By Rev. Jodi Mullen Fondell
Lectionary reading for 4/12/2022: Psalm 71:1-14;Isaiah 49:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; John 12:20-36
Selected passage for reflection: John 12:20-26
John 12:20-26 (The Message)
There were some Greeks in town who had come up to worship at the Feast. They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee: “Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?”
Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip together told Jesus. Jesus answered, “Time’s up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal. If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.”
I am struck once again by the unexpected revelation that Christ makes as he continues to reveal to us what it means to follow him. An initial observation from this passage is the expressed desire on the part of the Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the passover to meet Jesus. Presumably these people had witnessed Jesus's triumphal entry and wanted to get close this man who had created quite an uproar in the streets. They might be thinking that there was something in it for them, an advantage to be had if they could get close to Jesus. But then as Jesus so often does, Jesus states a paradoxical truth. He says, “Now is the time for the son of man to enter his glory”, which all sounds well and good. Glory is good. That's the piece of Jesus we likely all have a desire for.
But then Jesus goes on to say that death is going to be part of this road. Like the wheat kernel that only proliferates when thrust deep into the dark soil and then dies, so too it is with our lives. The more we clamor after glory as the world defines such, the more elusive the lasting glory that comes with truly yielding ourselves to Jesus becomes. To die to self is so hard. Especially when we live in a world where in so many ways, certain people are already cast aside and undervalued. And practically speaking, what does it mean to die to self? It does not mean a denial of our self as a beloved child of God, or a berating of our self-esteem. Rather it is a calling to value the other more deeply than we value ourselves.
To die to self is a calling to embrace the way of Jesus, not the way of the world.
To die to self is to consider the places in our lives where privilege lives and to ensure that we are not exploiting another for selfish gain. To die to self is to consider the costly part of discipleship that speaks out against injustices even when we stand to gain by such injustices.
To die to self is to understand that all are as valued as we ourselves are and to ensure that we are motivated by a desire to love and give grace just as Christ's death on the cross is for us.
To die to self means allowing God to thrust us into the dark deep soil for a time in order to emerge into the glory of Christ's light, a light that shines in the darkness of our world, a light that brings illumination to the troubled places, a light that provides hope for a better day ahead.
Dying to self gives us a chance to emerge from our own dark places more fully formed in the likeness of Christ.
So here we are on Tuesday of Holy Week, a good 30 plus days into our Lenten journey. Maybe you have denied yourself something during Lent. How has that enhanced your journey toward the cross? Maybe this year you found it too hard to give up something more because you've already had to give up so much. Either way, take a moment to consider your own desire to meet Jesus. Are you ready to meet him at this cross, knowing that part of you must also die? Can you find hope or joy in knowing that being thrust into the dark earth to die will actually help you emerge more fully alive? Name something that hinders you from dying to self. Ask God to reveal to you what awaits you if you can yield this to Christ.
Loving and gracious God...The way of the cross is not filled with the glory of this world, but rather steeped in yielding ourselves to you. Draw near to us. Hold us close as we seek to give ourselves more fully over to the way of Jesus. Amen.
About the Author
Jodi Mullen Fondell is a pastor who has served international congregations in Sweden, England, Luxembourg, and France. In 2019 she published I Was A Stranger: Encouraging the church to welcome and embrace the stranger. She lives in the desert near Palm Springs, CA, enjoying new adventures with her beloved husband Doug and Maddie, the wonder Labrador.