18Mar 18 March. Fifth Sunday of Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34 +   Psalm 51 +   Hebrews 5:7-10 +   John 12:20-30

1st Reading: Jeremiah (31:31-34)

The new covenant, written on the human heart

“The days are surely coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt – a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, Know the Lord, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 51)

Response: Create a clean heart in me, O God

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and cleanse me of my sin . (R./)

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me out from your presence,
and do not take from me your Holy Spirit. (R./)

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners shall return to you. (R./)

2nd Reading: Hebrews (5:7-10)

The anguish of Jesus, faced with his passion

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Gospel: John (12:20-30)

By losing their life, the followers of Jesus will find it in a new way

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – ‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this our. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.”


On Today’s Readings (Kieran O’Mahony)

The Gospel of John comes into its own in Lent, Holy Week and Easter. It is familiar but also always somehow foreign. John uses fives “lenses” to explore the heart of Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection. These are:  HEALING (John 3:15), LOVE (John 3:16), SERVICE (John 13),  NEW CREATION (John 1, 19 and 20) and LIBERATION (all three Passovers, but especially John 19). His narrative is rich in metaphor, reference and resonance. Telescoping John’s message into a sentence cannot do it full justice, but here goes:
The creator God has, in his love and compassion, healed humanity of death by sending his Son in an act of self-emptying and loving service, setting us free from the power of sin and death and making us into a new creation through the Holy Spirit.
John explores these perspectives consistently and richly in story form. John 12 is also a kind of synthesis, a bridge passage, taking us from the Galilean ministry to Jerusalem, to the great events that gave us new life in Christ. 

Letting go of oneself, for others

Martin Luther King once wrote about a time when he knelt in prayer in the kitchen of his home in Alabama. Stones had been thrown through the window because of his call for civil rights for black people. His wife and children were in danger. He was already a respected academic and a promising career lay ahead. In prayer he found himself asking if it was right to put himself and them in danger? It was in that moment he decided to put the will of God and the welfare of his people before his own security and even that of his family. He chose to serve God by speaking out for those who were most oppressed. In a sense, he chose to die so that others could more fully live. It was a striking echo of what Jesus says in the gospel, that the grain of wheat must falls into the ground to yield a rich harvest.

Jesus himself was the supreme expression of this principle. He is the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, and in dying yields a harvest of life. He describes that harvest in prophetic words: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

If God was at work through the life of Jesus, even more so through the death of Jesus, a death that reveals the power of God’s love, even more fully than his years of healing and ministry. The amazing love revealed in Christ’s death on the cross drew people to God, and continues to do so. Over the centuries, simply by looking upon the crucifix, millions of people have experienced God’s personal love and compassion and in turn found themselves drawn to God. Jesus of Nazareth, by accepting the loss of so much that was dear to him, and especially by his vibrant life and warm companionship with others, drew people of all nations to himself and, thereby, to sharing in God’s life.

It was when some Greeks (i.e. foreigners) came to hear him speak that Jesus made this declaration; and then he asked: “What shall I say? Save me from this hour. No, it was for this reason I have come to this hour.” In these lovely spring days we may find ourselves sowing some seeds in the garden. The seed that dies in order to yield a new form of life is as familiar to us today as it was in the day of Jesus. This phenomenon of nature can speak to our own experience as much as it did to the experience of Jesus. Each of us in different ways has to accept some significant loss if we are to remain true to our deepest and best self, true to what God is asking of us.

Then there are other losses in life that we do not choose, but that are forced upon us. These are losses we have no choice but to accept. We may have to accept the loss of people we love and care about because of choices they make themselves. Parents may not wish to see a son or daughter go far away to live and work, but they accept this necessary loss out of respect for the one they love. In accepting the losses that life imposes, in letting go of those we love, we often find something fuller and richer, just as Jesus’ disciples received him again in a new and fuller way through his resurrection from the dead and the sending of the Spirit.

At the end, for each of us, there is the final, unavoidable struggle to let go of our very life, with all the loss that is entailed in that. As we face of all these inevitable losses that are integral to life, we are strengthened by the words of Jesus in today’s gospel, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” We trust and believe that, at the end of the day, after we have struggled through all our losses, the Lord will draw us to himself, and, when that happens, we will lack nothing.

Into the Valley of Death

One focus during Lent is to to reflect on our own death and to see our way through it. We all must die, as much as we don’t like the fact. We try to hide it, dodge it, deny it. Yet we can’t in fact escape it. Jesus came into the world, not so much to do away with death (not immediately) but to teach us how to die by his example and then to assure us that death does not say the last word about life. When we walk into the valley of death we do not walk alone. Jesus is with us because he’s been there before and knows what it is like. Moreover he promises us that just as he rose from the dead so will we. We will all be young again. We will all laugh again.

Once upon a time there was a young grandmother who totally adored her oldest grandson (like most grandmothers do). He was a good young man too. Handsome, friendly, courteous, more mature than you could reasonably expect any teenager to be. He was also an excellent athlete and was to be valedictorian of his class. Then, just a week before graduation, another teen (quite drunk) plowed into the car in which the young man was returning from a baseball game. He died three hours later in the hospital. Everyone in the family was, devastated, as you can well imagine. The grandmother was furious. “Why do such terrible things happen?” she demanded. “Why did it have to happen to my grandson? What kind of God would permit this to happen to me? He must be a cruel and vicious God. Why should I believe in him? I don’t believe in him. My grandson was so young, he had the rest of his life ahead of him. It’s all right for old people to die, but not for someone who had a right to a long and happy life. I don’t believe in heaven. I don’t believe in anything.” She carried on like this for months, making the tragedy even harder for her family. She stopped going to Church and refused to talk to the priest who dropped by her house to talk to her. “I just hate God,” she insisted. Then one night, maybe she was dreaming, maybe she was half away, her grandson, in his baseball uniform, came to visit it her. “Cool it, Grams.” he told her. “I’m happy. Life is much better where I am. You’re not acting like my grams any more. We all have to die sometime, young or old, but here we’re all young and we’re all laughing.” So the grandmother began to let go of her grief and rage.

Machtnamh: Ag ligean ar slí, ar mhaithe le daoine eile (Letting go, for others’ sake)

Scríobh Martin Luther King uair amháin faoi am nuair a bhí sé ag urnaí sa chistin ina bhaile in Alabama. Caitheadh clocha tríd an bhfuinneog mar gheall ar an gcoimhlint ar son cearta sibhialta do dhaoine dubha. Bhí a bhean chéile agus a leanaí i mbaol. Bhí meas bainte amach aige mar fhear acadúil cheana féin agus bhí gairm bheatha gheal i ndán dó. Ina phaidreacha bhí sé á scrúdú féin ag ceistiú an raibh sé ceart é féin agus a theaghlach a chur i mbaol? Is ag an tráth sin a tháinig sé le toil Dé agus leas a mhuintire a chur roimh a shlándáil féin agus slándáil a theaghlaigh. Roghnaigh sé oibriú ar son Dé trí labhairt amach ar son na ndaoine siúd a raibh i gcruachás. Ar ndóigh, roghnaigh sé an bás chun go bhféadfadh daoine eile beatha níos iomláine a fháil. Bhí sé mar scáth iontach de na rudaí a deir Íosa sa soiscéal, go gcaithfidh an ghráin chruithneachta titim isteach sa talamh chun fómhar saibhir a thabhairt.


(Saint Cyril of Jerusalem)

Cyril (315-386), born in Caesarea Maritima (Palestine), was a distinguished theologian of the early Church. As bishop of Jerusalem he devoted himself to the teaching of catechumens, for whom he wrote his best known treatise, the Mystagogic Catechesis – a preparation for receiving the infusion of divine life through baptism.

15 Responses

  1. William O'Brien

    I read the story “into the Valley of Death” with interest, as I have confronted that anger of the grandmother many times in my ministerial life. What struck me in the story was that the priest went to talk to the grandmother. So often we think that we should talk someone out of their anger with God. However, what is really necessary is listening intently tot he anger (often many times– hearing the same anger over and over). We cannot take it away and our talking more often that not gets in the way of healing.
    We must listen first and perhaps ask a questions as we do. Our fault is is in trying to change the anger, rather than affirming it as a reality. There is nothing wrong with anger at God, and we can use the story of Martha and Mary at the data of their brother as a rich example of how that anger is appropriate and can be healed by our gentle listening and consoling.

  2. Phil Greene

    just pondering, re – “On today’s readings” above.. I have seen John 3:16 changed from ” and God so loved the world” to “and God loved the world so much”.. and am just wondering why the change ? Perhaps its to appeal to a younger generation and help them embrace the message?

  3. Joe O'Leary

    It is pity we cannot stick to one hallowed text of Scripture. Anglicans have the option of falling back on the KJV but for the Roman church the Vulgate was the hallowed version. RSV was the best text for both churches in the 1960s, 1970s but there was the messy Jerusalem Bible, and then the politically correct NRSV — is it the new edition of the Jerusalem Bible that we are using now?

    Of course biblical scholarship and a more clear-eyed historical vision of what the biblical texts were and meant in their original contexts goes against any static hallowed text. We need both poles — the realistic and the hallowed — in our listening to Scripture.

  4. Phil Greene

    Thank you Joe for the clarification. In light of recent discussions your last sentence is very profound.

  5. Pádraig McCarthy

    The gospel reading in the Lectionary is billed as verses 20 to 30. This seems to be an error: the reading given is actually up to verse 33. This includes the words “When I am lifted up from the earth I shall draw all to myself.”
    “I shall draw all (pantas)” does not specify “men” or “people”. Could this then include all creation?

    “Lifted up” in John has the dual meaning of cross and resurrection.
    The sentence preceding the reading has Pharisees seeing the crowd greeting Jesus on Palm Sunday, and lamenting that the whole world has gone after Jesus. So now, with the Greeks seeking Jesus, this seems to be confirmation. It’s also like a turning point in John’s gospel.

    “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
    The word “life” in Greek is “psyche” (soul, self) the first two of these in this sentence, but in the third, it is “zoe”; yet almost all translations use “life” for all three. It seems there should be a clear distinction here.

  6. Pat Rogers

    Dear Joe (@3),

    Let me confess to being happy with the NRSV myself, which is why I’ve always used it for the Scripture readings in our “Resources” section.

    My preference is due in part to having been on friendly terms with the late prof. Bruce Metzger, who chaired the NRSV editorial committee where the final text was decided, and whose judgment I regarded very highly. One thing I appreciate in particular in the NRSV is its consistent use of inclusive language. Not sure if that’s what you mean by “the politically correct NRSV”? If so, it’s one aspect of political correctness that I’ve come to embrace.

  7. Joe O'Leary

    You have to curb inclusive language when it leads to egregious mistranslation, as in the NRSV’s version of Hebrew 2:6

    But someone has testified somewhere,

    “What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    or mortals, that you care for them?
    You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
    you have crowned them with glory and honor,
    subjecting all things under their feet.”

    Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower] than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

    Note that in changing the singular to a plural in the Psalms text the NRSV makes nonsense of the argument of Hebrews. One wonders if theologians and many other academics are not so obsessed by the rituals of pc language that they have foregone basic judgement in their own disciplines.

  8. Joe O'Leary

    When I read in the NEB, “‘Abraham’, God went on…” I can feel the intrusive presence of the translator. Likewise, the inclusive language of NRSV sometimes feels as if a nannyist translator is intervening intrusively.

    For further developments of this insidious nannyism, see https://blog.apaonline.org/2018/03/20/normalizing-the-use-of-preferred-pronouns-at-philosophy-conferences/

  9. Joe O'Leary

    “We do not yet see everything in subjection to them” should be “we do not yet see everything in subjection to him”, i.e. the Son of Man, but we do see him made less than the angels and we will see him subjecting all to himself. “Inclusive language” brings about a major loss of meaning here.

    Also, in translating all the “servants” in the Gospels as “slaves” the NRSV creates a distorting emphasis. e.g. Luke 19:13ff.: “He summoned ten of his slaves.” “Well done, good slave!… take charge of ten cities.”

    NRSV balks at translating Rom 1:1 as “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ” but notes “slave” as an alternative in a footnote.

  10. Pat Rogers

    Granted, the inclusive language lessens the force of Hb 2:6, in that it has “human beings” and “mortals” for “man” and “son of man”.

    However, the discussion might begin with Psalm 8 verse 4.
    מה־אנוש כי־תזכרנו ובן־אדם כי תפקדנו׃

    Did the Psalmist intend that “Enosh” should be specifically “male”, rather than simply “human”, and that “Ben-Adam” be a male person?

    If one allows Psalm 8 to be rendered inclusively, it’s hard to see how its translation should differ, in Hb 2:6. Without wanting to lengthen this debate, I’d feel that the NRSV’s approach is defensible, though not mandatory.

  11. Pat Rogers

    As regards the term “SLAVE” in Luke 19:17 (‘Εὖγε, ἀγαθὲ δοῦλε, ὅτι ἐν ἐλαχίστῳ πιστὸς ἐγένου…), the NRSV rightly and consistently renders “doulos” as “slave” – reflecting the grim reality of servitude in the Greco-Roman world. In this context, one should recall how in Lk 12:47 Jesus warns that the “doulos” (slave) who KNEW what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating, whereas “the one who DID NOT KNOW and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating.” Okay, he replaced “many stripes” with “severe beating”. Still, the very notion of the “doulos” doing something deserving a flogging (ποιήσας δὲ ἄξια πληγῶν) says something ominous about the master-slave relationship. ὁ δοῦλος ὁ γνοὺς τὸ θέλημα τοῦ κυρίου αὐτοῦ — the “doulos” had better do what his “kyrios” wanted, or else!

    This kind of “douleia” was not our kind of voluntary, paid service, where the servant could simply hand in his/her notice. The problem in translating “doulos” as “servant” is that it does not adequately capture the master’s power over the slave, in that worldview.

  12. Pat Rogers

    What did Paul mean people to understand, when he calls himself a “doulos” in Romans 1:1 ? A SERVANT, yes, but under a sort of divine compulsion to render this service.

    His use of DOULOS in 1 Corinthians is significant. He urges people who were in slavery when they became Christians not to chafe under it; but if the chance for freedom comes, to avail of it. (δοῦλος ἐκλήθης? μή σοι μελέτω. ἀλλ’ εἰ καὶ δύνασαι ἐλεύθερος γενέσθαι, μᾶλλον χρῆσαι 1 Co 7:20).

    Two chapters later (1 Co 9:19) he asserts that though he himself was a completely free man, he made himself a slave to all (Ἐλεύθερος γὰρ ὢν ἐκ πάντων πᾶσιν ἐμαυτὸν ἐδούλωσα). The element of inner compulsion is stated in 9:16 “Necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

    So one could well hover between “servant” and “slave” to render “doulos”….

  13. Joe O'Leary

    The problem is that “slave” has such a bad meaning in today’s English that it creates a huge distraction.

    Of course there is also a deeper problem — the Gospels present Jesus as being at ease with slaves being beaten or “handed over to the torturers” (Mt 18:34). The impression conveyed is that Christians are fellow-slaves of a despotic Master. The KJV translators were surely well aware that “doulos” could more naturally be translated as “slave”? If the NRSV is read in churches, the effect of hearing the word “slave” over and over again (9 times in the Matthean parable) is likely to be highly disedifying.

    I note that 1 Cor 9:19 is translated “a slave to all” in NRSV, which is more expressive than “servant unto all” (KJV); But “a slave to all” is already the RSV translation, and RSV already has the footnote to Rom 1:1 offering “slave” as alternative translation for “servant”. This use of “slave” is not offensive (compare John Paul II on “slavery to Mary”) but the “slaves” in the Gospel strike a note of brutality that may not have been in the ears of its original hearers.

    The problem with transferring the pc translation of the psalm to Hebrews is not that it loses force but that makes the text of Hebrews meaningless. The author of Hebrews read “enosh” and “ben adam” as masculine singulars and applied the terms to Christ. No doubt the author of Hebrewvs was well aware that “ben adam” is a collective noun referring to all humanity, but he uses it as a singular name and his text makes no sense if the he becomes a they, The case is different when “men” is elided in Rom 5:18 or Jn 1:4 — here there is a loss of force and of coherence in the use of a key word, but no actual collapse of meaning.

    Another problem is the use of “mortals” as a translation of “ben adam” — this conjures up a Greek contrast between mortals and immortals, introducing foreign connotations.

  14. Joe O'Leary

    Here is a glimpse of the NRSV translation process from inside:

    The mess in Hebrews 2 may be due to the editorial subcommitttee appointed to ensure consistency in the final product, who made many changes that enraged the full committee: “The members of this editorial committee understood their task as involving far greater authority to revise the translation than the full committee ever intended…. The editorial committee was expected to make the relatively minor changes to the finished product that were necessary for the sake of stylistic consistency…. The editorial committee made thousands of changes, some quite substantive, to the translation of the Old Testament made by the full committee, and when members of the full committee became aware of the extent of these changes, many were outraged, feeling that much of their own work on the translation over the years had been irresponsibly gutted.”

    On the danger of introducing false Hellenistic connotations (by words such as “mortals”) or a distracting pc self-consciousness: “Paul did not highlight a concern for inclusivity by using the compound expression “brothers and sisters.” To articulate this concern in translation by expressing what Paul left unexpressed is to impose a twentieth century, western cultural agenda on a first century text. Such anachronistic glosses make sociological or cultural appraisal of the world of the original text more difficult and cast doubts on the reliability of such a translation for serious historical work. Moreover, to translate “my brothers” as “my friends” 17 is even worse. The language of “friendship” was a commonplace in the Hellenistic world in which Paul was writing, yet Paul studiously avoids the Hellenistic language of “friendship” for “kinship” language. Thus, to translate “brother” as “friend” is both inaccurate and a major obstacle to grasping the early Christian comrnunity’s self- understanding.”

  15. Joe O'Leary

    Mark 14:62 in today’s passion gospel quotes Dan 7:13, “you will see the Son of Man” (NRSV) — but that NRSV translates the Daniel text as “one like a human being” with an alternative in a footnote “a son of man” (which is what the RSV had; KJV has “like the Son of man”) — the Aramaic bar enosh can be translated in all these ways — but if was say “like a human being” we give the flattest version of Daniel’s vision. The Greek of Mark has the definite article — ton huion tou anthrôpou, the Son of Man, whereas Daniel, like the Psalm quoted in Hebrews 2, has indefinite huios anthrôpou, a son of man.

    John 6:10 says “make the men (anthrôpous) sit” and 5000 “men (andres)” sit down. The reference is surely to men rather than to human beings. But NRSV has “Make the people sit down…. so they sat down” with alternative translation “the men” (instead of “they”) in a footnote.

    John 2:24-5 in the NRSV has “he knew all people and needed no ine to testify about anyone, for he himself know what was in everyone” — this is awfully lame and ineffective: the RSV had “he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.”

    The very next verse John 3:1 plays on the word “man” here (“a man of the Pharisees”) but NRSV eliminates this by translating “a Pharisee.” 3:4 continues the motif “can a man return to his mother’s womb?” but NRSV has: “can one enter a second time.”

    3:19 “men loved darkness rather than light” become in NRSV “people loved darkness”.

    12:32 NRSV “draw all people to myself” (footnote gives alternative reading “all things”; RSV had “all men”; Greek has pantas (masc. pl. pronoun) with alternative “panta” (neut.).

    Just one more sampling: Lk 24:7 has “the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men (anthrôpous)” — some translations tend to ruin the wordplay here by eliminating the second “men” and writing “sinners” (the NRSV’s choice) or “sinful people”.