This Sunday marks a shift in the season of Lent.  We start to hear and feel the intensity in the scriptures being proclaimed at Masses starting today of Jesus fixing his eyes on the hills of Jerusalem.  The sermons, teachings, signs, and miracles that have characterized his 3 years of ministry will take on a raw, shocking intensity as He enters into His passion.  This is why these last two weeks of Lent are often referred to as “Passiontide” – and you even see the crucifix, statues, and beautiful images of our chapel meant to raise our hearts and minds to God covered – veiled.  It’s meant to disorient us and highlight the seriousness of Lent’s last days.  It’s meant to heighten our senses to be more attuned to Jesus’ death on the cross.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT March 17, 2024.  I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

St. John, in his Gospel today, captures this shift.  We hear at the outset about a group of Greeks, who were either pagans who had converted or were in the process of converting to Judaism – they had come to Jerusalem for Passover.  Word about Jesus had spread.  The teachings, the crowds who had followed Him, the amazing signs, the last of which had (as we would put it today) gone viral – a man who was dead in a tomb for 4 days, Jesus’ friend Lazarus, had been raised back to life by God.  This group of Greeks asked one of the apostles, Philip, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”

Jesus’ response seems puzzling.  He immediately starts talking about death—physical death—the need to “hate” life in this world, and the fact that this is the Father’s will—the Father’s plan.  Even thousands of years later, even knowing the complete story and what will happen, we can hear and feel the confusion in that crowd.  We might even share it.

Why did Jesus have to die?  In the minds and hearts of unbelievers, atheists love to justify their lack of belief, their abandonment of belief, and their refusal of belief by amplifying that question themselves.  Why did Jesus have to die – what kind of a God would demand such a horrific sacrifice?  We can find ourselves quickly dismissing that question – knowing it’s coming from people, coming from a place of abject rejection of God, and at the same time feeling guilty that we might sometimes wonder the same thing.  Even more twisted, sometimes you hear this loathing for God the Father where people try to say that they simply want to side with Jesus and somehow recast God the Father as cold, distant, blood thirsting and demanding while Jesus who goes to hell and back, literally, to save us.

And right there and then is the answer.  That twisting of God the Father.  That loathing of God the Father.  That is recasting God the Father as this cold, distant, heartless being whom we have to appease with Jesus’ bloody passion.  When we hear that, we can finally hear and understand what happened in the hearts of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  It’s not uncommon for us to look on with disgust at our first parents who fell for the lies of the devil, who literally had one job – one command – to not eat of the free of one tree and failed.

But that wasn’t the first mistake.  The first mistake was Eve even having a conversation with the serpent.  It was in not dismissing the devil at the very first minute, the very first lie he throws at her when he says, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” Eve immediately corrects him…  She demonstrates she knows the devil is a liar as she says, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.'” So she heard, she remembered, she knew exactly what God had said and expected and allows this slithering damnable creature to make her doubt God and what He had commanded them to do.

The devil likes to continue to play with this whole scene and make us today wonder, what’s the big deal – it was a piece of fruit.  If one of our children stole an apple, we’d probably be glad it wasn’t something worse.  But its not about the fruit.       It is that dismissal of God’s words and commands… it is in letting God be recast as an authoritarian in whom Adam and Eve must launch a defiant revolution and listen to a liar who hates God and hates creation.  That is the bad news that has affected all of history.  They eat that fruit, and sin and death enter the world.

It is that dismissal of God’s word and commands that sin and death has entered and broken our world.  And sadly too many continue recasting God the Father as some angry God who needs to be appeased and just look at Jesus as the good guy in the story that we get behind and want Him to save us.

Which Jesus does.  He does save us.  But its not Jesus alone.  It’s the “plural” form of “He” of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit – the three in one triune God who are on this rescue mission.  Who are saving us from the original sin of Adam and Eve, and our continued un-original sins in which we find ourselves not reaching for the fruit of a tree – but far worse, grasping, taking things that are not ours – having distorted and disordered desires and wants.

Like for example, King David.  We remember King David from the Old Testament.  The young shepherd boy who would be the King of Israel.  The kid who, with a slingshot, takes down the mighty giant Goliath.  One of the most revered individuals in the entire History of Judaism.  As humans, we tend to highlight those highlights.  But we must remember that the psalm that we sang between the first and second reading, “Create a clean heart in me, O God,” which sounds so spiritually refreshing and renewing to us – that was a lament that came from King David’s heart.

The great King had just committed five horrific sins – of lust, lying, theft, adultery and murder.  He became obsessed with the beautiful named Bathsheba, the wife of one of his military commanders named Uriah.  He sleeps with Bathsheba, when she becomes pregnant he tries to contrive a plan where Uriah sleeps with his wife to make him think he’s the Father.  When Uriah proves an upright man who will not relinquish his military duties or the men who he’s leading, and doesn’t sleep with her; David orchestrates a plan where Uriah is surrounded and killed by enemy forces and then takes Bathsheba as his wife.    This is what the King of Israel did.  The human condition, post-Adam and Eve’s first sin, still seem hell-bent on listening to its own wants and desires.  Thinking it can as the saying goes, have its cake, and eat it too – as well as your neighbors cake, the poor guy on the streets cake and any other cake that it wants.

When the Lord fully reveals to David how far he has fallen… The anointed one whom God was so pleased and had accomplished so much in and through, David’s heart is broken realizing how much he has broken God’s heart which makes him cry out:

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion, wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners shall return to you.

“We would like to see Jesus.”

We would like to see Jesus, because in Him, we have the true, perfect, everlasting King of Israel who answers those cries.  We would like to see Jesus, the true King of Israel who takes on the History of the History of sin and death including the ongoing history that we contribute to today – the full consequences of it, the horror of it all, for you and me.  Jesus who is God incarnate, reveals not just the face of God the Father, but the heart of God the Father.  The heart of God broken over and over by us, his still rebellious children who are still too quick to fall for lies and deceits and somehow believe we are justified to give into our distorted and disordered desires, wants and needs.  But we are still His children who He loves.  Our triune God speaks in one voice as Jesus talks about being lifted high on the cross and that in this supreme act of love, the Father responds that “God is indeed glorified.”

These last weeks of Lent repeat what we heard back on Ash Wednesday where: He calls us His children to turn away from sin and follow Him.  Yes, to follow Him to the cross ourselves.  Where we, like King David, confront our brokenness, sincerely desiring a “clean heart… a renewed spirit.”  That’s hard work.  It’s hard to put the needs of others before ourselves.  It’s hard to confront how my ego likes to go about things and recognize how my self-centeredness hurts others.  In that place of vulnerability, though, we encounter God Himself.  We demonstrate true love when we lay down our lives for another.  We experience true love when we do an examination of conscience, bring our sins to confession, receive absolution and experience the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  We discover in these days of Jesus’ Passion, the unfathomable love of our Triune God who has never given up on us His Children.