FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT
The biblical lectionary for this Sunday opens with the famous oracle of the “new covenant” (Jer 31,31-34), one of the high points of the Old Testament’s theology (first reading). The prophet announces the overcoming of the ancient pact of Sinai, through a gratuitous action of God that transforms man and woman, recording his law now not on stone but on the heart of each one. This newness is realized in Christ’s Easter, through which God establishes a new covenant with humanity, not sealed with animal sacrifices, but with the obedience and oblation of the Son, victim and priest (second reading). In the hour of the cross, Christ is glorified, attracting all men and women to himself. He is the grain of wheat that falls to the earth and dies to produce the fruit of life in humanities’ history (gospel).
The first reading (Jer 31,31-34) represents a unique promise. In all of the Old Testament, only here is found the expression “new covenant”, to which Jesus will refer at the Last Supper (1 Cor 11,25; Lk 22,20). Israel’s history has demonstrated exhaustively her incapacity to remain faithful to the covenant sealed on Sinai. More than once, the pious Israelite has prayed to the Lord: “For your name’s sake do not reject us, do not dishonor the throne of your glory. Remember us; do not break your covenant with us” (Jer 14,21). This prophetic oracle announces that Yahweh has heard the supplication in relation to the covenant and now makes a new offering, generously and freely, despite the multiple historical infidelities of Israel (Jer 31,32). The entire accent of the text falls on the adjective “new.” This does not treat of a repetition of that which was ancient. The newness consists in that now, the law is not recorded on an exterior object (stone tablets), but on the heart of man and woman: the norms of the legal code are substituted by grace, the exterior observance by interior knowledge; sin by pardon, fear by intimate and loving communion. The oracle supposes that the old covenant cannot be now “repaired.” All of the old structure of Israel is superceded by a new form of acting on the part of God that creates in man and woman the conditions for fidelity and knowledge of the Lord.
The second reading (Heb 5,7-9) forms part of that splendid homily, work of an anonymous original author, probably from Judeo-Christian ambiance, known as the “letter to the Hebrews.” The principal subject in the text is Christ, of which three fundamental actions can be affirmed: “offered” prayers aloud and in silent tears, “learnt” to obey through suffering and “he became the source of eternal salvation.” The three verbs (“offer,” “learn,” “become…”) describe the historical and spiritual journey of Jesus of Nazareth, from the tragic and sorrowful immersion in death, through fidelity and obedience to God, until realizing fully the saving work in favor of believers. Verse 7, using the typical scheme of the lamentation Psalms (crisis of the believer-listener in and of God), evokes the condition of Christ facing death. The verse recalls also the humiliation-exaltation of the Servant of Yahweh (Is 52,13-53,12) and the Christological hymn of Philippians 2,6-11, that affirms the obedience of Christ until death on a cross and exaltation by God.
The text uses for Christ the verb “offer” (Greek: prosphérô) (v. 7), a typical priestly verb that evokes the gifts and sacrifices that each priest offered for sins. However, in the case of Jesus, the ritual vocabulary for sins disappears and only his death is spoken of, lived in pain and solitude, among entreaty and silent tears. In other words, the author of the letter to the Hebrews affirms that the priestly offering of Jesus is his intense prayer before the threat of death. It is with this attitude that Jesus lives the extreme human solidarity and with that realizes priestly mediation. The text does not say that Jesus asked simply to be liberated from death, but that he “offered”, “entreated” (Greek: prosphérô), prayer and entreaty to him who could save him from death. The author is careful to use a priestly vocabulary, thus his interest in presenting Jesus, as being in solidarity with men and women in pain and death, as the only and true priest. Jesus is definitive priest through his full historical solidarity with suffering humanity. In fact, the Son does not receive a way out that liberates him from the historical condition, but through suffering, that is to say, realizes and lives the extreme of obedience-fidelity to the Father, of which prayer is source and expression: “Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering” (v. 8). It is affirmed as well that he “was heard” (v. 7b). The Father heard him, not liberating him from physical death, but by way of triumphing over that condition of slavery and of fear that distinguishes death’s empire as alienation from God. In a context of mortal suffering, Christ realizes his mediation and priestly offering. For this reason, “he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation” (v. 9). The perfection of Christ, of which the text speaks, is not of an ethical or moral type, obtained through a heroic fidelity, but through the complete fulfillment of the saving plan, realized by the interior transformation of the humanity of Jesus, and in this way becoming the source of definitive salvation for all believers.
The gospel (Jn 12, 20-33) introduces us to the mystery of the Pasch of Jesus from the typical viewpoint of the fourth gospel, developing seven concepts or images: (1) The symbol of the “grain of wheat”(v. 24) expresses explicitly how the death of Jesus leads to the glorious fecundity of his resurrection; (2) The antithesis “to hate life to keep it” (v. 25) is the radical expression with which Jesus presents the mystery of his death, for love of his own and as source of life in humanities’ history; (3) The hour (v. 27) is a theological concept of Jesus for refer to the death of Jesus as part of the saving plan of God. All of the ministry and preaching of Jesus leads up to “the hour,” that is, to the cross, that is at the same time humiliation and glory, passage from death to life; (4) The “glorification” (v. 28) is the term that John uses to speak of the death and resurrection of Christ: the Father shows his glory, that is to say, shows his saving power in favor of men and women, in Christ crucified, eternal presence of the divine glory; (5) The “lifting-up/exaltation” of the cross, evokes the crucifixion of Jesus in its painful reality and in its condition of glory, as power of love that attracts all of humanity to the Savior: “when I am lifted up…I shall draw all people to myself.” (v. 32); (6) The voice from heaven (vv. 28-30) is the sign of the Father’s presence in the drama of the Son’s pain, that assures men and women salvation in his journey of death and glory; (7) The definitive “judgement” of evil (v. 31) reflects the paradox of the cross: precisely where in seems that the dark forces of the world triumph, the prince of this world is knocked down and thrown out. The crucified Christ is the judge and ray that conquers evil forever.