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The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Readings: Jer. 31:31–34, Heb. 5:5–14 & Jn. 12:20–33

Our gospel passage this morning begins with the words:

“Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.”

By the mere mention of these words, the author is clearly trying to tell his readers something. The festival being referred to is the Passover, and the place that these people went up to was Jerusalem. So these Greeks that are mentioned, are among the people who have gone to Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Passover, which is odd, when you consider that Passover is a Jewish festival.

But these Greeks were probably what was known as “God-fearers”. These were non-Jews, who admired Judaism and followed it within certain cultural limitations of their own. These “God-fearers” choose to approach Philip, who they must feel some affinity with, because of the fact that he had a Greek name, and they tell him that they want to see Jesus. Philip in turn tells Andrew (who also has a Greek name), and together they go to speak to Jesus. This request from the Greeks “to see” Jesus, has more meaning to it than just them wanting to have an audience with him.

There is something significant going on here, which is what the author was alluding to when he mentioned that

“among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks”.

These Greeks are about to experience something amazing. They are about to affirm for themselves that Jesus is the promised Messiah. They are about to experience this revelation of God firsthand.

Jesus announces to Philip and Andrew that the time has come for him to be glorified. Now this isn’t a case of Jesus blowing his own trumpet. Jesus is not the one who will be glorified; it will be God who will be glorified by the actions of Jesus. Our passage this morning from the Letter to the Hebrews also makes it clear that Jesus will do this for God. Verse five states:

“So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest”.

Jesus does nothing for himself. Everything he does, is for the glory of God.

Jesus uses the metaphor of a grain of wheat, to explain to those who had gathered to him, that his death will produce good things for people. As long as people place their for love him and God, ahead of their love for what life in the world without God might give them. It will be good, but it won’t be without risk for them. They must be prepared to follow Jesus, and potentially suffer the same fate that he will suffer. If they can do this, God will honour them; which means they will be reconciled with God forever in eternal life.

At this point in the passage, Jesus admits his own fear at his impending suffering and death when he says:

“Now my soul is troubled”.

But he quickly overcomes his fear, by acknowledging that what he is about to experience, is his very reason for being. His death and resurrection will bring glory to God, which is why we hear in v. 28 of the passage from John’s Gospel that Jesus says,

“Father, glorify your name”.

And immediately God answers him saying:

“I have glorified it, and will glorify it again”.

The crowd gathered around Jesus hear the voice, but there is uncertainty about what they have heard. Some think it was thunder, others that it was the voice of an angel speaking to Jesus. Only those who believe that Jesus has come from God, understand that it is God talking to Jesus.

But God isn’t speaking for Jesus’ sake. No, He is speaking for the sake of the crowd. That they might believe Jesus, and understand that God has been revealed to them in the person and nature of Jesus.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews seeks to do the same thing when he writes

“About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding.”

He was referring to how Jesus was the fulfilment of the prophecies of Scripture, but that the Jewish people were unable to see that, because their understanding had been dulled over the centuries. They needed to be taught again about God, and the prophecies concerning His promises, so that they could understand how that was all fulfilled in Jesus.

The same promises that the prophet Jeremiah spoke about, when he wrote, that God would make a new covenant with the nation of Israel: both the Northern Tribes of Israel, who had been conquered and dispersed by the Assyrians in the year 722 BCE, and the Southern Nation of Judah, which was conquered by Babylon in 587 BCE.

This ‘new’ covenant, would not be like the covenant that God made with their ancestors, when He brought them out of Egypt—a covenant the Israelites broke. But with this covenant that God will make with the nation of Israel, he will put His law within them, and He will write it on their hearts; and He will be their God, and they shall be His people.

This is the covenant that God made, not just with the nation of Israel, but with all of humanity, including each of us, when He offered His Son Jesus Christ on the cross. God revealed Himself to us, through the person and nature of Jesus.

The Lord be with you.
Fr. Michael.

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