In today’s Gospel we see three possible reactions to the voice of God actually speaking to a gathering of people for a festival in Jerusalem; Jesus gives the crowd an analogy of self-emptying – he uses the metaphor of a grain of wheat, saying a single grain is only a grain; but if it falls into the earth and dies, it bears much fruit. He is saying that to live only for one’s self is a very narrow and limited existence. To surrender one’s life in the service of others for God, on the other hand, provides a much wider, deeper, and fuller expression of our true potential as sons and daughters of God.
Then comes the moment when Jesus says to God, “Father, glorify your name.’
And there is a response; the Gospel says a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
This is where we hear different responses to the voice of God; St. John’s gospel says everyone in the crowd heard it; some said, ‘it’s just thunder’. Others said, “it was an angel speaking to him.” In that first response, we see an attempt by some to ignore the significance of this event – that God is present, speaking to Jesus, who has called God, ‘Father’; that Jesus speaks from a direct and very intimate relationship with God.
“If it’s only thunder, I don’t have to give it any attention. It’s just meaningless noise.”
In the second response, we see a ‘limiting’ of the voice; it’s an angel speaking to Jesus – that means the message is limited only to Jesus, so the rest of the bystanders, while being impressed, don’t have to concern themselves with any special demand that is being placed on them. “If the angel is speaking only to Jesus, nothing is asked of me.”
But there is a third response; and that third response only comes when people recognize Jesus as God; and in that third response, there is a realization that when Jesus speaks, it is God speaking; and Jesus says, ‘anyone who would be my servant must follow me’; this follows almost immediately after his analogy of the grain of wheat; the metaphor for self-emptying; this prophetic remark that indicates that Jesus is going to empty himself for God and for others to the point of dying on the cross to bring all people back to God; to ‘draw all people to’ Himself.
We get to choose which of the three responses we make to God’s voice; to ignore – to limit – or to follow and serve;
The Church, instituted by Jesus himself, provides ways in which we show in a concrete way, that choice to follow and serve- in our participation in the life and mission of that same Church. They are ways we grow in a life bound together by liturgy, sacrament, and practical action. These are called the ‘precepts of the Church’, and there are five of them.
They are: to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation; to go to confession at least once a year; to receive Holy Communion at least during the Easter season; to observe days of fast and abstinence as set out by the Church; and to help provide for the needs of the Church.
I’d like to focus if I may on that last precept; This is Solidarity or Share Lent Sunday, a day that as Catholics, we observe a sense of solidarity with the poor and marginalized of our world, particularly those in developing and underdeveloped countries. The need is great, and even in difficult economic times, we are asked to support the work of the church, in what we call the Third World, particularly on this day through campaigns like Share Lent. Some might suggest our taxes are enough to go towards helping the poor of this world; we forget that the poor make up the majority of the world’s population.
As citizens we might pressure and demand our political leaders spend our tax dollars as we would want; but we have to recognize that as Christians; as followers of Christ, it is not just up to governments to take care of the marginalized; often it is the ‘grass roots’, the people, who must take matters like these into their own hands, and as servants of Christ, follow where He leads.
It is for this reason, that we are asked to consider giving as generously as we are able to support the work of the Church- the fifth precept – particularly on this Solidarity Sunday, and throughout the year; we are not asked to bankrupt ourselves, or impoverish our families; we are asked to honestly consider how much we have given in the past, and how much we are reasonably able to give now and in the future.
It is up to each of us to decide how we will support the work of the church; to decide how we will listen to the voice of God speaking through the poor of our world; to decide whether we will ignore his voice; whether we will limit his voice; or whether we will follow and serve where His voice calls us through Jesus; being that single grain that bears much fruit.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!