John 12:20-33 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.
Reflection Every summer while living along a craggy canyon in Northern New Mexico I was amazed when I looked down into my neighbors property and saw an explosion of salmon, flamingo and bubblegum roses dressing up their dusty driveway, never watered, pruned or fertilized. How is this possible? My courtyard garden is well mulched and regularly drenched. Still, my surpassing TLC comes to nothing. When I visited a local garden nursery and issued my complaint I was shocked by what I learned.
“The key to a prolific rose bush is stress. If you take inordinately good care of it, it has no reason to bloom. You may have to let your rose bush die back before it comes to full life again.” Jesus’ words echo in my mind, “… but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
The Episcopal priest, The Very Rev. Alan Jones writes of his contemplative prayer practice, “In my tradition we try to practice dying every day so that we can be fully alive. What I understand of my prayer life is to place myself on the threshold of death, to participate in my dying, so that I may live each day and each moment as a gift… each moment becomes a new thing.”* I have no idea if Jones tried to grow roses, but I believe Jones has taken Jesus’ exquisitely crafted word painting to heart, “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.”
The rhetorical effect of Jesus’ words is profound. Assuming Jesus does not mean we must literally die, what does he mean? I believe the death to which Jesus points is death of our over identification with our individual selves, death of our striving to water and fertilize and mulch ourselves excessively. To the extent that we only experience ourselves as physical beings in need of constant provision, we will surely die. But when we recognize we are spiritual beings intimately connected with God and with all people, we die to the notion of our separate selves and discover new and eternal life in divine and human relationship.
Being fully human, when facing physical death Jesus’ “soul is troubled,” nevertheless, rather than cling to his separate self he remembers his spiritual relationships with God and humanity…. calling out to God for the benefit of others and he lives on.
- Excerpt from Graceful Passages: A companion for Living and Dying, (Novato, CA, New World Library), 2001, p31.
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