The Cross Always Wins – A Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent

The Gospel today is, to the world and those who are perishing, utter madness, utter foolishness. For Christ, in effect, declares that dying (to this world) is the only way to true life. While the world’s so-called wisdom declares to us that the way to life is power, prestige, possessions, and popularity, Jesus says we should die to all that in order to find true life.

The word “paradox” refers to something that is contrary to the usual way of thinking. And the true gospel (not the watered down, compromised one) is a real insult to the world.

Indeed, most of us struggle to understand and accept what the Lord is saying. But the Lord can give us a heart for what really matters, a heart for God, for love, and for the things waiting for us in Heaven. And the way to this new life is through the Cross. Jesus had to go to the Cross and die to give us this new life. And we, too, must go to the Cross and die with Him to this world’s agenda in order to rise to new life.

To those who would scoff at this way of the Cross, there is only one thing to say, “The Cross wins; it always wins.”

Let’s examine the Lord’s paradoxical plan to save us and bring us to new life.

I. The Plan of Salvation That Is Acclaimed – As the Gospel opens we hear of a rather strange incident. The text says,  Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

What is odd is Jesus’ apparent overreaction to the simple fact that some Greeks wished to speak to Him. From this seemingly simple and unremarkable (to us) fact, Jesus senses that His “hour” has now come. Yes, now is the time for His glorification to take place, that is, His suffering, death, and resurrection. Later He goes on to say, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

Yes, all this from the simple fact that certain Greeks (i.e., Gentiles) wish to speak to Him.

Even more remarkable is that nothing in the text indicates that Jesus goes over to speak to them. Although He has just given this stunning soliloquy and announced that the drama is about to unfold, there is no evidence that He went over to the Greeks to evangelize them. We will see why in a moment.

But first let us examine why this simple request “throws the switch” for Holy Week to unfold. In effect, the arrival of the Gentiles fulfills a critical prophecy about the Messiah wherein He would gather the nations unto Himself and make of fractured humanity one nation, one family. Consider two prophesies:

  1. I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory. just as the Israelites bring their offering to the house of the Lord in clean vessels. Some of these I will take as priests and Levites says the Lord … All mankind shall come to worship before me says the Lord (Is 66:18, 23).
  2. And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, every one who keeps the Sabbath, and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples (Is 56:6-7).

Thus we see that one of the principle missions of the Messiah would be to save not only the Jewish People but all people and to draw them into right worship and unity in the one Lord. Jesus explicitly states elsewhere his intention to gather the Gentiles:

I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:14).

And so it is that this apparently simple request of the Greeks (Gentiles) to see Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, carries such significance for Him (and for us).

But why not run and greet them at once? Simply put, the call to and salvation of the Gentiles must wait for the death and resurrection of Jesus to be accomplished. It will be His atoning death that will reunite us with the Father and with one another. A simple sermon or slogan like “Can’t we all just get along” isn’t going to accomplish the deeper unity necessary. Only the Blood of Jesus can bring true Shalom with the Father and with one another; only the blood of Jesus can save us.

Consider this text from Ephesians:

But now in Christ Jesus you [Gentiles] who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both [Jews and Gentiles] one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father (Eph 2:13ff).

Thus nothing but the Blood of Jesus can make us whole, can save us or make us one either with the Father or with one another. There is no true unity apart from Christ. He secures it by His blood and the power of His Cross. Only by baptism into the Paschal mystery do we become members of the Body of Christ and find true and lasting unity, salvation, and peace.

So the door has opened from the Gentiles’ side. But Jesus knows that the way through the door goes by way of the Cross. His apparent delay in rushing to greet the Gentiles makes sense in this light. Only after His resurrection will He say, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19). For then there is the power through baptism to make all one in Christ. The price of our salvation, our new life, our peace with one another and the Father, is the death and Resurrection of Jesus. And thank the Lord that Jesus paid that price. An old songs says, “Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan! Oh, the grace that brought it down to man! Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span! At Calvary!”

II. The Plan of Salvation Applied – Jesus goes on to say, Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.

Now while it is true that Jesus pays the price for our peace and unity with the Father and with one another, it is also true that He sets forth and prescribes a pattern for us. Note that Jesus says, Amen, Amen I say to YOU … and then he says, Whoever serves me must follow me.

Thus the pattern of His dying and rising to new life must also be applied to the pattern of our lives. If we seek unity and peace and to enjoy this new life with the Father, we must die in order to rise again. We must follow in the footsteps of Jesus. If we want peace we have to be willing to accept the pattern of dying for it and rising to it.

How must we die for this? Well we have to die to

  1. Our ego
  2. Our desire for revenge
  3. Our hurts from the past
  4. Our desire to control everything
  5. Our sinful and unbiblical agendas
  6. Our irrational fears rooted in ego and exaggerated notions
  7. Our hatreds
  8. Our unrealistic expectations
  9. Our stubbornness
  10. Our inflexibility
  11. Our impatience
  12. Our unreasonable demands
  13. Our greed
  14. Our worldliness

Yes, we have to be willing to make some sacrifices for unity and to obtain new life. We have to let the Lord put a lot of sinful and unhealthy drives to death in us. New life does not just occur; peace and unity do not just happen. We have to journey to them through Calvary. We, too, must allow the Lord to crucify our sinful desires and thereby rise to new life.

But remember, the Cross wins; it always wins.

III. The Plan of Salvation Accepted – Jesus speaks of a great promise of new life but presents it in a very paradoxical way. He says, Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. We must learn to accept this!

In other words, if we are not willing to follow the pattern He sets forth of dying to ourselves and to this world, we cannot truly live. If we go on clinging to our worldly notions of life, if we live only for ourselves, for power, possessions, popularity, and prestige, we are already dead. For indeed, if we live only for the things of this world (and many do), ours will be a cruel fate, for we will die and lose everything. Yes, we’ll be total losers.

But if we allow the Lord to help us die to this world’s agenda and its pathetic charms, then and only then do we pass increasingly to real life, to true unity with the Father, and to deeper unity with one another in Christ. Only then does a newer, deeper life dawn upon us.  Only then do we see our lives dramatically transformed from day to day.

Jesus had to die to give this to us. And in order to have it bestowed on us, we must be configured to Christ’s death to this world in order to live in Him and find this new life. We die to a sinful and overrated world so that we can live in a whole new way, in a life open to something richer than we can ever imagine.

Note, too, that Jesus calls this new life “eternal life.” But eternal life means far more than living forever. While not excluding the notion of endless length, eternal more deeply means “fully alive.”

For those who know Christ this process has already begun. At my age (past 50), my bodily life has suffered setbacks. But spiritually I am more alive than I ever was at 20; and just wait until I’m 80! If we love and trust Christ, though our bodies decline with age our souls grow younger, more vibrant, and more fully alive with the years. Yes, I am now more joyful, more serene, more confident, less sinful, less angry, less anxious, more compassionate, more patient, … more alive!

But all of this comes from dying to this world little by little and thus having more room for the life Christ offers.

What is the price of our peace and our new life? Everything! For we shall only attain it by dying to this world. And while our final physical death will “seal the deal,” there are the thousands of “little deaths” along the way that usher in this new life. Our physical death is but the final component of a lifelong journey in Christ. For those who know Christ, the promise will then be fulfilled. For those who rejected Him, the loss will be total.

An old song says, “Now I’ve given Jesus everything, Now I gladly own Him as my King, Now my raptured soul can only sing Of Calvary!”

Yes, the promise is real but it is paradoxically obtained. The world calls all this foolishness. But you decide. Choose either the “wisdom of this world” or the folly of Christ. As for me, I’d be fine if you call me a fool, but make sure you add that I was a fool for Christ; I do not mind. The Cross wins; it always wins.

This song says,

Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died
On Calvary.

Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary.

By God’s Word at last my sin I learned;
Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned
To Calvary.

Now I’ve given Jesus everything,
Now I gladly own Him as my King,
Now my raptured soul can only sing
Of Calvary!

Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span
At Calvary!

It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
Full of glory, full of glory,
It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
Oh, the half has never yet been told.

6 Replies to “The Cross Always Wins – A Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent”

  1. Thank you for this rich explanation. God bless you Monsignor.
    You are a gift to all of us.

  2. Thank you for this rich explanation. God bless you Monsignor.
    You are a gift to all of us.

  3. Wonderful homily, Msgr. No matter how good or bad the homily is that I hear at Mass, I can always count on a jewel from you to meditate or reflect more fully and completely on the Sunday readings.

    Jesus’ response to the news that some Greeks wanted to speak to him does seem odd on the surface and a little puzzling. Your explanation for his reaction and response makes a lot of sense and helps to clarify things in a way few priests can do.

    Thanks for that and for the thoughts on just how critical it is for us to die to self and die to the world. We hear this from Our Lord, but we don’t hear it enough from the pulpit. Outside of religious life, we live in a world that increasingly makes it very hard to lose one’s life and hate one’s life the way that Jesus commands us to. You say that to folks today and they think that you are either suicidal or crazy.

    Anyway, thanks again for your wonderful meditations. As always, well worth the time and full of helpful spiritual insights.

  4. Thank you so much for your words. I’ve read a few of your posts through and each time I do, I feel like you are speaking directly to me as if you knew ahead of time exactly how the Holy Spirit was working in my life. I’m imagining how many others feel the same way. God bless!

  5. This brings such Joy, can’t wait until we are all ‘ONE’, thank you, Nancy

  6. Like your four “p’s,” but popularity seems too close to prestige. How about “pleasure” for the fourth one? When we make these our goal, we are guaranteed to keep needing more.

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