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.
This part of this passage may seem trivial in the context of that which follows. It is the prologue to Jesus telling us that the Son of Man will be glorified and that, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. In other words (or it it in other words?) Jesus — and his followers — must die in order to bring new life to the earth.
Then Jesus goes on to talk about how he will die and why he must die. When he [dies] and is lifted up from the earth, he will draw all people to himself. There is much implied in this passage. But when we look at it, there really is very little that directly says that Jesus will die in order save humankind or to save the world. We read that into it.
This last week Matthew talked about how the Gospel texts from the 4th Sunday of Lent on through to Good Friday point us to the significance of the cross. It was fairly easy to see this last week: Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. Jesus suffers death on the cross in order that we may have eternal life. Matthew went on to talk about two different theologies of atonement: substitutionary satisfaction atonement in which Jesus substitutes himself for us in order to save us from our sin (Anselm’s theology), and the moral influence of atonement in which Jesus died as the demonstration of Gods love that can change the hearts and minds of sinners and be our cause for repentance, our turning back to God (Abelard’s theology). The way Matthew laid it out was clear enough so that we did not need to be learned doctrinal theologians to understand the difference. And, he concluded, most Episcopalians lean toward the moral influence theory. But that was not the point of his sermon..The point of his sermon was that, in John 3:14, we have a reference to Jesus dining on the cross in order to atone for our sins.
A friend told me this last week that she now had the insight that we don’t get to Resurrection without going through the cross, without Crucifixion. I have heard this many times but it meant much more to me this time in terms of atonement. I cannot celebrate my resurrection, my new life (or that of others) unless I first die to my sins (and they to theirs). This gives me much more motivation to practice “Lenten disciplines. It gives me a greater realization of what “Lenten disciplines” are about. They are about dying to the selfish, sinful parts of me so as to be cleansed, to be purified, to be raised into new life with Jesus the Christ.
Now, if this all seems very foreign and pietistic, it is because it is. I don’t want to think in these terms even though I find myself increasingly doing so these days. In order to grow into the Divine, I need to stop trying to grow into the divine. In order to be able to listen to others and discern where they and I are called to travel, I must stop trying to discern. As my spiritual director and I concluded yesterday, I need to surrender my attempts to grow and to discern. I must just be and recognize that God is doing the “work.” Recognizing that is, in itself, enough. It is God’s grace. But there is more. I am not just along for the ride. I need to remain aware as much as I am able. That is my “work,” my discipline. That is what I must accept in the dialectic of surrendering and accepting.
How does that relate to this Sunday’s gospel passage? Perhaps it is in the prologue. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Why is there a “chain” of those who pass this request to Jesus? Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus does not say, “Okay, let’s go see them.” He responds to Andrew and Philip! The Greeks seem to be out of the picture. Perhaps, we are the Greeks who stand “outside” of the rest of the story and hear Jesus explaining what his death will mean. The hour has come (or, in our liturgical time, is about to come) for the Son of Man to be glorified. Am I able to see it? A grain of wheat must fall into the earth and die in order to (come to life?) and to bear much fruit. Do I understand that is about Jesus? Or is it about me? I must lose my life, indeed hate my life, in order to keep it for eternal life. Does that mean “for eternity”?
The truth, if it is the truth, seems clear. I am called to surrender myself in order to accept new life; in order to accept a new sense of life that is eternal. I don’t know what that is. I don’t know what that means. All I can do at this time is try to believe it. And that is more than understanding it.