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

To the world and to those what are perishing, Sunday’s Gospel is utter madness, utter foolishness. Christ in effect declares that dying (to this world) is the only way to true life. While the world’s so-called wisdom holds that the way to life is through power, prestige, possessions, and popularity, Jesus says that in order to find true life, one must die to all that. This seems to be a paradox. The true gospel (not a 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 He can give us a heart for what really matters, a heart for Him, for love, and for the things awaiting us in Heaven. 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. We, too, must go to His 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 find 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 wish to speak to Him. From this seemingly simple and unremarkable (to us) fact, Jesus senses that His “hour” has now come. Yes, the time has come for His glorification, that is, His suffering, death, and resurrection. He goes on later 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 because certain Greeks (i.e., certain Gentiles) want to talk to Him.

Even more remarkable is that nothing in the text indicates that Jesus actually goes over to speak to them. Having given this stunning soliloquy and announced that the drama was to unfold, Jesus does not appear to have gone over to the Greeks to evangelize them. We will see why this in a moment.

First, let us examine why this simple request kicks off the unfolding of Holy Week. 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:

  • I come to gather nation 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).
  • 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 Jews 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).

So it is that this apparently simple request of the Greeks (Gentiles) to see Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, carries such significance.

Why did Jesus not run and greet them at once? Simply put, the call and salvation of the Gentiles must wait for His death and resurrection 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 can make us one with the Father or with one another. There is no true unity apart from Christ, and 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 lasting unity, salvation, and true peace.

The door has opened from the Gentiles’ side, but Jesus knows that the way through the door goes by way 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). Now 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. Thank the Lord that Jesus paid that price. The old hymn “At Calvary” 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 our unity with the Father and with one another, it is also true that He sets forth a pattern for us and applies it. Note that Jesus says, “Amen, amen I say to you …. He also 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 life. If we seek unity and peace and want to enjoy this new life with the Father, we must die so as 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? We have to die to:

  • our ego
  • our desire for revenge
  • our hurts from the past
  • our desire to control everything
  • our sinful and unbiblical agendas
  • our irrational fears rooted in ego and exaggerated notions
  • our hatreds
  • our unrealistic expectations
  • our stubbornness
  • our inflexibility
  • our impatience
  • our unreasonable demands
  • our greed
  • our worldliness

Yes, we have to be willing to experience 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 happen; peace and unity do not just happen. We have to journey to them through Calvary. We 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 at day’s end – 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.

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, if we live only for power, possessions, popularity, and prestige, we are already dead. 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 all.

If we allow the Lord to help us die to this world’s agenda and to its pathetic charms, then and only then can 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 day to day.

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

Note that Jesus calls this new life “eternal life.” Eternal life means far more than living forever. While not excluding the notion of endless length, eternal life at a deeper level has more to do with its fullness.

For those who know Christ, this process has already begun. Now that I am well past age fifty, my bodily life has suffered setbacks, but spiritually I am more alive than I ever was at twenty. Just wait until I’m eighty! Our bodies may be declining, but if we love and trust Christ, our souls are growing younger and more vibrant, more fully alive. Yes, I am more joyful, more serene, more confident, less sinful, less angry, less anxious, more compassionate, more patient, and more alive!

All of this comes from dying to this world little by little and thereby having more room for the life Christ offers.

What is the price of our peace and our new life? Everything! We shall only attain to it by dying to this world. While our final physical death will seal the deal, there are the thousand little deaths that usher in this new life even now. Our physical death is but the final stage of a lifelong journey in Christ. For those who know Christ, the promise then will be full. For those who rejected Him, the loss will be total.

Again from the hymn “At Calvary”: “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. You must decide. Choose either the “wisdom” of this world or the “folly” of Christ. You may call me a fool, but make sure you add that I was a fool for Christ. I don’t mind. The cross wins; it always wins.

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

  1. Thank you, Monsignor

    I have a lot of work to do on the 14 points you present for dying to the world. Your homilies always help me to think deeply about following in the footsteps of Jesus.

  2. Thank you Msg,
    We live in South Africa. My husband Joe is from the USA. We attend our little Catholic Church faithfully. We are so happy to receive your homilies via the Internet. We are grateful for your teaching for life according to the word of God and tradition. God be with you in all you do for Christ’s sake.
    Maureen and Joseph Tomaino.

  3. It is indeed an enlightening homily dear Monsignor. I am from India and I love each of your homilies. Dying to the world is though difficult for most of us, one will have to strive hard to do so. Thank you very muchfor such a thought provoking homily which has deeply touched me. May God Bless you to guide his folk with more and more such awakening calls. Best wishes from Aikkarakanayil Augustine Jose, India.

  4. Thank you so very much for your article “The cross always wins” Your articles are the first I read every day. Your gift of Wisdom is so astounding and practical. I am 87 yrs. and my husband 97 and I certainly can hear what you are saying. God Bless You!

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