5th Sunday in Lent (B)
Not Meant To Be That Easy
Not Meant To Be That Easy
Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 50:3-4,12-15; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33
Picture: cc photofarmer
Sisters and brothers, in one of the Confucian Classics, entitled the Mencius, the story is told of a certain farmer who had planted some seed, and was waiting for his crop to mature. But the seedlings took a long time to grow. And the farmer got impatient. So he decided to help them along. Every morning, he would go out into his field and pull each seedling a little higher up in the soil, so that the seedlings looked taller than before. Needless to say, it didn’t take long before the whole crop died. What the foolish farmer thought was a faster route to maturity, turned out to be a short-cut to ruin. Growth takes time. It cannot be hurried. Some things are just not meant to be that easy.
The farmer’s foolishness is probably quite obvious to us. How could he even entertain the thought that it might be so easy to mature his crops? How could he forget that growth cannot be simply a matter of taller shoots? That it must also involve deeper roots? Some things are just not meant to be that easy. And yet, I sometimes wonder whether we ourselves don’t often fall into a similar forgetfulness.
We live in an information age. The era of social media. Everybody who’s anybody is on Facebook and Twitter. Such that even the Church has jumped onto the social media bandwagon. And this is probably as it should be. The Church needs to be where the people are. How else will the Gospel be preached to the nations. But, even so, it remains important to see that there is a significant risk attached to our use of social media. And I’m not referring to internet security. What is this risk? It is the tendency to forget the principle that the foolish farmer forgot: that some things are just not meant to be that easy.
What social media appears to offer us is exceptional ease of communication and connectivity. At the click of a mouse, you can gain hundreds, even thousands, of friends and fans. And you can broadcast your message to an even bigger number. All it takes is some computer savvy and a good internet connection. It’s as easy as that. Or... is it? Is communication and connectivity really that easy? Almost as easy as tugging on seedlings to make them grow?
If we think so, then we need to pay closer attention to what our Mass readings are telling us on this 5th Sunday in Lent. In the first reading, God too is interested in communication and connectivity. God wishes to communicate God’s love to the people more effectively. To connect with them in a more intimate fashion. To help their relationship with God to grow. But God wishes to do this in a very particular way. God doesn’t seem so interested in increasing the height and breadth of his reach, as important as this may be. Instead, God focuses on the need for greater depth. This is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel when those days arrive – it is the Lord who speaks. Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. The Law that was a sign of God’s loving relationship with the people. The Law that was given to Moses on Sinai. The Law that was written originally on tablets of stone. This same Law God now promises to inscribe on hearts of flesh.
And we should make no mistake. This transcription of the Law from tablets of stone onto hearts of flesh is no easy task. For it is not just tablets that are made of stone. All too often, we allow our hearts to become stone-like as well. Through the trials that we may encounter in life, or the temptations to which we succumb, our hearts gradually become hardened. All but impervious to God’s Law. We resist God, without even being aware that we’re doing so. We may, for example, continue to abide by the rules of the Church–we may go to Mass; we may fast and abstain in Lent; we may say our prayers–and yet, continue to keep God at a distance. Such that, in order for God’s promise to be fulfilled, our hearts must first be purified. Hardened hearts must be made to crumble and be transformed, once again, into hearts of flesh. And this is no easy task. There is no short-cut available. The other two Mass readings remind us of the terrible yet unavoidable cost involved.
What is required is for the Word of God to be made flesh. To become a human being. And, having become human, when the appropriate hour arrives, to give His life as a ransom for many. In today’s gospel, it is precisely at this crucial moment on his journey that Jesus finally finds himself. Now the hour has come, he proclaims, for the Son of Man to be glorified. By which he refers to his being raised up on the wood of the Cross. For unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.
This is what it takes for stone to become flesh again. This is what it takes for the Law of God to be inscribed on human hearts. For the people to know and to grow in the love and the life of God, the seed of God’s Word-Made-Flesh must first fall on the ground and die. This is the unavoidable cost that must be borne. The terrible price that must be paid. It is no easy task. But, for our sake, and in obedience to his Father, Jesus agrees to bear this burden. He decides to enter through the narrow gate. To walk the difficult way. As the second reading tells us, although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering. Such that, having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.
All this reminds us, sisters and brothers, of the very principle that we tend so easily to forget today, in this media-saturated era in which we live: That there are really no short-cuts to growth in intimacy. No easy paths to authentic communication and true connectivity. If we want real friends, there is no substitute for taking the time and making the effort to engage another in sincere conversation, and even, when the occasion calls for it, in open argument. If we wish to preach the Good News of God’s love for us, there is no substitute for first experiencing it, and being immersed in it ourselves. Even if we have, in some way, to fall on the ground and die. As I heard someone say recently, to give it, you have to live it. Some things are just not meant to be that easy.
The only reason why it so often seems otherwise is because, like the foolish farmer from the Mencius, we have been conditioned to mistake appearances for reality. To think that seedlings are growing just because they seem taller than they were before. To equate the number of hits on websites, or the number of friends on Facebook with true effectiveness in ministry. This tendency is but a sign of our times. As the current Superior General of the Society of Jesus has so astutely observed, ours is not just the era of social media. It is, alas, also characterized by the globalization of superficiality.
Sisters and brothers, contrary to what we may be conditioned to think, authentic communication and real connectivity are not just about faster computers and increased bandwidth. Some things are just not meant to be that easy. True growth in the life and love of God is a narrow gate, and a difficult road. It is, ultimately, a matter of life and death. It involves our immersion into the Dying and Rising of Christ. Which we have gathered here this evening to celebrate.
Sisters and brothers, how ready are you to enter this difficult but life-giving Mystery today?