Sunday, March 21, 2021

Pictures of Power

5th Sunday of Lent (B)
My dear friends, I expect that many, if not all, of us have seen the striking image that went viral some days ago. The one where a Catholic nun kneels before a group of armed riot police, and begs them not to fire on the protesters behind her. Reports say Sr Ann Rose even asked the police to kill her instead. If you have seen the image, did you notice how it was able to tug at the heartstrings in such powerful ways? Indeed, Sr Ann Rose said that she did what she did because she herself was moved by the sight of the suffering people.

The power of images to move human hearts. This is also what we find in our readings today. In the gospel, when Jesus hears that some Greeks want to see him, he responds neither by agreeing nor disagreeing. Instead he starts to talk about how his hour has come, when he will be glorified. Although he doesn’t say it explicitly, we the readers are expected to know that Jesus is talking about his coming crucifixion. That is the image he paints for us. And, like that kneeling nun, the image of the crucified Lord holds tremendous power.

Power to do what? First of all, the readings tell us that it has the power of reconciliation. The power to mend broken bonds, and to establish new ones. Isn’t this what Jesus means when he says a grain of wheat that falls and dies bears much fruit? Or when he promises that, once he's lifted up, he will draw all to himself? How does this happen, if not through the power of an image to move the heart? Isn’t this how God fulfils the promise made in the first reading? To write a new covenant on the hearts of the people.

Second, the image of the crucified Christ also has the power of rejuvenation. As the second reading tells us, through his suffering, Jesus became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation. To all who are open enough to receive it, the crucifixion brings new life, fresh sustainable energy. And it does this by answering the plea we made in the psalm. By purifying our hearts. Freeing them from all that corrupts them.

Third, in addition to reconciliation and rejuvenation, the image of the crucified Christ also bestows the power of recognition. For although Jesus died once for all, more than two thousand years ago, there remain many in our world today who continue to be crucified, or oppressed, in some way. Not just by unjust political forces. But also by cruel social prejudices. Or harsh economic pressures. Or even unrealistic familial and societal expectations. Such as the ones that so many of our children have to struggle to meet everyday.

Reconciliation, rejuvenation and recognition. These are among the powerful effects that the crucified Christ can have on us. Effects that we are better able to experience, the more intently we ponder his image. The more conscientiously we recall and celebrate his story. The more earnestly we commit ourselves to follow in his footsteps. Isn’t this what Lent is for?

Sisters and brothers, like Sr Ann Rose, the kneeling nun, what shall we do to allow the image of the crucified Christ in his suffering people to move us ever more powerfully today?

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