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Fifth Sunday of Lent: Christianity’s survival

Today’s readings: Jeremiah 31, 31-34; Hebrews 5, 7-9; John 12, 20-33.

The Jews and the Greeks are the twin sources of Western civilisation, the two rivers of faith and reason blending together in a reasonable Christianity. The Jews brought in the laws of morality, while the Greeks gave us the laws of thought. In Jesus, these two rivers blend and are completed. Christianity is not morality alone; neither is it reason alone. It is both.

Throughout the first half of the gospel of John, Jesus is all along struggling with the faith of the Jews, with a religious people blocked by hard-headedness and shortsightedness. With the appearance of “some Greeks” who ask to see Jesus in today’s episode, the situation changes radically and Jesus starts mentioning his glorification.

Whereas at the Cana wedding in Galilee the hour had not yet come, “now the hour has come”. The ‘hour’ of Jesus underlying John’s entire gospel is the way he was going to be glorified. “Glorified” here stands for the moment when Jesus was to finally accomplish what he came to do. At long last, someone from outside came along “to see Jesus”. This contrasts with the fact that those who were all the time following Jesus ultimately proved so resistant to his teaching.

Already we read in the first reading from Jeremiah that the old covenant needed to be substituted by a new one, that the covenant of the law carved in stone needed to make way for something “deep within”. The new covenant in Jeremiah was necessitated because of a deformed religion and of a distorted relationship of the people with their God.

Judging by how things are unfolding even in our country where our religion is concerned, it seems that a similar transition is called for that will enable us to preserve faithfully the core of our faith. In the face of a highly secularised culture and of increasingly pressing issues that demand clearer responses and witness, even for us now the hour has come and we are being called upon to come to terms with the big shifts under way in our culture.

For Christianity to survive we need to decide where the past ends and where the future begins. But instead, we increasingly seem to be finding refuge in a religiosity that is only alienating. This is surely not the ideal way to make Christianity survive and to transmit a faith that can really connect with the deep hunger for God in those who see themselves as basically seekers.

The always increasing dose of pageantry we see characterising the Lenten season, at some points almost being dubbed as liturgy, is becoming nauseating to say the least, and is increasingly enforcing a separation between the world of everyday life and the closed world of religion. This closed world of religion is simply serving as escapism for many, whether they are practising or not.

The Christian faith rooted in the paschal mystery, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, distinguishes itself precisely because it burdens us with responsibility towards the world we inhabit.

John’s gospel today, precisely at the point where the journey of Jesus towards the cross starts, depicts Christanity exclusively in terms of a “wheat grain” that falls on the ground and dies, thus yielding a rich harvest.

We read from the letter to Hebrews that Jesus “learnt to obey through suffering”. Jesus refuses any glory of this world and embraces instead the philosophy of losing one’s life to save it. He who was afraid of dying, who refused death, who empathised with those who suffer, was ultimately the God who suffers, the God-man who shows the way out of our daily blockages in the face of adversity.

He teaches us resilience, which as author Michael Ignatieff writes in his book The Ordinary Virtues, is the capacity to bend without breaking, to spring back after being knocked down. This is how Christianity is meant to survive, if it still claims to be rooted in Jesus Christ as the saviour of humanity.

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