John 12:20-33 (meditation)
Often we find that as those who follow Christ, we have once again signed our names on the dotted line and said “yes” to the strange adventure before reading the fine print. Perhaps we were caught up in the excitement of the moment.
Later, upon much reflection, we admit that we have absolutely no idea what we’re doing or what some of his ideas could possibly mean. Such as this one, for example, in today’s passage, it’s a real gem: “those who love their life lose it…those who hate their life in this world keep it for all eternity.” What?
It is understandable that our perception would be quite dim, most of us don’t speak the native tongue and we have a rather dismal connection with the ancient mind partnered with the conviction, in an age of massive violence and suicide, that hating one’s life is a really bad idea.
As we wade into this passage, a good place to begin might be with the Greek word for “life” which is “psychē.” When Jesus says that if we love our life we will lose it, he’s referring to something different than what we might think of as our lives. Psychē means breath, spirit, soul in the Greek, but when we think of our lives, we don’t generally gravitate towards concepts of spirit or soul. We often think of our lives as a series of things that have happened to us, a childhood, an education, a family, a career, children, grandchildren, loss, success, etc. Life is generally, for the modern person, a series of events occurring to us that accumulate over time and become the definition of life itself. While the soul, our specially designed, God invented dream vessel, often sits idle for most of our lives until the day we decide reject this as an acceptable definition of life and join up, as Jesus says here, with the eternal.
It’s a difficult concept, though, because we tend to think of our souls as separate from our bodies, we have our physical life day to day, we work, come home, eat, have some social time, some entertainment, some hobby, maybe, we pay our bills and try to have some fun, and then we have our spiritual life, something we do on the side and sometimes on Sundays. That thing that we would really like to tend to, a nagging feeling in the pit of our stomachs, but we rarely have the time and we often find that distractions keep us moving along as long as there are no major events to pull us out of our routine of distraction. But the ancient mind would have viewed the soul and the body as one, there would have been no such idea that you could live a life separate from your soul, that would be something like, as Jesus says in another place, withering on the vine.
Those who love their life will lose it.
Not only are we confused about life, we are also confused about love.
We are taught that love is something we must secure in this life, we think we can possess it or earn it. If we just secure the right mate, the right job, have the right kids, the right platform or brand, then we are convinced we will find true love. We often believe that love is tied to how well we perform, our value and worth is measured by whether or not we are good producers in the world. Many of us are taught that if we behave the right way we will become worthy of love. So we come to believe in all of these things that substitute for love, these synthetic brands marketed to us every minute of every day.
It follows, due to our conditioning, that we believe to love our lives is a good thing, because in loving our lives, we are becoming good, upstanding citizens, self-sustaining and independent, we are securing our lives.
Yet, Jesus tells us just the opposite. Those who love their life will lose it. It often comes as a shock to us that love is simply a gift, free. In a world where we are daily bought and sold, we have a hard time fathoming that love cannot be secured or earned. However, the reality is that we do not own, contrary to our belief, either love or life, they are both, as it turns out, free agents, gifts from God. Jesus tells us, too, that gifts from God are different than other gifts, they cannot be possessed, only continuously given, that is how they remain active and alive, igniting our souls to life in the eternal.
Jesus’ ministry is built around this idea that each individual is to place their life in the design of God. A community that follows Christ fully cannot really be authentic unless a good core group of its members are committed to this, that constant and daily reminder “not my will but Thine.” This is not what we have been taught to believe.
We have been taught, even in our religious culture, that the self is more important than the community. We are in this for ourselves, generally, for some kind of self-seeking good. Entire theories of community organizing are built around appealing to self- interested individuals. But Jesus turns this upside down and tells us that if we want to have full lives, free from doubt, fear, anxiety; full of wholeness and compassionate interactions that make us feel clean on the inside, yes, even financial security, I did not say wealth, mind you. To live fully, to be meaningfully related in community, Jesus simply states that we need to turn over our lives in service of the greater good which he defines for as loving the stranger and loving God. In doing so, we participate in the great stream of eternal love flowing in the world. It seems that when we become really fixated on ourselves or place conditions around what it means to love, we get stuck and it and it becomes difficult to flow.
This passage is about dying in order to live. The grain that falls to the ground in order to produce more fruit, this is your life merging with God’s great and generative creation. It is what Jesus is doing, he’s on the way to fully laying down his life in service of the world, in order that the world might be saved. As we follow him, we do the same thing, not literally as he did, but ritually, through the community that is dedicated to unconditional love, acts of compassion, selfless giving and worship. Worship and ritual are vital to us living out our faith, we have to get ourselves out of the way and invoke God in our lives. This is where we discover our joy.
It is vital that we have communities practicing this ritual of giving our lives in service of the world community, the healing of all humankind. It is how we find our lives again. We make space for the Holy to move in us and we are changed.
We can do nothing of our own power, all true power comes from God. When we abuse this God given power in us, the soul life and its gifts, when we use it to harm others, then great descimation of soul, spirit and the created world occurs. We are in this moment now in our world.
When we have individuals and communities that decide to do as Jesus instructs us to do here, to put themselves in service of God, our souls, our spirits, our breath, to become hollow so that God can flow through us, to enact the rituals of worship that we do here that get ourselves out of the way so God can move in us, when we decide that we are going to get serious and committed about this, it doesn’t’ matter how small we are, we can accomplish great things on behalf of the kingdom of God on earth because we simply decided to get out of the way and let God move in us.
We are a channel for the Spirit of God to move in the world, we are a system, a unique sight for God’s grace to redeem the darkness here, to lift up the oppressed, to do miraculous things in the world. But if we cannot decide that we are going to let go of what substitutes for real love and allow God to do a greater work, then what is at stake is so much greater than the loss of a church building or the loss of identity. What is at stake is your very life.
Those who love their lives will lose them. Those who deny themselves and take up my cross will live.
In these final days of Lent, we are walking with Jesus, once again, on a journey to lay down our lives so that God’s love might be made manifest in the world, so that we might find our true selves in the greater whole.
Maybe it’s not what we signed up for, but it’s why we’re here.