The root of our words “save,” “salvation,” and “savior” is the Latin word salus, which means “safety.”
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.Whoever loves his life loses it,and whoever hates his life in this worldwill preserve it for eternal life.Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.The Father will honor whoever serves me.”—John 12:24-26
Last Sunday, we heard those beloved words from the third chapter of Saint John’s Gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, / so that everyone who believes in him might not perish / but might have eternal life” (3:16). God’s love—freely given to and for us in the Father’s gift of the Beloved Son—was the golden thread tying together each of the readings for last Sunday’s liturgy.
The Fifth Sunday of Lent invites us to continue reflecting on the power of God’s love as we turn our attention to the promise and meaning of salvation.
Building on the image of the grain of wheat found in this Sunday’s Gospel, liturgical scholar Adrian Nocent, OSB, has reflected, “The grain dies and bears fruit, and the fruit, cultivated by obedience, is eternal salvation, a new covenant based on God’s forgetfulness of our past sins” (The Liturgical Year, vol. 2).
The idea of salvation or of Jesus as Savior is one that many people find challenging. As a Catholic growing up in Eastern Tennessee, I was frequently—and unpleasantly—confronted by Evangelical friends and family members asking if I had “accepted Jesus” as my “personal Lord and Savior” or if I had “been saved.” However, as a member of a religious community named for the Savior—the Society of the Divine Savior—the image of Jesus “the Savior” is both an inspiration and challenge for how I understand my call to be an “apostle for our times.”
As we reflect on how this theme is at work in this Sunday’s liturgy, we might ask ourselves what is meant by salvation and what it means to call Jesus our Savior.
The root of our words “save,” “salvation,” and “savior” is the Latin word salus, which means “safety.” The idea here, as Thomas Groome has observed, is that we “are saved from danger, threat, oppression, and so forth; but,” Groome notes, “salus also means for good health, being safe, and thriving” (from Will There Be Faith: A New Vision for Educating and Growing Disciples).
To say it more simply, we are both saved from and saved for.
This understanding of salvation is woven throughout Scripture, particularly in the story of the Exodus, when God saved the People of Israel from slavery, saving them so that they can serve him in freedom as his Chosen People. Mary sings of God’s gift of salvation in the Magnificat and even the name of Jesus—Yeshua—means “God saves.”
Groome reflects, “Salvation is the ultimate triumph over evil, making possible fullness of life for all and for the whole cosmos. ‘Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and it has not entered the human heart; what amounts to the fullness of salvation in Jesus Christ’ (see 1 Corinthians 2:9).”
This gift of salvation—the gift of our Savior—is freely given, but as we have been reminded so often during this Lenten season, this gift also comes with responsibility. Not only have we been saved from the destructive powers of sin and death, we have been saved for the fullness of life in Christ. Our faith, obedience, work for justice, and service are a response to the Savior’s gift. After all, Jesus’s teaching is very clear: “Whoever serves me must follow me, / and where I am, there also will my servant be.”
What has God’s gift of saving love saved you for?How is this Sunday’s liturgy inviting you to reflect on salvation and Jesus in a new way? How do your ministries, service, and prayer contribute to the salvation of the world? How do you share in the saving work of Jesus?
Words of Wisdom: “At the kernel and center of his Good News, Christ proclaimed salvation, this great gift of God which is liberation from everything that oppresses people but which is above all liberation from sin.”—Blessed Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi 9