Sunday homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent Year B
Theme: The Hour of Battle and Victory
By: Fr. Luke Ijezie
Homily for Sunday March 21 2021
Jer 31:31-34; Psalm 51:3-4,12-15; Heb 5:7-9; John 12:20-23
1. Today is the fifth Sunday of Lent, and the readings of today have a way of introducing us into the great hour of Christ’s battle for human redemption. The Christian life is usually regarded as warfare. The Church in the world is called Church Militant as distinguished from the Church Suffering (those in Purgatory) and the Church Triumphant (those in Heaven). What it means is that as members of the earthly Church, we are at war. But, With whom are we warring? What are the instruments of the battle? The great Apostle Paul answers the question in his letter to the Ephesians 6:12-13: “For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the principalities and the ruling forces who are masters of the darkness in this world, the spirits of evil in the heavens. That is why you must take up all God’s armour, or you will not be able to put up any resistance on the evil day, or stand your ground even though you exert yourselves to the full.” The readings of today guide us to understand the nature of this battle and how it is won.
2. In the Gospel text, Jesus announces that his hour has come. In earlier references to his hour, he always said that the hour had not yet come (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20). But now, the hour has come. He is battle ready. The hour of Jesus is a prominent theme in John’s Gospel, and it refers to the events of the Passion and final glorification of Jesus. Jesus sees the hour as a moment of suffering, but he sees it also as a moment of victory and glory. The glory comes only after a process of suffering and death. This he likens to the grain of seed that dies before it bears fruits. The hour begins with suffering, and the humanity of Jesus is most seen in his natural dread of this suffering, expressed in his prayer to the Father: “Now is my soul troubled.” It is a moment of great agony. The battle to liberate humanity must be fought. The prince of this world must be thrown out. All the principalities and powers that destroy the world and human destiny must be defeated. Someone must pay the price. Jesus knows the battle is hard. He knows that as a human being he could wish it away and pray that the suffering dimension of the hour becomes eliminated. At this moment, he teaches us how to face hard situations by putting everything in God’s hands and will. While his soul remains troubled, he prays to the Father, “And what shall I say, Father, save me from this hour? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” This is a very touching prayer.
3. The firm resolution of Jesus to follow the divine will means he is ready to suffer. With this resolution, the forces of darkness are doomed: “Now shall the ruler of this world be cast out.” This is to be accomplished through Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s will, even unto death. The second reading of today from Hebrews 5:7-9 highlights this aspect of obedience in the mission and suffering of Jesus. While he groaned under the weight of suffering, he remained obedient to the Father and went through the whole hurdle to achieve human salvation. All who follow him must do likewise in order to win the battle against the forces of evil. The servant must do as the master does in order to be where the master is: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be.”
4. The Christian battle against the forces of evil is not a physical battle. It is a spiritual warfare. It is a battle of obedience. The battle begins from the heart. The heart must be ready to obey God. The first reading from Jeremiah 31:31-34 shows how frustrated God was with His people in the Old Testament because of their inability to turn their hearts to Him. They were unable to keep the covenant law. God, thus, through the lips of the Prophet Jeremiah, promises a new covenant which consists in the renewal and transformation of the heart. God Himself will write the law in every heart. This means that He will pour His Spirit on the human heart to renew it, to recreate it so that it can be empowered to obey the will of God. It is with hearts purified and renewed that we can join Jesus in winning the battle against evil. The seeming continuing triumph of evil in our society should not frighten us as long as we continue to cling to Jesus. He already warned and also encouraged us: “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
5. Christ’s reign consists in subduing all the enemy forces that prevent human beings from entering into the kingdom of God. In the building of God’s kingdom, one cannot but confront these forces. These forces are described variously as “the ruler who dominates the air”, and “the spirit at work in those who rebel”, as well as those called “principalities and powers” or “sovereignties and ruling forces”. All these are forces enslaving human beings and setting obstacles to the realization of the kingdom of God. In the present day society, these forces express themselves in diverse forms leading to constant insecurity, violence, bloodshed, misery, mutual hatred and eagerness to destroy every good thing.
While various means can be applied to combat these evil forces, definitive victory is possible only through spiritual armaments. The Apostle Paul makes it clear, “You must take up all God’s armour, or you will not be able to put up any resistance on the evil day, or stand your ground even though you exert yourselves to the full” (Eph 6:13). Sometimes people devise various physical means to combat evil within their community. These may work only momentarily but often they lead to greater problems. The Bible is telling us that whatever strategy we adopt as Christians, the priority must be given to spiritual ones. What are these spiritual arms? The text enumerates them: truth, uprightness (justice), gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, prayer: “So stand your ground, with truth a belt round your waist, and uprightness a breastplate, wearing for shoes on your feet the eagerness to spread the gospel of peace and always carrying the shield of faith so that you can use it to quench the burning arrows of the Evil One. And then you must take salvation as your helmet and the sword of the Spirit, that is, the word of God. In all your prayer and entreaty keep praying in the Spirit on every possible occasion. Never get tired of staying awake to pray for all God’s holy people” (Eph 6:14-18).
May God continue to accompany us in our daily struggle against the forces of evil!
Fr. Luke Ijezie