Today's lectionary reading: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 71:1-14; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; John 12:20-36
Selected passage for reflection: John 12:20-36 (New Revised Standard Version)
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, 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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah[b] remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.
This statement: We wish to see Jesus. When I read that I think, yes, yes, don't we all wish to see Jesus? But then I think, well, actually, do we really want to see Jesus in the fullness of his ministry and purpose? If I really see Jesus, that could mean something for me and the manner in which I want to live my life. If I truly encounter Jesus, I might have to change the way I understand an issue or prioritize my life, or treat another human being. Do I really want to see Jesus in all of his fullness? What might that require of us, if we were to really see Jesus?
It is striking to me that our first encounter with Jesus in this text is a reference to dying. When he says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” Jesus isn't referring to a moment of glory as the world defines glory. No, he is referencing his death. And then he returns to speaking in metaphor by referencing the grain of wheat that must fall into the ground and die in order to grow. Jesus is always full of contrast, isn't he? Christ's glory is made manifest in his death and therefore it makes sense that in order for us to share in his glory, we too must share in his death. So it's not only that we receive the grace so freely offered by Jesus but also that we must die to ourselves in a manner that ultimately reflects the glory of God.
At this point in our Lenten journey, perhaps the most important question for us to ask is this: “What is it in my life that I must be willing to die to in order to more fully reflect the glory of God made manifest in Christ's death?” This question returns me to our desire to truly see Jesus. Are we able to see Jesus as the lover of justice? Are we able to see Jesus as the one who challenged the status quo and sought to center the more vulnerable? Are we able to see Jesus as the one who cared deeply for those on the margins, seeking to tell their story and understand their point of view?
As we consider these questions, maybe what we most need to die are the practices in our lives that prevent us from more fully adapting a point of view that considers the most vulnerable and powerless in our society. Instead of drawing upon knee-jerk reactions that make us defensive, what we need to do is to sit with our discomfort and allow God to reveal the places in our hearts and minds that need to die. This may be a good time to do some work as it relates to racial understanding. Dying to the power that we hold and instead being open to new ways of doing and being in relationship to other people is a way we truly see Jesus. Reading books by those with a new point of view opens us up to seeing in another way. Exposing ourselves to sermons or podcasts from people of color who are living with the realities of a racist society will help us lose the blinders that prevent us from seeing others with the eyes of Jesus. If we really want to see Jesus, we need to be willing to die to the things that we hold most dear and that surely includes re-examining the way we consider what justice is all about from Christ's point of view.
At the end of our text for today, we return to the theme of light and darkness so prevalent in Christ's teaching. We are called to follow the light in order to avoid living in darkness. May we all find the courage and strength to look full into the light of Christ in order that he might erase all darkness from our hearts. May we die to that which keeps us in darkness and emerge anew more fully bathed in the light that is indeed Christ in all of his glorious fullness. Amen.
As you consider what you might need to die to in order to see Jesus in the fullness of his glory, especially as it relates to his commitment to justice, what comes to mind as an area of struggle for you?
Find a resource: a book, a sermon, a podcast, or a friend, where you can be challenged and broadened in your understanding of a justice issue. Grapple with it as you seek to die to your former self and emerge more fully bathed in the light of Christ.
Dear Jesus. Thank you for dying for us all that we might know the fullness of salvation that is given to us as a free gift from God. May we find the courage to die to ourselves in order to be resurrected as more faithful disciples, pursuing not only your grace and peace, but also your justice. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.
About the Author
Jodi Mullen Fondell is a Covenant Pastor serving as co-associate pastor (alongside her husband) at The American Church in Paris. She loves to travel and hang out with her Labrador, Maddie. Her experience of serving International churches in Europe led her to write a book entitled “I Was A Stranger: The church's responsibility to welcome and embrace the foreigner.” It is available on Amazon and through wipfandstock.com