Sunday of Lent, Year B
First Reading: Jer 31:31-34
Second Reading: Heb 5:7-9
Gospel Reading: Jn 12:20-33
The theme of this Sunday’s liturgy is command and obedience. Although Jesus was God’s Son, “he learned obedience through what he suffered,” St. Paul says. God promises to write his law on our hearts.
When God the Son became human, he became a man “like us in all things but sin,” the Church says. Jesus did not inherit the effects of Adam and Eve’s original sin, as we do, and he himself committed no sin.
However, St. Paul says, he took upon himself “the curse of the law” (the punishments or judgments or consequences) incurred by those who do not “abide by the things written in the book of the law,” in order to redeem them “from the transgressions under the first covenant” (the Old Covenant). “For our sakes God made him who did not know sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God.”
When Jesus took on our sins, he began to suffer what they deserved. The anticipation of it “troubled” his soul. After the Last Supper, he began to suffer the agony of separation from his Father. The next day, he suffered death, the punishment explicitly foretold by God for Adam and Eve’s disobedience.
God created Adam and Eve in friendship with himself. However, for created beings to live in friendship with their creator means to live in free submission to him. That submission, or obedience, was what Adam and Eve refused when they rebelled. It was also precisely what Christ freely offered his Father on the cross. By his obedience, he undid Adam’s rebellion and made death, its punishment, an instance of that free submission to God which Adam had refused.
At the 1994 Synod of Bishops in Rome, then-Archbishop Aloysius Ambrozic of Toronto stressed the importance of obedience. God’s “saving will, manifesting itself to human beings, consists primarily of commands,” he noted. Jesus commissioned his apostles to make disciples of all nations by baptism and by “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
By obeying Jesus’ commands “we are drawn into the definitive saving act of God,” he said. “Jesus’ command is a saving gift, a grace enabling us to become like him, making us just and drawing us into the kingdom that he proclaims and brings about.”
Even now, Satan does all he can to make us disobey God, like Adam and Eve. We point to St. John’s emphasis on love and St. Paul’s insistence on justification by grace alone, but “we must be honest,” Archbishop Ambrozic said. “In our resistance to law or command there may be at work another tendency, which has little or nothing to do with John or Paul, love or grace.”
“Instinctively we want to be masters of our fate; we want to be self-starters,” he said. “If God should wish us to do something, let him persuade us, convince us, cajole us. But let him not command, for command offends our autonomy.”
God’s command “reveals, in a concrete and inescapable manner, who God is and who I am,” he said. “It demands obedience absolutely, thus containing the claim that the one doing the demanding is absolute, having the right to my unquestioned obedience. It rests on the assumption that whatever God commands makes sense, whether I understand it or not.”
However, he said, “in the very act of demanding, God’s command frees me: it frees me of the illusion of my own omnipotence, of the myth of self-made man, of the myth of the man-come-of-age responsible to no one but himself. At the same time, it offers me the chance of becoming God-like in what is most mine; namely, my deciding and doing.”
“Obedience is the one key of life,” said the preacher George Macdonald. As St. John said, “The love of God consists in this: that we keep his commandments.”