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 honour.
‘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 judgement 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 remains for ever. 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.
… unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain …
As the hours and minutes pass we continue our unstoppable journey towards the horrors of Good Friday. We will soon find ourselves standing at the foot of the cross asking ourselves, and God, ‘Why?’ Why is this tragedy playing out in this way? Why does this good and holy man have to die such an horrendous death? Why were we in the midst of the crowd that demanded this brutal execution? So many questions; so few answers.
But, today’s reading does offer us an answer. We become so self-obsessed as we live out our daily lives that we all fall into the temptation of only considering our own feelings, of viewing the world solely from our own perspective. We justify this self-centred attitude as being our ‘natural survival instinct’, but it is much more negative than that. We live in a post-resurrection age. We know what will happen on Easter Day; we know the message of Jesus’ words in today’s reading. But, what difference do we allow this valuable knowledge to make to the way we live out our lives?
Jesus is walking the path of totally altruistic self-sacrifice. Jesus’ earthly ministry has been a living out of his teaching to love and serve. Through the three years of his adult ministry humanity has been challenged, time and time again, to love our neighbours, and our enemies, as we love ourselves. Jesus’ message has been one of total reconciliation, a level of reconciliation that means the setting aside of ‘self’ and a total commitment to ‘other’.
The grain of wheat of which Jesus speaks today is not just picture language for his own self-sacrifice. We are that grain of wheat as well. The lesson is an urgent one. If we keep ‘ourselves to ourselves’, as the saying goes, we will not be honouring the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, rather we will be saying that it was of no consequence at all.
Human beings, and that includes each of us, have a sense of self-preservation that seems to instinctively kick against Jesus’ teaching of love and service. We build walls that cut us off from our neighbours, and sometimes our families and ‘friends’. Those walls are described as ‘privacy’, ‘dignity’, ‘self-respect’ and a whole host of other negative attributes. Jesus does not call us to live behind higher and higher, stronger and stronger walls. Jesus calls us to step out into the open and take his love and light into the world. The crowds in first century Jerusalem hailed Jesus as the Messiah on Palm Sunday, but in less than a week, in no time at all, they were baying for the same man’s blood. They rejected the notion of allowing the self to die for the good of all.
So, where will we be on Friday? Will we be setting self aside in order that we might share the love of Christ, or will we be demanding his crucifixion?