5th Sunday of Lent Year B
Only when we open our hearts to God that we may become true Christians, submitting our will under God’s.
We call ourselves Christians, followers of Christ. This week’s Scripture Readings challenge us: Am I a Christian in truth? Or am I a Christian in name only?
The Old Testament tells us many stories of how God manifested Himself to the people. On many of these occasions, God made covenants with the people. (A covenant can be loosely equated to an agreement.)
- To Noah, God promised “never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth”. (Gen 9:11)
- To Abraham, God bestowed “this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates”. (Gen 15:18) and promised him descendants “as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore”. (Gen 22:17)
- To Moses, God promised the defeat of their enemies (Ex 23:20-24:8)
These covenants were accompanied with sights to the eyes and voices to the ears. But did these make true believers of the people? Two weeks ago, we reflected on the text of Ex 20:1-17, which recalls the moment God proclaimed His Commandments to the people through Moses. Later, Moses even asked the people to bind the God’s Commandments to their foreheads and their arms (Deut 6:6-9, Deut 11:18-20). But did the people accepts God’s Commandments? No they did not. In Ex 32, Moses went up to the mountain to meet God. When his return was delayed, the people said to Aaron, “Come, make gods for us” (Ex 32:1). And Aaron complied. He made a golden calf to which the people declared, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Ex 32:4). The people had feasted their eyes on God’s covenants; they feasted their ears with God’s Commandments, but their hearts were far away from God. As soon as they encountered a setback, they turn away from God. They even attributed God’s blessings to the gods they created with their human hands. In truth, they never truly worshiped God their Creator, they worshiped their own creation. In truth, they worshiped themselves.
Many of us are like the Israelites of old. We are believers in name only. This is evident in our Catholic parishes, where we come to church each weekend, reciting our Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and other set prayers. Let us ask ourselves: are these prayers in my heart? Especially when I encounter setbacks in my life, do I readily abandon God like the Israelites in the desert? And when I recall all the blessings I received in my life, instead of attributing them to God, do I attribute them to my own intelligent and ingenuity? In truth, am I more a worshipper of myself than I am a worshipper of God?
How do I become a Christian in truth then? In the First Reading this week, the prophet Jeremiah foretells a New Covenant: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. … I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more” (verse 33-34) Yes, my dear brothers and sisters, to be a true believer, we need to open our hearts to God. This goes beyond reciting prayers in church, or tying Scriptures to our foreheads and arms. Opening our hearts to God is challenging. It means opening up all our sins, our faults, our shortcomings and our vulnerabilities to God. Do we trust God enough to do that? If we cannot do that, Jesus cannot come into our hearts. If Jesus cannot come into our hearts, He cannot heal our brokenness; He cannot restore our dignity as sons and daughters of God.
When we are Christians in name only, we struggle to submit ourselves to God. We find it hard to obey God Commandments, especially when submitting to God’s Commandments requires our sacrifices. It is only when we open our hearts that we may become submissive to God. Recalling Jesus’ submission to His Father, St Paul wrote in the Second Reading this week, “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (verse 7) St Paul was referring to Jesus’ moment of anguish leading up to and during His Passion, when He submitted to God’s will in accepting His humiliation, torture and death. Jesus understood full well that His death was necessary to bring about salvation to you and me. As He said in the Gospel this week, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (verse 24) But He knew it would not be easy for Him: “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” (verse 27) At the Garden of Gethsemane, moments before His arrest, Jesus said to the Father, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me”; and in full submission to God, He added, “yet, not my will but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42)
Lent is a season for us to look deep into our spiritual life. We are only two weeks from His suffering, death and resurrection. Am I ready to accept Jesus into my heart? Let us contemplate this over the remaining days.