5th Sunday of Lent (Year B)

Our ministering to Jesus is through our acts of love and mercy to our fellow human beings.


First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34

  • Jeremiah was writing shortly before the exile to Babylon; he wrote extensively on the judgement that was to fall on the people for breaking the covenant, as is again referenced in this passage. But he also speaks of a coming restoration and of a new beginning.
  • The covenant Jeremiah speaks of, which will be written on the heart, centres on the forgiveness of sin; achieved in the New Covenant by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Psalm: 50(51):3-4, 12-15

  • Psalm 51 is the psalm of repentance par excellence. In the early church, it was recited each morning as a way to recommit ourselves and our day to the Lord.
  • The psalm is a perfect complement to the proclamation of God’s promise in Jeremiah to write his Law upon our hearts; in the psalm, we pray for God to create that new heart within us, a pure heart that knows the presence of the Holy Spirit, and is steadfast in that relationship. That new heart is on offer to us in Christ.
  • Notice that there is also a missionary tone at the conclusion of the psalm portion: ‘that I may teach transgressors your ways and sinners may return to you.’ The Gospel is to be shared, and to grasp it truly is to be compelled to offer it to others.

Second Reading: Hebrews 5:7-9

  • This is such an enigmatic passage, which deals with the fullness of the reality of the Incarnation. Jesus became fully human, living among human beings in this beautiful but fallen world. Part of that experience for Jesus was learning and growing, including in suffering. Jesus knows suffering intimately, and because he does, he can sympathise with us in whatever kind of suffering we experience; this can be a wonderful encouragement to pray and talk to Jesus candidly about our hurts and disappointments.
  • Notice that prayer and humility are linked in this passage. Many of the saints speak of the foundational importance of humility in approaching God; if we can humble ourselves to acknowledge our dependence on him, prayer achieves incredible efficacy.

Gospel: John 12:20-33

  • Does Jesus ignore the Greeks who came to see him? Or do his words speak to their concerns?
  • As with the reading from Hebrews, we are confronted with the depth of Jesus’ humanity: he tells us that his soul is troubled.
  • Jesus tells us again that he came to suffer death on the cross and to be resurrected for the sake of our salvation but also to glorify the Father and himself. How do these motives interweave?


The Gospel acclamation for today picks out one of the verses in the Gospel passage: ‘Whoever serves me must follow me, says the Lord; and where I am, there also will my servant be.’

As the Church picks this verse out of the Gospel such that we hear it twice, it’s worth spending a little bit of time meditating on it and unpicking it.

Firstly, Jesus addresses his words to those who would serve him. The Greek word underlying this idea is the word from which we get ‘Deacon’. It means to minister or wait upon someone. If we were to look through the pages of the gospels for examples of what this might mean, we could point to the angels who ministered to Jesus in the wilderness (the prototype for our 40 days of Lent) or to Mary of Bethany who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume, or even to Simon the Pharisee who hosted Jesus for that meal.

We also think of a ‘minister’ or a ‘deacon’ in the context of worship. The ancient idea of worship and the liturgy was one of service; we still have that idea today when we talk about a ‘church service’. The service we offer is worship to the Lord.

Mary and Martha of Bethany also put us in mind of another of Jesus’ teachings; that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters we do for him. Our ministering to Jesus is through our acts of love and mercy to our fellow human beings.

If we put these ideas together, we can see that Jesus addresses people who worship him, minister to him, and serve him materially in our brothers and sisters.

So, hopefully, we can include ourselves in the group of people that Jesus is addressing! What, then, does Jesus ask of us? To follow him. This is one of Jesus’ most frequent commands. Just as Jesus said ‘follow me’ to Levi, the tax collector, he says it to you and me today.

But follow him where? And how?

We’re approaching the climax of Lent, and this passage from John’s gospel is taken from the build-up to Jesus’ Passion. The immediate context for this command to follow is to go after Jesus into the crucible of the Passion. As he says elsewhere, we are called to pick up our cross and follow him.

That has become a bit of a throwaway Christian line, but it’s worth staying with that idea to let it sink in. The cross was an instrument of execution and a terrible humiliation. Jesus calls on those who worship and serve him to join in bearing that instrument. To worship and follow Jesus is to be able to say with St. Paul: ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).

In the first Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, we hear a litany of names like John the Baptist, Stephen, Matthias, and so on. The calendar of the church is sprinkled with hundreds of others. These martyrs were called to take the carrying of their cross quite literally, to the point of death. In the West, we are unlikely to face that kind of trial today. But in other parts of the world, our brothers and sisters still do, places such as Libya (from which Pope Francis canonised some modern martyrs) and Nigeria.

Even though we may not face that kind of suffering ourselves, the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ is our own suffering and the suffering of the Lord. We are all connected. Will you pray for them? The last line of the sentence taken for the gospel acclamation today is a marvellous encouragement: ‘where I am, there also will my servant be.’ Jesus now, having undergone his Passion for us, is glorified and at the right hand of the Father in heaven, interceding for us as our great High Priest. He has, as he promised, gone ahead and prepared a place for us. If we worship, serve, and minister to him in this world, and follow him on the way of the cross, we have his words here to cling to; he will come and take us to be with him, just as he has with the martyrs.


  • Worship in the First Commandment: CCC 2084-2086 (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
  • As Martyrs: Pope Francis, morning meditation, Tuesday 17th February 2015
  • Human Suffering: Pope St John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris