There’s a strange meeting that happens in the 12th chapter of John’s Gospel. A group of Greeks meet with Phillip. Phillip came from Bethsaida, where Greek and Aramaic were spoken. But what makes it strange is that this is an event sandwiched in between the entry into Jerusalem and the events of Good Friday. The purpose of the reading is to make us pause and reflect with Jesus after Phillip and Andrew relate the news that:
Now among those who went up to worship… were some Greeks… They said…“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
These men were most likely Greek Jews on pilgrimage for Passover and it does sound somewhat encouraging at first. But then Phillip and Andrew bring this good news to Jesus and his reaction sounds a bit disjointed, even paradoxical.
Now is the hour for the son of man to be glorified.
This really is a signal: something’s up. Word has gotten around; the cat’s out of the bag and won’t go back in. You see, people don’t seem to “get” Jesus, not even his followers. They still want a warrior messiah—those Greeks probably do too which would explain their request. But things not what they imagined and this was because their inner understanding had not yet developed.
These are the musings of the human Jesus facing imminent death, who knows that things have come full circle. He realizes that he has created this reality and his time has come, perhaps more quickly than expected.
And what should I say, “Father save me from this hour?”
Here is Jesus the man struggling with real human issues, just like the rest of us. Death lies ahead and he struggles with it. What human being in their right mind would welcome such a prospect? He sees the choice before him and quickly realizes:
No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.
He knew he had a mission to fulfill and a ministry to complete. He couldn’t be “saved” from the cross and bring redemption at the same time. Why? Because it seems that even on a cosmic level, there is no gain without pain. There is no redemption without the cross. But still, letting go of anything is hard to do!
A few years ago, I found myself channel surfing and landed on one of those afternoon talk shows with two “perfect looking” hosts. There wasn’t so much as a hair out of place, their makeup perfect and both dressed to the nines in the latest fashions. Well, they had the perfect guest—a perfect author, in fact! He was on to promote a new book about building a perfect life… by letting go of clutter.
The male perfect host “fessed up”: he owned far too many sport jackets but only ever wore a third of them. But he couldn’t let go of them; he was somehow mystically attached to them. Of course they were making unmanageable clutter for him. I identified with him, and thought about that again this week as I read over this passage. Jesus’ statement about life was “spot-on.”
Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Remember that in John’s Gospel, the term “life” is referring to the “inner life,” the life of the spirit, where letting go is generally an imperative. I think most of us have trouble letting go. Well here’s some good news: Jesus had his trouble too! What makes us different from him though is that what usually stands in the way of our being able to let go is pride.
If we hang on for dear life to anything, that no longer serves us, there’s no room for any sort of growth. Eventually, everything around us becomes clutter. Clutter makes clog and clog stops things up. It’s past time to let go. Otherwise, we cannot move ahead. On a spiritual level it’s worse because it means we cannot fulfill our mission or our destiny
Jesus recognized his need to let go and agonized over that; it wasn’t any more comfortable for him that it is for us. But should strike a note with us. His parable of the seed is shows us how this great paradox of faith actually works. Hold a seed tight, it does nothing, but plant a seed, it transforms to what it is supposed to be.
Deep down everyone knows that letting go is necessary, whether of things personal, religious, spiritual or material. Most of us don’t like hearing that message because it threatens our comfort levels and brings us face-to-face with change. But that is the challenge of the paradox: if we can’t let go we can’t grow.
Our Lenten journey is intended to take us through the letting go process and help us prepare for the passion of our Lord. But why not just jump ahead to Easter?Before we can taste the glory of resurrection, we must understand and accept the passion. There’s no Christ without a cross because there’s no life without death. Thus, the Cross is not a memorial of things past, but a reminder of our belief in the non-finality of death and an exaltation of God’s power to change things.
During the course of his ministry, Jesus knew that the people he spoke to were all stuck, clinging tightly to old dreams, old glory and old ideas that didn’t fit the circumstances around them. His entire message was intended to draw them out of entrenchment. But as I’m sure we know there was a price for that.
As Jesus comes to terms with his situation, he knows he must go through what’s ahead. He is fully aware that his actions have brought him there. I’ll explain this. The triumphant entry into Jerusalem must’ve been a site and a half, and it’s a good bet that Pilate or someone Roman saw that spectacle. Bear in mind that his followers viewed him as a revolutionary. From the Roman point of view, anyone who did something provocative was being seditious. There was only one king to them: Caesar. There was only one reward from the Romans for sedition: crucifixion.
Although Jesus realizes what’s ahead, he’s also aware of the abundant blessing beyond it that far outweighs the pain. He knows that the shame of his coming death will be transformed into exaltation. He says:
“when I am lifted up…”
The Greek term for “lifted up” also means “exalted.” The net result of what follows transformation of shame into honor and exaltation and of death into life. That was the true meaning of the voice in the clouds that day. It’s also the whole point of letting go. Webster’s Dictionary defines paradox as:
A statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true
Spiritually speaking, paradox is the staff of life. The great paradox of faith then is to have life, be willing to die and in order to receive, we must be willing to let go.
But still, even at the best of times, letting go is frightening and even at times painful. So what should we say when an “hour” like this one comes to us? What should we say when it’s time to make a heart-wrenching choice, or when we have to let go of something in order to move on? Should we say,
Father save us from this hour,
as if to hold onto the moment or avoid change or uncertainty?
Perhaps it’s better for us to say,
Father, save us through this hour… change us through this hour… help us to let go, sustain us through the change and the fear of this hour to a better place, to our destiny.
Life in the Reign of God demands flexibility, willingness and vulnerability, even when common sense and instincts say otherwise. That’s the essence of the great spiritual paradox. But it’s the paradox that keeps us focused on the cross and lead us all to our promised land—our destiny!