Mar 22, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B

The prophet Jeremiah tells us about God’s promise to make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It is helpful to know that, before Jeremiah’s time, the nation of Israel had split into two kingdoms: the northern part known as Israel and the southern kingdom known as Judah. God says that he will make this covenant by placing the law within them and writing it upon their hearts. “All, from the least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.” On the surface, it is a promise to reunite the nation of Israel. God has bigger plans than this. He wants to unite all of humanity to himself.

The Father achieves this through Jesus. He does not say they shall repent and therefore I will no longer remember their sins. Our repentance is not the cause of his mercy. His mercy is the cause of our repentance. The Father achieves this by making it so that each heart may come to know him. He reveals himself in Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew (11:27) tells us: “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Jesus reveals the Father to us. “No man has ever seen God: the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” Jesus tells us that he is the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through him.

In the Gospel we hear today, Jesus makes clear that the coming crucifixion is the reason for which he came. “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father glorify your name.” This last utterance seems strange. How is the Father glorified through the crucifixion of his only begotten Son? We are accustomed to hear that Jesus died for our sins, to expiate them, to redeem us – literally to purchase us back from slavery to sin. This gives the sense that our sins have incurred a just sentence of wrath and the payment must be fulfilled. Therefore the Father exacts payment from his Son because we are too poor to make payment ourselves. There is a truth here: our sins do incur a just penalty. And the perfect justice of God cannot ignore this reality. But it is not the pain and suffering, physical or emotional that somehow satiates the Father in his wrath.

Rather, the motive is love. In order to open our hearts to have knowledge of the Father, the only begotten Son allowed his own heart to be pierced. There are at least two loves that we can see upon the Cross: the love of the Son for the Father, that he would not save even his own life but trusted entirely upon the Father, keeping perfect purity and innocence: even, crying out to forgive those who were crucifying him. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The second love is the love which the Son bears towards us. He condescended to be treated as a criminal for our sake, for our crimes. He knew the pain and misery of our lives, he stooped low, the just one, to undergo a share in the injustice of this world. If we take any time at all to consider the Holy Cross, we discover an abyss of love.

The Letter to the Hebrews says, “In the days when Christ Jesus was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. [And] he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” He cried out in our place because we do not make loud cries on account of our sins. He cried our tears. He bore our pain. He suffered our indignities. He did all this for love. It is his love which glorifies the Father’s name.

As we fast approach the end of the Lenten Season, it is time to renew our love and fervor for our Lord in our Lenten discipline by fixing our eyes upon the sign of the great love which Jesus bears for us. Let us lift him up in our hearts so that he might draw us to himself.

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