This story starts off innocuously enough: some Greeks want to see Jesus. This doesn’t seem very important, does it? But, the coming of these strangers from afar is a turning point for Jesus. When he hears about the Greeks he knows that he has hit the big time. He knows that his message is no longer limited to a small, local population but he is becoming known to a larger world. He knows that his word has transcended geographic boundaries. Because of this, he also knows that his time has come.
Up until now, he says, “My hour has not yet come.” Remember the wedding at Cana when Mary tells him to help out the host with the wine? He turns to his mom and says; “My hour has not yet come.” Two more times, in John, chapter 7 and then in chapter 8 he says; “My hour has not yet come.” But now, with the coming of the Greeks, he knows that indeed, his hour has come.
So when Philip and Andrew tell him that some Greeks want to see him, he makes what seems like an illogical response. He doesn’t say; “Show them in,” or “Tell them I’m busy.” He starts talking about dying. He talks about grains of wheat. I picture his friends just looking at each other, puzzled and shrugging, wondering what on earth he means!
Jesus seems to know that he will die soon and this gospel is a meditation on death, on HIS death. “The hour has come,” he starts, then he says that a grain of wheat must die to bear fruit.
If Jesus had lived in Montesano he would have used a different image. We are uniquely suited in the Pacific Northwest to understand what he is saying. We know all about dying to give life because we know about nurse logs in the rainforest; fallen trees, dying and giving life through their decomposition to young seedlings. We know all about salmon swimming to their deaths after laying or fertilizing eggs and enriching the water with their decomposing bodies. We see around us these graphic examples of dying to give life. But there are neither nurse logs nor salmon in Jerusalem so he talks about wheat, which is not as good an example.
Jesus goes on: “Those who love their life must lose it, those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” When we love our lives too much, when we hold on too tightly to our little lives, to our small concerns, we forget to live on a grander scale, on a more spiritual level. It is so easy to be all consumed by the worries and rush of our day to day lives. Jesus wants us to let go of these earthly concerns, widen our focus from the mundane tasks of surviving to the broader perspective of living for God. Stop thinking constantly of yourself and start living for others. Let loose of your life so that your heart has room for to put others first.
Jesus gives us the tools to do this. He shows us the path to follow. He IS the path. If we follow him, if we serve him we will be honored by God.
This isn’t an easy time for Jesus. He admits that his soul is troubled. He wonders if he should ask his Father to save him from what is to come in the next six days. He immediately answers his doubts: “No, this is why I am here.”
OK. Jesus is dealing with very heavy stuff. He will die in just six days. Let’s try to put ourselves in Jesus’ sandals. If this were true for us, we would die in six days; next Saturday. I’ve been trying to seriously consider what it would be like to know the hour of one’s death. What would I do if I knew I only had six days to live?
Wellll!!, I have to confess something embarrassing. Here is what I would do: I would go with Kevin and Jeff to Seattle and stay in the nicest hotel I could find. I would go out to fabulous restaurants and eat gorgeous, rich, fattening, expensive food. I would eat Lobster Thermidor and drink very fine champagne, not worrying about the cost or the calories. Then I would eat more.
I’ve tried to come up with a different, more noble way to spend my last days and I can’t. I love to eat, I love sharing food with my family, I want my last days to be about joy.
The good news here is that I don’t feel the need to contact people to let them know that I love them - because I already do that on a regular basis. I don’t feel the need to make up with any enemies because I don’t have any. I don’t need to leave Jeff with important life lessons because I already drown him in life lessons every day.
So I realized that my shallow, petty desires for my last days are not so bad. I realized that I feel at peace in my life and can fritter my last days on sheer joy. This is a great thing to know! I encourage you all to seriously wonder how you would spend your last week!
Jesus knows that he must die to give life. If he hadn’t died on the cross, if he hadn’t been scorned and humbled, how would this story have gone? Maybe he would have been a beloved, little known rabbi with a few followers for a short time. But he embraced this terrible death to show the true character of his accusers. His followers were empowered to live out his message of love and forgiveness by his humble death. He suffered greatly and so helped us understand that we can survive the suffering we all meet in our lives.
Christ risked death on the cross to draw us to him. We can let go of our lives to follow his path of love. Isn’t that the least we can do for him?
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From Chief Tecumseh (Poem from Act of Valor, the Movie):
"So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide."
"Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none."
"When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision."
When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home."