Let us pray:
Spirit of God, speak to our hearts and summon out what you would have us be. With these words and all our meditations, teach us to be your true servants, Amen.
John’s gospel has layers upon layers just waiting for the student to uncover. Today’s passage is no exception. I’d like to lift several phrases up out of it for us to consider and dwell upon this week as we prepare for Palm Sunday next week. The first phrase is this:
“Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” (John 12:26a)
Serving Christ, the Servant of all, may sound like an ideal way to live our faith, but have you really considered what that means? It means we must follow Jesus, and be, dwell, live, right where Jesus is. Where is Jesus? Jesus has been at the tomb of a dead man and called him out. Jesus has been with those who grieve and gives them radical hope. Jesus has been eating with all manner of folk, some quite disreputable, and puts up with perfume being wiped upon his feet with a woman’s hair. Jesus is facing a known future of ridicule, suffering, agony, being delivered into the hands of forces who have embraced a dark side of humanity: the dark side of jealousy and hate. In their hands, he will experience true human death-on a cross like a common criminal. Are you ready to go there, be there, and follow him even unto that?
The second phrase I’d like to ruminate on is this one:
“…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24b)
IF we truly follow Jesus through it all and remain faithful to the end, then we do indeed come to our own cross and resurrection, suffering and transformation, loss of life and God’s faithful love. Commentator Margaret Farley reminds us as Christ’s disciples, we are asked to “drink the same cup Jesus drinks, to carry the same cross, to make the same absolute surrender-not to evil, but to God.” With that in mind, each of us then has to ask, What is my cross? What is my suffering? What is my loss of life? All three things we must go through before we come to our resurrection after our cross, our transformation after our suffering, and God’s faithful love after loss of life.
Which brings me to the third phrase: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” The word “life” in Greek here is psyche, which can mean soul, self, or life. The word for “world” here is the Greek word I identified last week: kosmos. I came across a commentary this week that struck me to my core; and has me rethinking it’s meaning in the context of this week’s passage. Commentator Charles Campbell, informed by theologian Walter Wink, writes,
“The world” (kosmos) here is not synonymous with God’s creation, but is rather the fallen realm that exists in estrangement from God and is organized in opposition to God’s purposes. The “world” is a superhuman reality, concretely embodied in structures and institutions, that aggressively shapes human life and seeks to hold human beings captive to its ways. Kosmos is probably best translated as “the System.” And this System is driven by a spirit or force (“the ruler of the world”), whose ways are domination, violence, and death.
How do we know if we are held captive by this system? We can take a look at several things that may or may not actually have embedded themselves in our belief system. Here are two of them:
- What are our patterns of consumerism? Do we keep consuming, consuming, consuming when we know it is not life-giving? When we know death is being doled out by our hands in far away places to keep our consumerist appetites satiated – if indeed such a cancer ever can be? A friend of mine from high school lived his life for some time with the motto, “The man with the most toys wins.” That embodies it, I think.
- The myth of redemptive violence is also cancer of the soul; as described by Walter Wink, it tells us the way to bring order out of chaos is through violently defeating “the other.” This has crept into almost every aspect of life as we know it – from cartoon heroes fighting bad guys, to video games of all sorts, to the death penalty, acts of terrorism, and national responses to terrorism. If we cannot see our way clear to imagining alternatives to these, then we are indeed in the grip of Campbell’s “System,” stuck in the morass of humanity slipping into a deathly oblivion of its own making.
So what is our way out of it? Look, look! I see a figure being raised above the crowds! Look, a ray of sun strikes down through clouds of pollution and illuminates his face, anguished in its pain and suffering, hands outstretched, nailed to a cross being slowly raised–then dropped into its socket. It is Jesus, and have you heard? Pilate has called him the King of the Jews. What? What’s that you say? Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world? Oh, dear Lord, take me to that kingdom; for I am weary and long for another; Amen? May it be so.
 Campbell, Charles. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.