By Graham Low, 7.4.20.
Readings: Isaiah 49.1–7 and John 12.20-36.
I’d like us to turn aside for a few minutes this morning from the extraordinary situation that faces the world and to reflect on the second of the passages from John’s Gospel set for Holy Week and how we may respond to it.
Today our focus is on the crisis facing Jesus, and his imminent death. The Passover of the Jews has just happened, and among the pilgrims who flock into Jerusalem are some Greek gentiles who are attracted by the Jewish faith. Now they form the background to the eventually worldwide community who will hear about the meaning of Jesus’ death, a meaning not only for the sheep of the Jewish race but for all the sheep who are scattered children of God. He is the good shepherd, and the sheep shall hear his voice, and he will die for their sake.
These Greeks ask Philip to show them Jesus. But they do not merely wish to see him with physical eyes, they wish to see who he truly is with the eyes of the heart. When Jesus hears this, he declares his agony of spirit, and says his hour has come. Jesus has previously been with Philip and Andrew at the feeding of the five thousand and spoke about being the bread of life. Now we begin to see that a hunger is to grow for this bread of life, not just from his immediate followers but from Jews and gentiles everywhere, and eventually from much of the human race, through to generations yet unborn today. No longer are we thinking of Jesus as feeding five thousand but billions and billions to the end of time.
And now Jesus’ hour to be glorified has come. Now the glory of God will shine through him to the whole world. Immediately he says that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, polished, beautiful even, but without life. But if it goes into darkness below ground and the outer husk softens, rots, dies, then in time new life begins to unfold. A shoot reaches to light, an ear of corn forms, then maybe forty by the time of harvest. A year later 40 become 1600 and so on, so that there will be enough grains for milling to form flour and then bread. Here John is telling us with devastating simplicity that this is the way Jesus offers bread to the whole world. He offers his life to become life to others, millions, including ourselves. He dies for this to occur and we are called to go through the same pattern, before bringing life to others.
Then we learn that those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Here Jesus is speaking about the life of the ego, the self. This part of our being may be like the seed staying as it was, preserved, beautiful even, but without life. The person who tries to preserve his ego self is on the way to death, because whatever riches he could have given to others will be lost for ever. But if those who hate their ego self in this world will keep it apart, then in some mysterious it will be taken and transformed into eternal life: it is as if the ego which was our dictator will become the servant.
These words have been and can be deeply misunderstood. Jesus is not telling us to hate ourselves. He is telling us to hate the egocentric part of our being, that part which often shields our deeper self, that part of our self which is capable of giving and receiving the love of God and our neighbour, which is the very centre of our being. The egocentric part of ourselves is the part of ourselves to let go of, for it is a block to seeing the truth that is before us, it is a block to the joy of being what the deeper self really offers us. Put another way, John is pointing us towards seeing that the ego is to become a servant rather than the dictator, a servant of Jesus.
Jesus says to us that if we wish to be his servant in the new order, we have to follow him through his death, letting go and then receiving back. Then we can share his work. Then he will come alive in us as the seed comes alive before the next harvest. We shall be reaped and ground, into flour, baked in the oven and become the bread which is broken for the world. If we are his servant in this new order, then we shall be honoured by the Father, and his light will shine through us.
Through these words we may see that Jesus is asking us in this holy week: do you want and choose to follow him in this way?
May God bless you as you follow our Lord through today and tomorrow, through the Triduum, and eventually into the glory of the Resurrection. Amen.