Fifth Sunday of Lent

Jer 31:31-34; Heb 5:7-9; Jn 12:20-30 (Year B)

“Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion blot out my offence. O wash me more and more from my guilt, and cleanse me from my sin.”

The familiar words of the psalmist express perfectly the complex sentiments at the heart of every act of contrition. In countless situations, from family life to work and beyond, we realise that sin has diminished God’s presence within us. We acknowledge that our sin reaches beyond us, making us a stumbling block to those around us. Contrition leads us to a “firm purpose of amendment”, and so we resolve, yet again, to live in the likeness of Christ’s selfless love. But can we?

Like St Paul, we soon discover that alone we can do nothing. We can neither achieve the good we wish, nor overcome the sin that we reject. The prophet Jeremiah noted a similar pattern in Israel’s long history of infidelity. The covenant he promised brought fresh hope to their lonely struggle: “Deep within them I will plant my law, writing it on their hearts. There will be no further need for neighbour to try to teach neighbour. No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest, it is the Lord who speaks, since I will forgive their iniquity and never call their sin to mind.”

Lent is not a solitary struggle. The Father comes to meet us in our battle, creating our hearts anew. He makes us one with the prayer of his Son, who “during his life on earth offered prayer and entreaty to the one who had the power to save him out of death”. For Jesus, that challenge was not insurmountable. His struggle, embracing ours, became the means to salvation. “Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of salvation.”

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