Bible Reflection (17 March 2024)

5th Sunday of Lent Year B

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Hebrews 5:7-9
John 12:20-33

This Lent, let us melt our hardened heart, learn obedience to God, and become God’s instruments of salvation to the world.

My brothers and sisters. We are but two weeks before Good Friday. So we ask ourselves: What is the spiritual significance of Good Friday to me?

The significance of Good Friday comes at many levels. One of the most significance aspects of Good Friday is that it is a new covenant that God is establishing with humankind. In the First Reading this week, God spoke about this new covenant, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” (verse 31) But, what is difference of this new covenant from the Old Testament covenants that God made with Noah, Abraham and Moses? It is this: the new covenant is one that we the people would not break, but only if we are prepared to do what God invites us to do, that is, to write the covenant in our hearts. “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.” (verse 33) So my brothers and sisters, we ask: Is the new covenant of God in my heart? If not, like the Israelites of old, I will surely break it and walk away from God.

Indeed, a true conversion always come from the heart. The Bible often spoke of people whose hearts were hardened, such as the Pharaoh in Ex 9. My brothers and sisters, how about us? Do I too have a hardened heart? Do I feel sorry for the sins I committed; the people I hurt? Or am I unrepentant and give excuses for my sins? Am I forgiving for those who sinned against me and hurt me? Or am I vengeful and wanting to make the person suffer as much as I do? If I have a hardened heart, then God’s mercy and grace cannot come in. I need to soften my heart, so that I may be receptive to God’s grace. But how do I soften my hardened heart? It is through obedience. And what better way to learn obedience but through the example of our Lord Jesus Himself.

In the Gospel, hinting at the path that was ahead of Him, Jesus told Andrew and Philip, “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.” (verse 24) Then showing the anguish of His impending suffering and death, Jesus said, “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 hour.” (verse 27) This anguish culminated in the Garden of Gethsemane. At the garden, even though He was in deep anguish, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Mt 26:39) Jesus was obedient to God – even to the point of death. Indeed, in our walk of faith, how many of us are able to submit ourselves in total obedience to God as Jesus did? Are we more likely to disobey God – in the ways we sin; and in the ways we fail to acknowledge our sins?

My brothers and sisters, we need to soften our hardened hearts. We know that Jesus was dreading His impending suffering and death. Yet He remained in obedience. Why? Precisely because He wants to melt our hardened heart. For the sake of us, in order to wash us clean of our sins, He took upon the sufferings of all of humanity’s sins upon Himself. As we read in the Gospel last week, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) He did it for me! Indeed, my brothers and sisters, It is only when we allow Jesus’ passion and death to touch and melt our hearts that God’s covenant is written in our hearts. And it is only then that we know it is a covenant that we will not break, for it is written in our hearts. It is only then that we can become the instruments of God, moving hardened hearts as Jesus does. And how do we move hardened hearts? We follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

Following the footsteps of Jesus requires us to take our obedience to God to the next level – one of sacrificial obedience. In fact, this is what all Christians are called to do. It involves dying to ourselves for the sake of others. We witness such show of obedience in history through the lives of the Saints. For example, St Lawrence was martyred for aiding the poor. St Maximilian Kolbe was martyred for defending a fellow prisoner in Auschwitz. And St Therese of Lisieux would allow herself to be wrongfully accused as her little ways of showing love to others. But even today, we see acts of sacrificial obedience. For example, when a parent sacrifices for their children for the sake of love; or when a volunteer sacrifices his/her own comfort for the sake of those in needs.

In the Second Reading, the author exalts Jesus’ obedience. The author wrote, “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” (verse 7) And what is it that Jesus on the cross said to His Father that the Father heard? He said this: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) This is Jesus on the cross, taking upon Himself all our sins, and pleading to the Father to forgive us, for we do not know what we are doing! Let us contemplate and comprehend the gravity of this scene. For once we do, we cannot help but let the grace of God melt our hardened hearts. Then, we will be led to do likewise for others. Indeed, obedience leads to salvation, not just ours but also people whose lives we touch, just as Jesus’ obedience brought salvation to the world. “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” (verse 8-9)

This Lent, let us melt our hardened heart, learn obedience, write God’s covenant into our hearts, and be God’s instruments of salvation to the world. Amen.