The Fifth Sunday of Lent [B]
Jeremiah 31:31-34 + Hebrews 5:7-9 + John 12:20-33
“If it dies, it produces much fruit.”
The Resurrection of Jesus is a sign, a foreshadowing, of what will happen to each one of us if we believe in Christ Crucified. When your life on this earth is over, there will be a particular judgment of your life made by God, and your soul will end up in either Hell or Heaven (the latter, perhaps, via a temporary stay in Purgatory).
However, at the end of time, when Christ comes to the earth a second time, there will be another judgment. This is a general judgment of all mankind. This is the judgment that Jesus describes as the separation of the sheep from the goats.
Many people, though, including many Catholics, find a little confusion in this idea of a general judgment at the end of time. “Why would people be judged again if they’re already in Heaven or Hell?” An important part of the dogma of the general judgment is the truth that when the general judgment occurs at Christ’s Second Coming, the bodies of those who have died will be raised and re-united with their souls.
On this fifth Sunday of Lent, as we hear again a passage from Saint John’s Gospel account, Jesus presents us with His last teaching before we enter into Holy Week next Sunday. The heart of Jesus’ teaching is simple: “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Obviously, this passage refers both to Jesus and to us.
The end of today’s Gospel passage says plainly that these words of Jesus indicated the sort of death He was going to die. His death was going to be followed by His Resurrection. We could even say that His Death was the cause of His Resurrection. But Jesus’ resurrection was not the only fruit of His Death. If the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it produces much fruit. The resurrection of every one who has faith in the power of Jesus’ Death is also a fruit of Jesus’ Death. We hope that the resurrection of our own bodies at the Second Coming will also take place.
But if we imagine ourselves at the end of time, at the Final Judgment, hopefully we would be rejoicing in the judgment of all of God’s saints. Hopefully each of us would, in a sense, be cheering for every other human person as they were judged.
From a human point of view, we might find the Final Judgment more difficult to undergo than our particular judgment at the moment of death. That particular judgment, before God, is swift and sure: after all, God already knows everything there is to know about us, even things we might try to forget.
But at the Final Judgment, when all mankind is judged, hopefully we will realize just how many people’s lives our actions—and failures to act—affect. If we refuse to die to our selves—if we fail to develop the virtue of humility as the basis of our spiritual lives—then God’s grace will bear little fruit within us. Just as serious, however, is the honest fact that our actions or inactions may not only bear little fruit in our lives, but may also keep others from bearing fruit in theirs.
Perhaps we would downplay the idea that our human lives are really bound together, that we really have an important effect on the spiritual well-being of others. In John’s account of Jesus’ teaching that we have heard, it is no coincidence that it is Greeks—that is, foreigners—who approach Jesus, and that it is only through others, in this case through the apostles Philip and Andrew, that these foreigners are able to see Jesus, and hear Him teach the very heart of the Gospel that we are drawing near in Holy Week: “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.”