S. Passion Sunday.17 “Unless” John 12:20-43
These Greek guys want to see Jesus. Worthy goal. A life spent with no other or higher aspiration would be well spent. But where do you look? How do you see? Did they see Jesus that day, those Greeks? John leaves it unclear. Can we see Jesus still today? Where? How?
These seem like simple questions, yet are anything but. Sometimes, the apparently simplest aspirations are the hardest to realize. Quickly it becomes the quest of a lifetime—to see Jesus! You start down that path as a brief side-trip, the affair of a moment; and before you know it, everything else has receded, and this quest to see Jesus has consumed your life. And while many today would judge that a life wasted, lost, Jesus has a wry and challenging line that: whoever loves (saves) his life in this world loses it, and whoever hates (loses) it, for Christ’s sake, will keep it for eternal life. And think on that a while… maybe the dreamers, the wanderers, the divine losers with no other goal in life but to see Jesus have got it right, in the End? Maybe losing everything for this, being poor in spirit (and otherwise) is the greatest and truest treasure the Universe has to offer?
Maybe. These are the kind of questions Greeks will ponder—‘cause they’re poets, thinkers, philosophers, the Greeks. I like them so much better than the Romans—the Greeks’ thuggish, younger cousins: engineers, tax collectors, absolutist tyrants on the make, obsessed more with conquest than with Truth. The Greeks have always seemed more like my kind of people. Because they really would like to see Jesus; yet, it’s unclear if they even get a glimpse that day? Jesus tells Philip and Andrew (and perhaps the Greeks get this passed on, or overhear it?) that “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
I hate to digress and go down a rabbit hole (well, “hate” is perhaps too strong a word) but this word “glorified”, δοξα in Greek, is worth a moment’s reflection. It translates the Hebrew kabod and literally means “weight” “heaviness”. Our English connotation is way lighter and fluffier than this! The Greek “glory” is to be weighed down by God, tied down even, bound to and bound up in something much bigger than yourself—frighteningly big. More, really than humans imagine we could handle. It is not mere “praise” as some translations have it, adulation, the kudos of the crowd. No, δοξα is something much heavier and larger and bigger, indeed. It is God putting something of Himself on you, loading you up with something that’s divine and holy and heavenly and not of this world; and not everyone is up to that…
The weight of glory the Father laid on His only begotten Son crushed Him. The weight of the world’s sin, like a cosmic collapsed star, it flattened Jesus, laid Him out stone cold in a tomb for three days. It devastated His friends and few followers. And yet it crushed Him in order to raise Him up victorious. He took the worst sin, death, and hell could do; but, in falling on Jesus, sin, death, and hell themselves get broken…
Jesus says: “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” An odd saying! Unless the wheat seed is buried under tons of earth, it is light, lonely, flutters away. But weighed down like this, it dies and produces much fruit. Jesus pushes this analogy later saying that He, when He is lifted up from the earth (on a cross!) will draw all to Himself! Not all “people”, actually, as most translations have it, but just all—everything in the Universe will be drawn to Him as He is lifted up on the cross and dies.
Jesus wasn’t totally thrilled with this prospect of being buried under all of that weight of glory. He says His soul is troubled. There is a temptation to say “Father, save Me from this hour!” But Jesus won’t take the light and easy way out. For this purpose He has come. “Father, glorify your Name, weigh it down with all the weight of the Universe!” And the Father thunders from heaven, in reply: “I have weighted it and will weigh it down some more!” Let this notion: of dumping the weight of the world’s sin on the shoulders of a six foot, 160 pound carpenter’s son from Galilee (who happens to be more than He appears at first glance) change your notions of Glory forever!
Unless the grain of wheat dies… unless my servant follows Me to the cross and feels the weight of it… unless, unless! Unless we walk in the light that shines out of darkness, from noon to three on Good Friday, we walk in darkness always! Unless God opens our eyes by Spirit-wrought Faith, we can never see. Unless we lose our lives in a fool-hardy quest to see Jesus, we will never find ourselves, or any real purpose, honor, or glory in life.
This is tough stuff to hear. Tougher still—to let it get hold of you and move you in a new direction. Life seems like all we have. To lose it, in order to gain some mystical vision of Jesus, is it worth it? Is it wise? St. Paul says it is not wise. It is foolishness to Greeks and scandalous to Jews. But only to the perishing—those who know we cannot hold onto this earthly life, no matter how hard we try, for more than 70 or 80 years if we’re fairly lucky—to them, the Word of the Cross is the foolishness of God that is wiser than human wisdom; it is the weakness of God that is the Greatest Power in the Universe…
My dad died last Thursday. But, he’d say, it’s really OK. My dad never met a stranger; never faced a challenge he didn’t turn into a game to amuse himself and his many friends. He had a marvelous eloquence, did alright for himself and his family. But what really drove him was a little kid’s exuberance to see Jesus; oh, he’d walk away from everything, happily, in a heartbeat, for a chance at that. So I can’t be sad, because I know, for sure, today—he sees.
If you want to see Jesus, there is only one place to look: the Cross. Unless Jesus dies, none of us lives. Unless He gives up His divine and human life for the world’s sin on the Cross, we are all sunk. Unless He gets weighed down with all the weight of the world’s sin, darkness, and death, there is no hope for any of us. It is not the miracles, the signs, the wise words of Jesus that finally matter, that ultimately help. No. It is only this: a bare wood cross, weight of the world, from noon to three, the cry of dereliction, a cry of victory. That has gravitas; weight, substance, heft. Seeing it, so will you!
Did those Greeks see it? We’ll maybe never know. But a Roman centurion saw it. And seeing Jesus die like this: weighed down, glorified like this, he knew: “Truly, this Man was the Son of God!’. Unless the grain of wheat falls, dies—unless we die too with Him, we don’t see. “Sir, we would see Jesus.” That desire never, ever leads you astray!
Holy Week begins with the tramp of soldiers’ marching feet, with palms so soon laid down, a weight of glory that seems too much—looks like the end of us. But Jesus says it is not the End, but a new beginning, the only way, finally, to see the light, and rise. In fact, the Cross is the only way to be not alone in this dark Universe; and if this is your glory, this only your hope, Peace, surpassing all understanding, will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.