Fifth Sunday in Lent: More Than Meets the Eye

“More Than Meets the Eye” -John 12:20-33

Once again this week we find ourselves back in the paradoxical world of the Gospel of John. We begin the text with a story of some Greek gentleman who wish to see Jesus.  Through the transition and conversation between Philip and Andrew they finally got to Jesus and told him that these men wished to meet with him.  

Instead of a simple “yes” or “no” Jesus answers them with a parable concerning the growth process of a grain of wheat!!!  I can only imagine how it made those Greek men feel!!  They had come to the Jewish Festival wishing to seek the presence of the One whom they had heard about. The One that had done miracles, cast out demons, healed the sick, and now they just want an audience with Him.  But what we have, is a reply by Jesus to Philip and Andrew about a grain of wheat and how this pertains to Jesus’ life!!  Truly in the text we never know, we must assume that Philip and Andrew communicated this to the Greek men, but the language used does not imply that was done.  So to add to our paradox this morning, was Jesus talking to Philip and Andrew as Disciples or was He addressing the Greek men?  

To be honest, it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that he replied the way he replied!  Using the story of the grain of wheat and the analogy to the human life and acceptance of Christ in order that eternal life may be obtained.  

Within this story there appears to be two looming paradoxes.  

First, the one we just talked about, that “life only comes through death”!  Jesus talks to Philip and Andrew at least, with an agricultural story signifying the fact that if one does not store and use their life appropriately then the fruits of that life will be nothing.  Straight forward, crops are no good if they are just “stored up”!!  They have to be planted in order to produce what they are capable of producing.  They must be planted, watered, and in some cases fertilized in order to produce!! 

It is interesting to note that the Greek word used here for “fall” is the same word that is used to illustrate the prostrate fall before God, “bowing down in humble adoration”!!  

So we ask ourselves, how do we have a “death experience” with Christ?  How do we take that next step?  It becomes like the theological wording of the 20th Century when several theologians talked about the “leap of faith”.  It is when we as humans understand that we have zero control over our life and must place full commitment in God in Christ Jesus.  We have to take the plunge and give up our control!!  

In Lenten language we must “crucify the old and be born into the new!”  You believe in what God did in raising Christ and that God can do the same for you!!  Christ’s death means you receive life and your death means receiving His life!!  The paradox understood!! 

That brings us to the second paradox in the text, found in verses 27-33.  The paradox is that when we follow Christ we are actually leading those who are with us and behind us.  

We live in a society that has leadership “all messed up”!! We believe that if we have emassed a huge parcel of things in our life then that qualifys us to be a leader.  Because we have a “great amount” of things, therefore people will follow.  Because we have “big” things, people will follow.  Because we have the biggest reputation people will flock around us and seek to absorb our charisma.  How paradoxically wrong is this way of thinking? 

The story goes of the family from Boston who thought their close lived life was bit much for them so they moved to Montana and bought a huge ranch.  Several months later, some neighbors from Boston came to visit them.  They were so impressed with the ranch they were in awe!!  The father of the neighbors at dinner one night was exclaiming how impressed he was with parcel of land and asked his friend what did you name the ranch?  The owner leaned back in his chair and said, myself, my wife, and the four children all wanted a different name, so we compromised and named it the Bar-J, Suzy-Q, Flying-W, Lazy-Y, Last Chance, Big Kahuna Cattle Ranch!!  WOW! Said the neighbor, but I’ve been here for three days, where are all the cattle?  Well said the owner, we actually don’t have any… none survived the branding!!!   

Needless to say, “more” is not always better.  In the case of the ranch and in the case of Christianity our race for more and the accumulation of grandeur has put many of us in a place of discomfort, a place of spiritual, mental, physical, and often financial discomfort. 

We hear in v.26 Jesus say, “whoever serves me” which interestingly in the Greek, means “whoever unions with me on the road”.  In other words Jesus is saying, “Join me on the road of serving others”.  Don’t go to the buffet line and serve yourself with will full neglect of your neighbor or someone in need!  

The entire idea and attitude of servanthood goes against the grain of most of our 21st century living and desires.  To accumulate until we feel comfortable!!  The only problem with that feeling is, as we lose what we have, we become unstable and realize that in order to maintain that level of feeling, we must accumulate more!! 

Then in the horrible race to accumulate more our spiritual balance is thrown off.  We attempt to grab on to things and hold tightly and squeeze all we can get out of life!!  But Jesus tells us in this passage and elsewhere, when we attempt to do this, we miss the true target, we “miss the mark”, and in Greek the translation of the word “sin” is “to miss the mark”!!   Therefore, the true believer leads by following Jesus- Jesus has to be the target, “the mark”!!!  

In viewing these two paradoxes this morning in this text, it becomes extremely clear that Jesus is off to His final mission on the earthly world.  As he gathers around the crowd of disciples and followers, the voice permeates the air and the people are “miffed” by what is heard and Jesus tells them sternly that the “voice” did not come for Him, but for them!!  In order that they understand His earthly reign was about to end and His death was a final statement to them! 

Therefore, we find ourselves involved in the paradox of life- living the Gospel paradox as Christians in a vibrant and energetic world. 

Therefore, we must learn to speak the message of Jesus, not only during Lent and Easter but throughout our entire lives.  Pastor, theologian, and author, Leonard Sweet remarks about this vocation of ours in a way I think focuses on this parable and Jesus story when he says, “the gospel is not a sequence of rules and acts, but an organic and living Christ within the world”.  

We all know and understand that the world in which we live tends to be a paradox.  It is within that paradox that we as servants of Christ must bring the living “organic” and “fully alive” Christ to life!!  

Kayla McClurg in her devotion this morning from The Church of the Saviour reminds us as we read these texts prior to Easter and reflect upon our own paradoxes that we understand that Jesus’ teachings were difficult for Him, so won’t they also be difficult for us?  She says we “must be careful not to romanticize them, not to draw too many hearts and flowers around the edges, making them a caricature of devotion.  But to be truly devoted to the realm of mercy is not to win a personal sweepstakes (of gain or abundance- my words) but to die!!  Whatever might be ours to gain, we let it go in order to gain what we can never lose.” (Kayla McClurg- Inward Outward-Seeking the Depths, “We Want to See Jesus”- Church of the Saviour, Washington, DC) .