Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-30
I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain...
What was it about the Greeks who went up to worship at the festival? As soon as Jesus is told of their request (we would like to see Jesus) he seems to be plunged into a painful struggle with himself, almost a presentiment of the agony in the Garden. Now the hour has come ... now my soul is troubled.
Just as in the Garden, there is here the same human dread of death and the same appeal to the Father: What shall I say: Father, save me from this hour? - followed immediately by his humble submission to the Father’s will: But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name!
Can any one of us understand the awfulness of Jesus’ suffering? Surely this struggle must have repeated itself time and time again in the life of the Master?
And so, in his solitary place of pain, even while surrounded by his loving but baffled disciples, Jesus rehearses the words which give meaning to what he is about to undergo: unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain...
- In the Gospel of Mark (14:35 ff.) Jesus throws himself to the ground as he begins the Agony in the Garden: And going on a little further he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, this hour might pass him by.
- In the Gospel of Luke (22:44) his sweaty blood falls to the ground in great drops, watering the earth: In his anguish he prayed even more earnestly, and his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.
- In the Stations of the Cross Jesus falls three times beneath the weight of the Cross.
- While in the Gospel of John, which omits direct reference both to the Last Supper and to the agony in the Garden, we have just this saying which clearly brings the two omissions together: I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.
Our bodies die all by themselves; they need no help. There is, however, another death which we must die and which doesn’t happen automatically, a death which is our responsibility. It is far more painful, with an agony far more protracted, than our physical death – it is the death we must choose to die – the death to self.
We must die to ego, to self-will, to assertiveness, to power over others and, consequently, power over ourselves; to the need to control and dominate our future.
The cross of Jesus is the clear, unambiguous image of this death - of this total, absolute powerlessness. As a friend once put it, ‘On the Cross there is no room to wiggle.’ And surely, this is why we avoid it; it is a call to do what is so difficult for us – to give up our ambition of being God.
From his Cross Jesus seems to say: If a man serves me, he must follow me; wherever I am, my servant will be there too. The cross is an invitation to become like the Master, who is our true Life.
In the beautiful song THE ROSE Bette Midler sings ‘It's the one who won't be taken, who never learns to give. It’s the man afraid of dying who never learns to live.’ Jesus was never afraid of dying – he threw himself to the ground many times throughout his life and finally, of his own will, entered the darkness of the tomb. We must all choose to do this for ourselves, no one can do it for us; it’s our responsibility, we must choose to follow. There are no spectator disciples, no part-time Christmas-Easter disciples. There can be no dabbling in discipleship.
Of course, the Christian mystery of it all is that in dying to self we find new life. Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life.
Finally, let’s get practical. How do we die this death to self on the Cross, or to put it another way, how do we begin to live for Christ?
The struggle with self begins the very instant we begin to follow something other than self - Jesus Christ. This is already such a great act of freedom. And not surprisingly its first consequence is a discovery of the chains which hold us back; not a pleasant experience.
The moment we wish to be good is the moment we discover how bad we really are.
- When we begin to fast we discover our attachments to food.
- When we try to be silent we discover how addicted we are to talking.
- When we want to give generously we discover our selfishness.
- When we try to be humble we discover how ego-centred we really are.
Our first step towards the Master is the moment we begin the 'death struggle' which brings growth and freedom and life. God will be there always - supplying his strength. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.
In the following we are set free, in the dying we are reborn, and if we can be faithful to 'the process' we will notice that we begin to draw others to Christ as his death drew us.