Sunday, 29 March 2009

5th Sunday of Lent Year B

Jesus talked about life and what it meant. Life, in order to be meaningful, involves sacrifices. He used the example of a grain of wheat dying in order to yield a rich harvest. He spoke it as a matter of fact as He talked of His own imminent death. Even though He believed and accepted that in order to fulfil the purpose of His life, sacrifice was involved, the truth was, still His soul was troubled. As St Paul said so elegantly, “During His life on earth, Christ offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save Him from death... Although He was Son, He learnt to obey through suffering”.

Jesus knew that the hour had arrived and yet He chose to forge ahead and give of His life. From the perspective of faith, we believe that Jesus sacrificed His life for us but from the perspective of human experience, there is a certain heroism in the decision of Jesus. This is where the Gospel reminds me of Bonnie Tyler.

Some of you might remember her. She sang this song: I need a hero. The lyric goes like this.
I need a hero. I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the end of the night. He’s gotta be strong. And he’s gotta be fast. And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight. I need a hero. I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the morning light. He’s gotta be sure. And it’s gotta be soon. And he’s gotta be larger than life
We are a generation that feeds hungrily on a staple of “entertainment” personalities. We hunger for larger-than-life heroes. That being the case, Jesus would have failed to meet the criteria of Bonnie Tyler. We often mistake a persona for a hero and seem to identify heroes with personalities. The truth is personalities are just that: personalities or roles. What saves us is not a persona. A politician will not die for you. Most politicians are skilled in the art of self-preservation at best or at worst possess the dexterity of mass-deception. A Churchman will not die for you. The role or personality does not sacrifice itself for us. It may inspire but what saves us is the man or woman who dies for us. In the Gospel, Jesus showed us what it meant to be a true Hero. He was the “troubled” Hero who knew what He was up for and yet He went for it. Let me tell you about a modern day “hero”. He was a Churchman: Archbishop Romero.

Who was he? He was appointed the Archbishop of San Salvador. His appointment wasn’t exactly welcomed because those aligned with Marxism or with liberation theology felt that he was too much an “establishment” man. He was seen to be supportive of the government simply because he was a safe Bishop; a kind of a “yes” man. However, one of his personal friends, a Jesuit priest, was assassinated and his death had a profound impact on Romero. Whilst looking at his dead friend lying in the coffin, he thought to himself, “If they killed him for doing the right thing, then I must walk the path as well”. He asked the government to investigate the death but they ignored his request and the censored media also remained silent.

I am making the long story short but the gist is one can see Romero the man emerging from his personality or role as a Bishop. Not because he wasn’t a good Bishop. He realised that it was not the Bishop who made the man but rather the man who made the Bishop. He was like a man coming alive as he found his voice in speaking up against injustice and for irregularity in governance. For that, he was also assassinated. He was assassinated not because he was Bishop but because he allowed the man inside to emerge.

What is interesting for us is that we all can be personalities. We can play our role. Admittedly, sometimes the role we play in life calls for heroism but, still, it takes a man or a woman to be the grain that falls on the ground and dies. Just as it does not take a crown to make a man a king, so in the same way we can safely say that, in a marriage, it takes a man not to beat his wife. It takes a woman to be a mother or daughter. We sometimes say that a person is not “man” enough to assume a role.

In revealing Himself as troubled, we know that Christ was heroic. And He was most heroic at His humanity. This really is very comforting for us. Why? Our heroism does not come because we are famous or because we are some personalities or we play a role. Our heroism comes because we struggle with our human weakness and yet step up to life’s challenges.

Lent is a trying period. There must be something life-giving about Lent; that is why it is so trying. I realise that I tend to eat more when the season calls for fasting and penance. I tend to get more impatient when I should be less annoyed. But, Christ in the Gospel shows us that our struggles do not necessarily define us and that we can still be heroic despite our weakness. To be the grain that dies in order to be a rich harvest does not require us to be a manager, a banker, a politician. All it requires is for us to be a man or a woman.