John 12:20-36 – Tuesday of Holy Week

Wheatfield with Crows by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

Some Greeks were among those who had gone to Jerusalem to worship during the festival. They went to Philip (he was from Bethsaida in Galilee) and said, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.”

Philip went and told Andrew, and the two of them went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has now come for the Son of Man to receive great glory. I am telling you the truth: a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains. Those who love their own life will lose it; those who hate their own life in this world will keep it for life eternal. Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be with me where I am. And my Father will honor anyone who serves me.

“Now my heart is troubled—and what shall I say? Shall I say, ‘Father, do not let this hour come upon me’? But that is why I came—so that I might go through this hour of suffering. Father, bring glory to your name!”

Then a voice spoke from heaven, “I have brought glory to it, and I will do so again.”

The crowd standing there heard the voice, and some of them said it was thunder, while others said, “An angel spoke to him!”

But Jesus said to them, “It was not for my sake that this voice spoke, but for yours. Now is the time for this world to be judged; now the ruler of this world will be overthrown. When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.” (In saying this he indicated the kind of death he was going to suffer.)

The crowd answered, “Our Law tells us that the Messiah will live forever. How, then, can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”

Jesus answered, “The light will be among you a little longer. Continue on your way while you have the light, so that the darkness will not come upon you; for the one who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Believe in the light, then, while you have it, so that you will be the people of the light.”

After Jesus said this, he went off and hid himself from them. (Good News Translation)

Today is another step in our journey together with Jesus. The path we are on together leads to a cruel cross. For the past six weeks the Christian has been on a Lenten walk. To keep the long sojourn going, believers focus on spiritual discipline, prayer, and repentance. 

Shadow

Along the way we come face-to-face with the shadow parts of ourselves. We discover that within us there is the pull to hold-on to unhealthy rhythms and habits of life. There is an inner push to arrange our lives with the fragmentation of disordered love.

Our reflexive response to things we do not like about ourselves might be to either use sheer willpower to change, or to try and manage our brokenness – as if we could boss our spiritual selves out of the darkness. However, the problem and the solution are much more radical than we often would like to admit.

While on this journey, Jesus invites us to die to ourselves. The pull and push of sin cannot be managed or willed away – it must be eradicated and completely cut out, like the cancer it is. Transformation and new life can only occur through death. 

A tiny little seed can grow, break the ground, and develop into something which provides sustenance for others.  It does no good to remain a seed in the ground. The little kernel must change beyond it’s current recognition if it is to reach for the sky and become food for the world.

Suffering

Christ is the ultimate example of the one who died to himself and for us. Only through suffering and death did he secure deliverance and freedom from sin, death, and hell. By his wounds we are healed. Through his tortuous death, new life became possible – because there must be a death if there is to be a resurrection; there must be suffering before there is glory.

Through dying to self and following Jesus, a transformative experience happens. As we change, mature, and produce a crop, we bring the kind of spiritual sustenance the world so desperately needs. Following Jesus, leaving all to walk with him, is true repentance and authentic discipleship.

Perhaps you protest, thinking I’m being too forceful or insistent about this Jesus stuff. Yes, you have perceived rightly. Within some corners of Christianity, a wrongheaded notion has developed that believes suffering is not God’s will.

Jesus, however, is insistent that dying to self is necessary. And it hurts like hell. It’s a hard teaching to absorb when you so desperately want things to be rainbows and unicorns. Suffering, whether we like it, or not, is the way of Jesus:

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:7-9, NRSV)

We are not above our Master. Christ’s life on this earth, before his crucifixion and death, was marked with suffering. Jesus learned obedience through struggle and adversity. The Lord himself did what he is now asking us to do.

Christ gave himself up to do the Father’s will. Jesus offered loud cries and tears and submitted to what the Father wanted. We must do no less. We don’t get to choose which parts of Christ’s life and teaching we will observe and which ones we won’t, as if Jesus were some spiritual buffet line. 

All who live for Jesus will follow him into the path of suffering, of death to self, and of new life through the power of his resurrection. In Christ’s own words: “Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  We must…

Surrender

We have hundreds, maybe thousands of small decisions every day with the use of our time, our money, our energy, and our relationships. If we have tried to fix what is broken inside of us, we will likely just try to hastily fix the problems and the people in our lives, then move on with getting things done on our to-do list. 

Instead, we have the invitation to surrender. We have the opportunity to create sacred space for solitude and silence, prayer and repentance. Take the time to (in person or virtually) sit with a person in pain and listen.  Reflect on how to use your money for kingdom values. See your life as a holy rhythm of hearing God and responding appropriately.

Sacrifice

Holding-on to our stuff and time is the opposite of sacrifice – it’s avarice. I understand that you and I are not Jesus – our sacrifice and suffering are not efficacious, that is, it doesn’t deliver other people from sin. Only Christ’s death does that. Yet, we are still called to sacrifice:

“I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24, NRSV)

Pleasure is not the summum bonum of life. Our lives are not meant to be lived solely for minimizing pain and maximizing comfort. Jesus has extended the call to view our workplaces, communities, neighborhoods, and families as our mission field of grace to a world in need of basic human kindness and attention – which takes sacrificial love on our part.

Christianity isn’t a religion that’s for people who have neatly packaged theological answers and certainties to all of life’s questions. Rather, Christianity is a dynamic religion of learning to follow Jesus, discovering how to die to self, and struggling to put Christ’s teaching and example into practice. 

The way of Christ is often characterized by a three-steps-forward, two-steps-backward sort of reality. The road is zig-zags with plenty of potholes. Those who don’t struggle are in big trouble. However, those who go through the pain of dying to self for the sake of their Lord, find that the harvest they produce leads to eternal life.

May you struggle well, my friend.

Almighty God, your dear Son did not ascend to joy until he first suffered pain; he did not enter glory before he was crucified. Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it as the true way of life and peace, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.

John 12:1-11 – Monday of Holy Week

Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, the man he had raised from death. They prepared a dinner for him there, which Martha helped serve; Lazarus was one of those who were sitting at the table with Jesus. Then Mary took a whole pint of a very expensive perfume made of pure nard, poured it on Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The sweet smell of the perfume filled the whole house. One of Jesus’ disciples, Judas Iscariot—the one who was going to betray him—said, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would help himself from it.

But Jesus said, “Leave her alone! Let her keep what she has for the day of my burial. You will always have poor people with you, but you will not always have me.”

A large number of people heard that Jesus was in Bethany, so they went there, not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from death.So, the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus too, because on his account many Jews were rejecting them and believing in Jesus. (Good News Translation)

Jesus entered Jerusalem, the day before, on Sunday, with the people waving and lying down palm branches, along with shouts of “hosanna!” Although Jesus had been speaking about his death, weeks before his triumphal entry, most folks were clueless as to what was about to happen.

But Mary Magdalene did. She truly listened to the Master. Her spiritual ears and eyes were fully opened to the significance of this week. Mary was completely aware.

A woman with a sordid background, Mary Magdalene had her life thoroughly transformed through meeting Jesus. She became a follower, in every sense of the word. As an attentive disciple, Mary knew her Lord. She observed every little thing about Jesus, hung on every word, knew each voice inflection and every gesture.

Now, near the end of Christ’s earthly life, and only days from being arrested, tried, tortured, and killed, Mary sensed what was happening. She saw the pained affect on her Lord’s face that no one else noticed. She was cognizant of what was happening, while the others seemed clueless.

Mary’s own brokenness cracked open to her the true reality of life, the real meaning of the unfolding days, and the deep gravity of this week.

The surface event itself is a touching and tender moment in history. This woman, whom everyone knew as a damaged person, took a high-end perfume, and broke the entire thing open.

Mary then proceeded to anoint Christ’s feet with it. You can imagine the aroma filling the house with an expensive perfume for all to smell. Giving what she had to Jesus, Mary demonstrated the path of true discipleship.

Mary’s act of faith in anointing Jesus was deeply symbolic:

  • The broken jar of perfume shows us the brokenness of Mary and our need to be broken. (Matthew 5:3-4)
  • Mary used an extraordinary amount of perfume, picturing her overflowing love for Jesus. (John 20:1-18)
  • Mary applied the perfume to Jesus with her hair (hair is a cultural symbol of submission and respect). (1 Corinthians 11:14)
  • The perfume directs us to the death of Jesus. (John 19:38-42)
  • The perfume highlights for us the aroma of Christ to the world. (2 Corinthians 2:15-17)
  • There is more to Judas than his words about perfume; he is not actually concerned for the poor. (Matthew 26:15)
  • Judas and Mary serve as spiritual contrasts: Mary opens herself to the sweet aroma of Christ; Judas just plain stinks.
  • The perfume presents a powerful picture of the upcoming death of Christ, for those with eyes to see; he was broken and poured out for our salvation. (Luke 23:26-27:12)

Christianity was never meant to be a surface religion which merely runs skin deep. The follower of Christ is meant for deep personal transformation, inside and out, so that there is genuine healing, spiritual health, and authentic concern for the poor and needy. 

Keeping up appearances is what the Judas’s of this world do. But the Mary’s among us dramatically point others to Jesus with their tears, humility, vulnerability, openness, and love.

In our contemporary social and cultural landscape of fragmented human ecology, our first step toward wholeness and integrity begins with a posture of giving everything we have – body, soul, and spirit – to the Lord Jesus.

Sometimes it takes a woman to show us the way.

On this Monday of Holy Week, a tangible act may help us to express and deepen our faith. Take a bottle of unopened perfume or cologne, pour it completely out into a used tin can, and set the can in a central place in your home, just for the day* The aroma will likely linger into the next few days, as well. Let the smell be a continual reminder of both the sadness of death and the joy of salvation.

Loving Lord Jesus, my Savior, and my friend, you have gone before us and pioneered deliverance from an empty way of life and into a life of grace and gratitude. May I and all your followers emulate the path of Mary and realize the true freedom which comes from emptying oneself out for you. Amen.

*When you are ready, it is appropriate to dispose of the perfume by pouring it down the drain. Even this can be a ritual in which you visualize discarding your old life in order to take up a new one on Easter Sunday.