FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT
Follow the Tides of Life
First Reading ( Jer 31:31-34):God made a new covenant with the new Israelites
Second Reading ( Heb 5:7-9 ) : Jesus learned obedience through his sufferings
Gospel ( Jn 12:20-33):The parable of the grain of wheat
- “A hero does not shed tears easily.”(1)
- “If you have not endured the bone-chilling winter, how can you smell the fragrance of the plum flowers!”(2)
- “Ability does not last forever, nor does talent.”(3)
- “Be content and follow the tides of life. Then, sadness and happiness cannot affect you.”(4)
“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” (Heb 5:7-9 )
Here, the Chinese translation talks about “weeping and calling out loudly in grief”. According to Studium Biblicum's translation, it means 'to manifest one's sadness by weeping and loudly expressing one's grief.' Another Christian translation says it similarly, 'weeping loudly and calling out in great sadness.' It stresses “crying out one's pain and shedding tears”. What it emphasizes is sadness, tears, crying out in great distress, openly expressing one's sorrow.
There is a Chinese saying, “A hero does not shed tears easily.” (1) Christ would not have shed such tears without reason. But in this instance, he not only wept, he called out loudly, he wailed. Among human beings one would seldom go beyond such agonized wailing. It is an expression of ultimate agony and sorrow.
Jesus was a man, truly human like all of us, except for his sinlessness. Because he was human, he could feel fear, and be afraid of death. When he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane his fear was so extreme that his sweat became like blood. “In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” (Lk 22:44 ) One can see it is not an exaggeration when sometimes in Chinese literature such graphic terms are used, for example, 'crying unto shedding blood' or 'the cuckoo bird's tear has become blood.'
Even before this, Jesus' suffering was no small thing. After his triumphant procession into Jerusalem, during his last speech to the crowd, he said, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say - 'Father, save me from this hour?” ( Jn 12:27 )But he did not forget to add immediately, “It is for this reason that I have come to this hour. ” It seems that his heart and his brain were functioning separately!
As Jesus faced his passion and death, his heart and emotions were troubled and full of fear. These were real emotions and true feelings, much as any of us would have in similar circumstances. But his mind, his thoughts and beliefs, his whole life attitude, would not allow him to contemplate escape. He 'knew' it was for this that he had been born into the world, so when the time had come, he had no reason to flee.
A courageous person is not necessarily unafraid, but is able to face his fear and truly overcome it. There is a legend about a general who before leaving for war, was so frightened that his legs shook. He jokingly addressed his legs, “Tonight you can shiver as much as you want, because tomorrow I must go into battle.”
Christ also was afraid but he was obedient. His submission to his Father was not achieved lightly. His was a lifetime of ongoing struggle before he achieved perfect obedience. He had to endure many struggles before he could overcome himself and attain perfect obedience.
St. Paul said, “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” ( Heb 5:8 ) The emphasis here is on 'learning'. Jesus learned to obey and finally succeeded. Before he achieved this, he went through suffering and agony during his entire life. He disciplined himself until he learned to obey. It is something like the saying, ‘every family has its own problems and hardship.’
Life is like a book, it is like refining gold in a big furnace. “If you have not endured the bone-chilling winter, how can you smell the fragrance of the plum flowers!”(2)
Life has its own basic rules and rhythm, success and failure, illness and health, aging and death, etc. It will not be changed because of our preferences nor be lost because of our efforts. Of course we can and should strive with all our strength, use our early years to write the poem of our life so that our lives are useful and happy. We must strive to accomplish our goal in life, but in the end we must accept life as it unfolds, saying a sincere 'yes' to life and committing ourselves to living wholeheartedly!
No matter what life is like, we must commit ourselves to it and accept it. Though there may be risks ahead, we must carry on with life courageously.
To accept and affirm life does not imply a weak acceptance of fate. It is rather going beyond fate, and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, accepting it first and then trying our best to change. This demands of us that we stand on our own two feet, then go forward one step at a time. Ultimately this is the attitude we should have to life.
At first we do not understand life fully. We charge ahead and meet life headlong. We think we can conquer fate, and if we persist to the end, we will be able to change everything. But in the end, we find that “Ability does not last forever, nor does talent” (3). No matter who we are, we find there are things we could not or cannot do, or occasions when no matter what we do, it comes to nothing. At such times, we can only follow what life dictates. As Chuang Tzu said, “We must be content and follow the tides of life. Then, sadness and happiness will not affect us.”(4) Only then do we realize that this is the way to true happiness, and we can be happy in any circumstances of life.
As to this, even Jesus had to learn. How much more so we ordinary human beings!