March 06, 2005
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. "Sir," they said, "we would like to see Jesus." Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Those who love their life will lose it, while those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
"Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!"
Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
Jesus said, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
The crowd spoke up, "We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'? Who is this 'Son of Man'?"
Then Jesus told them, "You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become children of light." When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)
Foreigners, outsiders, people perhaps outside the covenant promise, want to see Jesus. This does not mean they want to stare at Jesus or have him pointed out to them. They want an audience; they want to meet Jesus, to encounter Jesus, to experience Jesus. And sometimes, when our souls long for something unknown, we take the long route, not knowing how to get to our spiritual destination in any more direct manner. We do step A, hoping it leads to step B, which might get us to step C. So the foreigners, who speak Greek, tell the disciple Philip, who speaks Greek, want they want. They want what Philip has--they want to see his spiritual master. Philip tells Andrew before going to Jesus.
As is often the case with John's Gospel, when Jesus launches his seeming non-sequitur, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified," we're not quite sure if Jesus is actually addressing the Greek visitors or only Philip and Andrew.
My spiritual search often seems like that to me. I make what seems to me to be a straightforward request, an honest statement, a clear plea, only to feel as if I've been dropped into the middle of someone's private conversation. Is this message for me? What does it mean? When Jesus says, "The hour has come," does he mean, "You're just in time"? "Those Greeks are too late"? "Tell them to wait a bit"? An uninitiated, uneducated, unregenerated part of our soul cries out to see Jesus, to see Divine Truth, to know something higher, wider, deeper than itself . . . and it encounters riddles. We haven't gotten into the habit of calling the divine a "mystery" for nothing.
What Jesus has done here is refocus attention away from himself and onto his mission: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." Jesus has a mission (which, we hope, is also our mission), and it is in the knowing of that mission that one knows the Christ. The visitors may have come looking for the miracle worker or the temple clearer or the healer. But what Jesus wants them to see is "glory."
It is time for the Son of Man to be glorified--words of revelation and transformation!
And what exalted metaphor does the great teacher use to tell us of his glory? Wheat. Humble, ordinary, useful, economic, dirt-basic wheat. One of the things that makes me love Jesus is his teaching methods. They always surprise and confound me. Here, he does not engage in flowery, etheric, woo-woo wonder words. He gives me something basic, knowable, and paradoxical. Oh yes, I still have to wrestle the meaning out of it. I may not have a clue why he said this particular thing at this particular time. But my confusion does not come because I don't understand what wheat is. I just have to figure out how Jesus is like wheat and how Jesus' mission--and my participation in that mission--is like wheat.
But he doesn't stop with the wheat. He tells us totally backwards ideas about loving and losing life. Does he really mean that we are to "hate" this beautiful gift of life? Then he tells us, "My Father will honor the one who serves me." God will honor the servant? That's not how it works in this world.
Now he is quoting Psalm 6. "Now my heart is troubled." Does he mean we should be troubled? Or is he troubled? Psalm 6 is a cry for rescue, but he says he does not want rescue, but "it was for this very reason I came to this hour." He calls out to God, and . . . oh . . . thunder! Or was it an angel speaking? And still he goes on!
The judgment of this world will drive out the prince of this world. Someone in the crowd might think that means he will drive out the Romans, but that makes too much sense to be what Jesus means. The prince of this world is more sinister than even the Romans. Now listen to him, "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
Well, the crowd is confused. (Who could blame them!) They are asking him about being "lifted up." They ask him, "Who is the Son of Man?" But he answers in his usual confounding way: "You are going to have the light just a little while longer." My, this sounds ominous. I am tempted not to like the sound of this, but for some reason I am not as worried as I think I should be. He says, "Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become children of the light." Then he goes away, hiding, leaving us in a whirlwind of images, ideas, metaphors, and a deep feeling of his love. What just happened?
John's Gospel says that Jesus just told his listeners what kind of death he was going to die. In its simplest form, and from our side of the cross event, we can say, "Of course, 'lifted up' means 'crucified.'"
But Jesus really, has told us he will die the death of wheat. In falling and embracing the hidden darkness of the quiet earth, he will sprout up like abundant food. He will become more. At the end of this passage, Jesus hides himself from his listeners, like a seed hidden in the earth. This is only a prelude to his becoming a seed in the tomb. Maybe he is teasing us. He always has that twinkle in his eye.
Jesus focuses on his mission--which he wants us to embrace as our mission. Becoming more; becoming nourishing. He asks us to be his servants, "Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be." He asks us to follow him into the wheat death.
So how do we die the death of wheat? For wheat to sprout, it must discard its hard outer husk; it must become soft; it must break open; it must reach simultaneously downward to anchor its roots, and upward--to be raised up into the light; to greet the air and sun; to bud out in clusters of yet more wheat . . . food for many. What a wonderful way to defeat the "prince of this world," the Satan of selfishness, fear, and greed. We do not combat the evils of the hells by attacking them. We combat the evils of the hells by becoming glorified wheat, by transforming into the bread of heaven, by becoming food for those who "want to see Jesus."
It is easier to see someone who is "raised up." As wheat is sprouting and growing, it rises up. As Jesus is crucified, completing the glorification of himself and the name of "the Father," he is raised up. When Jesus ascends to heaven, he is raised up. And when our knowledge and experience and loving of Jesus shapes the way we live, the things we say, the actions we do, the love we share, the comforts we put at risk, the stands we take, the hands we hold, the food we share, Jesus is raised up.
There are many people who want to see Jesus. They may not put it quite that way. Jesus has gotten a peculiar reputation in the world with various folks still proclaiming him to be something other than he is. Many people who want to see Jesus would never use that turn of phrase. What they say they want is meaning and depth in their lives. What they say they want is a spiritual experience. What they want is love. What they want is light. What they want is food.
Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. The judgment on this world is simply a choice as to whether or not we will walk in the light. Driving out the prince of darkness is simply a choice as to whether we will become more: become more loving, more available to heaven's design, more faithful to the covenant the Lord has made with us, more like Jesus, more filled with light, more tender, more fruitful. Wheat corresponds to love, goodness, and charity.
Whether it is part of your own psyche or some newcomer walking in this church's front door or someone you see in the supermarket or library, when there is a desire to see Jesus, will you be that vision? Will you be the one who sheds more light? Will you stand in for Jesus, so people can see the Lord walking among us still? Will you raise Jesus up so others can see his effect on your life? Because when Jesus is lifted up, all people will be drawn to him--not necessarily making them Christian, just making them "more."
Will you make Jesus' mission your own by becoming more than you think you are? Die like wheat, that the glory of heaven may be seen--in you.
Blessed be the Lord.
Lord Jesus, we cling to our life desperately, unwilling to let go, unwilling to relinquish control, unwilling to trust your words. You have said that we must fall to the ground and die like wheat. But we don't want to die. And so we struggle to maintain our life as it is--thus shutting ourselves out from the more abundant life that you have in store for us. Help us, Lord, to let go of our death grip on this old life. Help us to lay down our old self, to let it die, so that our new self may rise up in your image, and see the glory of your divine presence. Like those Greeks, we wish to see you, Lord Jesus. We wish to see the love and the light, the divine food that you offer us to nourish our souls. Give us the courage to lay down our lives for you, just as you laid down your life for us, so that we may all become more than we are. Amen.