Sunday Sermon for March 21, 2021, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B

Readings: Jer 31:31-34; Heb 5:7-9; Jn 12:20-33

In the Gospel reading today we hear about some Greeks who came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  These people approach Philip (whose name is Greek) and ask to see Jesus.  Philip brings this request to Andrew and the two of them go to Jesus to intercede on behalf of these people.  The answer our Lord gives is very important for us to understand.

Jesus begins His answer by stating the time has come for Him to be glorified.  Within the few days prior, our Lord made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Clearly, He did not see this as His glorification because He spoke of the future, not the past.  He then speaks of those who serve Him and states that where He is, there will His servant be.  Finally, He says when He is lifted up from the earth, He will draw all people to Himself.

In other words, these Greeks who had obviously heard about Jesus, may have wanted to see Him because of His reputation either for His preaching or because of the miracles and exorcisms He had performed.  Now they had witnessed the people of Jerusalem crying out their Hosannas to our Lord.  From the natural level point of view, He appeared popular and important, a good person to get to know. 

Our Lord makes clear that neither His preaching, His miracles, or His perceived status were of any real importance for knowing Him.  What was of the greatest importance was the sacrifice of Himself on the Cross.  Anyone who wanted to see the real Jesus Had to be drawn to the Cross.  Only through the lens of the Cross would His preaching and miracles be understood.  The question these people would need to answer for themselves, as would the Apostles, is whether they would like to see Him and associate with Him in the glory God gives rather than in the glory the world was giving Him. 

We are faced with the same question.  All too often Christian people try to make Jesus according to their own imagination.  The Cross is right in front of them, but somehow that has come to be merely a sign that one is Christian, but in their minds, Jesus Himself is known and understood apart from His Cross. 

Without the Cross, Jesus is just a good man, a holy person, a teacher of truth and righteousness.  Many people fit these categories, including the Saints.  However, the Saints, like St. Paul, only knew Jesus Christ crucified.  Their faith was in the Man who loved them so much that He died for them.  Their faith was in the One Who showed Himself to be the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God through His death on the Cross and His resurrection from the dead. 

They, themselves, were good people, holy people, teachers of truth and righteousness.  But they had no righteousness of their own; their righteousness came from Jesus.  He is the Truth they taught.  None of them claimed to be the Messiah; they received their freedom from the one and only Messiah.  He is not the Christ without the Cross.  Some of them even died for their faith, but they died for love of Jesus, not for the salvation of our souls. 

In the first reading, God promised through the Prophet Jeremiah that He would make a new covenant with His people.  The old covenant was external to the people; it was a set of laws written on stone.  This new covenant would be within them and written in their hearts; it would be the new law of love.  Since God is love, the New Covenant would mean not only that the natural law would be within us, but infinitely greater, God would be within us!  Jesus is the New Covenant.  We are baptized into Him and He, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, come to dwell within us.  This New Covenant was made on the Cross.

St. Paul tells us in the second reading that Jesus became the means of salvation for all who obey Him.  St. Paul also tells the Philippians that Jesus was obedient even to death, death on a Cross.  Once again, our only way of truly knowing Jesus is on the Cross. 

We do not know what happened with the Greeks who wanted to see Jesus.  Perhaps they were in the crowd and heard the Father’s voice from heaven.  They were there for Passover, so perhaps they saw Jesus on the Cross and came to believe.  We know the Apostles, with one exception, all came to believe in Jesus Christ crucified.  The Cross is obedience; the Cross is love.  Do we want to know the real Jesus?  We must obey Him and be where He is, drawn to Him in love on the Cross.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit