Bishop John’s Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

Monday 22nd March 2021

Each week during Lent, we will be sharing Bishop John’s homily.

Fifth Sunday of Lent

That’s quite a difficult passage from John’s Gospel but let’s see if we can draw something from it for ourselves at this time in Lent.

The first thing to notice is that some Greeks who asked to see Jesus. I think that’s a very good sign, isn’t it, because it means that they’ve heard about Jesus, heard about what he’s teaching and perhaps some of the miracles he’s performing and they want to see him. But the Greeks at that time, were known to be the tourists around the Roman Empire, they were very inquisitive people, they travelled a lot. Jerusalem was one of those places that people wanted to travel to because they’d heard of the glory of the Temple. During major feast days, the population of Jerusalem could quadruple, with Jews and Gentiles coming to see the festivities and religious rites.

It’s interesting that for Jesus, he now knows his message is stretching further. But he doesn’t actually address the Greeks directly in his answer. He says the time has come, which is an interesting contrast to 2-3 other earlier occasions when he says my time is not come yet, so we can see that there’s a real shift here. Suddenly, Jesus is confronting something he knows is going to happen. It’s the culmination of his Ministry. And then he comes with this image, ‘unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.’

Well just about anybody who would be listening to Jesus at all would know about that. That’s simple agriculture and most of them were farmers or had knowledge of farming in those days, so they understood that’s what happened. You plant a grain of wheat, it died, but it brought forth a harvest. Jesus was speaking of himself, we can understand that, can’t we? He knows that he must offer himself up to death in order to complete his mission, in order then for the Harvest of the Church to grow in his name.

But of course, John expects us to address that same image to ourselves. Are we prepared to be the grain of wheat that dies and yields a rich Harvest? That’s the challenge there for all of us, especially in this year, during this time of pandemic. Hopefully now we’re seeing some good signs of the lifting of restrictions and getting back into routines.

Hopefully some of these routines will be easy to re-adopt. The freedom to go to the shops, to go to restaurants, to travel, to meet family and friends. Maybe we can slip back into that but is there something rather more important being asked of us?

Unless the grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies. This is something to do with saying that our faith is something that is important to us and that we’re prepared to be challenged by it and change our ways because of our faith, and learn about our faith and changed our lives.

I’ve noticed just recently, time and time again, some of the medical experts have been talking about the vaccine, saying that until everybody has the vaccine that nobody is safe. They’ve put it into that global context. We’ve been able to think about the whole world in the pandemic requiring the vaccine in order to be sure that we’re able to defeat the pandemic. Wouldn’t it be good if we could make some other questions global? We could talk about conflict until the world is free of conflict, we’re not free of it. The eradication of poverty, while there are so many people so poor and destitute in our world, there is no justice. Until we can feed people properly, and there is plenty of food in our world and provide them with clean water, these are global questions and maybe we have to think more globally as we emerge from this pandemic. Those are the big questions, but what about you and me?

What about the questions we need to ask about where’s faith in my life, am I prepared to die to myself, to learn from my faith? Am I prepared to change? I wish I could give you a list of things we have got to do as we emerge from the pandemic, but I can’t, but what I’m inviting us – including myself – to do is to watch for those possibilities, those opportunities to witness more convincingly and thoroughly to the faith that we profess, to say that it’s my faith that guides who I am, that leads me into a sense of fulfillment and I believe, happiness, so we’ve got to be on the watch.

Tuesday turns out to be a rather important day. The Prime Minister has asked us to note that day as the first anniversary of that first lockdown, and he’s asked us to remember all those who have died, all those who have been so generous in working for the health and wellbeing and the essential services of our society. The Bishops of this country have asked that we make this Tuesday a day of prayer, where we think carefully about who we are, what’s happened to us, and where we might be. To reopen those possibilities, to change and renew ourselves to live our faith in a different way. I’m encouraged by that and I hope that everybody, in whatever you can, whether you can visit a church or not or whether it’s in your own home, to give some time to prayer. Some prayer of sadness for the loss of so many lives, some prayer for thanksgiving for those people who have looked after us so well, but some prayer also for ourselves, for where we might be and able to assist in building our Church as we emerge from the pandemic.

I’m very taken, too, by that very first reading and the Responsorial Psalm, where we’ve seen so clearly that God wants to renew with us always that Covenant, and when we fall short He wants to forgive us, invite us to start again, so we can be sure He’ll accompany us on our way.

So let’s use these days, with all the uncertainty of how we may emerge from the pandemic, but looking for those opportunities and possibilities that you and I may have to contribute to a better world.

Watch the Mass here

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