for ourselves and others.

John presents the arrival of Greeks seeking an audience with Jesus as the signal that the hour of Jesus has come. Word of His ministry has spread beyond the boundaries of Israel and it is clear that He is going to draw all people to Himself. But then there is the barrier through which He must pass: death. Unlike the other evangelists, John portrays Jesus as serene, confident and in total control. His death is referred to as His glorification — not the word that comes to mind when we think of the terror and agony of the cross. We all must pass through death, but in Jesus’ case it must be done consciously, deliberately, fearlessly and with total trust in God.

To allay the fears of His followers and give meaning to His death He uses the metaphor of the dying grain of wheat. People live in dread and denial of death and constantly seek to prolong and preserve it at almost any cost. In the end, however, all pass through its gates — no exceptions.

But there is another way of experiencing death: as a necessary step for new and fruitful life. Life is full of opportunities to prepare ourselves for our final passage. We can experience elements of the passion and resurrection each day. Surrendering to God and letting go of our desire to be in control is an essential element in the process. We learn to die to our ego, releasing our grip on our accomplishments and waking from the enchantment of power and privilege. When the moment arrives, we will truly be able to celebrate a life fully lived, a reflection of the glory of God.