Fifth Sunday of Lent, Cycle B
I grew up on a farm and I need to be outside regularly. I love watching the patterns and beauty of the natural world. I have learned through gardening to cooperate with those patterns. You can imagine how crazy it was for me when I married into a family that rarely went outside. My husband and kids had never watched a sunset, they don’t care if the shades are drawn on a sunny day and I had to explain to them that it was normal for flowers in a bouquet to die.
My dear family is not unlike many people in our city-based, computer-focused culture. Our culture is disconnected from many inherent rhythms of the natural world. As a result, we may miss some of the wisdom built into life, like, for example, that there are seasons to life. We cannot look young forever and we will all grow old and die. This is not a bad thing or something to be feared; it is life. Or, we may believe we can be in complete control. So we recklessly steamroll others as we race forward, only to run straight into the lion’s den. Or we may ignore the interconnectedness of all life and act, without concern for the consequences, forgetting that other people and the planet itself may be harmed.
In this gospel passage, some Greeks ask to see Jesus. The elaborate explanation of how their request reaches Jesus emphasizes how much they desire to see him. Instead of greeting them directly, Jesus talks about suffering. In what sense is this an answer to their request? He explains the heart of who he is and why he is here. To help them, he begins with a simple message from nature: “[U]nless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Nature shows us that dying is tied to – no, even more than that – it is necessary for new life. So Jesus must die and his disciples must do the same.
Some have protested that this sounds like a sick embracing of suffering and reject Christianity because of it. In the past 2,000 years, some believers have indeed twisted Jesus’ message and inflicted suffering on themselves or allowed the unjust suffering of others. But that is not what Jesus is talking about. God never asks for unnecessary or unjust suffering. In fact, God’s message throughout Scripture is, “I want to set you free from suffering! I am here to set you free from suffering!”
Jesus gives up his life so that others may live. He chooses not to place his own comfort or social standing first, but rather to place that of other people first. This is the way of love and it is as natural as a grain of wheat being buried in order to grow the next season’s harvest. This way of love is not unfamiliar to most of us, right? Think of an incidence in your life where you have freely given yourself in love for someone else. A child who needed guidance, a spouse or parent who was ill, a disenfranchised group of people whose cause needed a champion. You have loved like this. You have witnessed others love this way. You have been loved in this way.
Embracing this way of life is hard, painful, awful even, this sacrificing of oneself. We sometimes refuse to do it, like when we avoid a homeless person on the street. And then other times we choose to do it and then cry with the sorrow. What do we do with the pain of our “Good Fridays”?
Jesus describes how he handles the pain when he says, “’I am troubled now. Yet what should I say, “Father, save me from this hour”? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.’” The suffering hurts Jesus. And he knows that he cannot walk away. He came to bring the Love of God to us and Love operates like the grain of wheat. Our purpose is to bring the Love of God to others. Jesus is here to help us do so, to raise us up to produce much fruit, to save us.
v When have you or someone you know loved in a self-sacrificing way?
v Who needs your love right now? What will be the cost for you? Ask Jesus for help letting go of your life so that others may live.