Gospel: John 12:23-28,32-33

Death Leads To Life

How has the our society’s view of death changed? How has it stayed the same?

An old saying goes, “As we treat the dead, we treat the living.” While the funeral industry has become big business in the country, it is built upon the way our society honors its dead. And we do honor our dead with services, eulogies, and memorials. We treat our deceased as missing, yet still connected to us in some way.

Christianity adds to this sentiment with one insight. We are still connected with our departed, because we are one in Christ. He is the one who gathered everyone to him in this death. And in his resurrection.

Popular Translation

23 “The time has come!” Jesus said. “The Son of Man will be given glory!
Listen!
If a grain of wheat stays on the stock,
it’s just there by itself.
But if it dies and falls to the ground,
it will produce a lot more grain.
25 The selfish person dies lonely.
But the person who rejects selfishness will live forever.
26 If someone wants to serve me,
he should follow me where I am going.
Wherever I am, my servant will be there, too.
If someone wants to serve me,
my Father will honor him.
27 Now, I have doubts, but what should I say:
‘Father, save me from this time of suffering’?
But I came to suffer for others.
28 Father! Show yourself to everyone!”

Then a voice came from heaven. “I will show myself. And will do it again!”

32 Then Jesus continued:

"When I am lifted up,
I will gather everyone to myself!”

33 (Jesus said this to show how he would die.)

Literal Translation

23 JESUS answered (the crowd), saying,

“The hour has come so that the Son of Man might be given glory.
24 Amen, Amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falling to the ground dies,
it remains alone.
But if it dies,
it carries much fruit.
25 The one loving his (life) destroys it.
The one hating his (life) in this world will save it into eternal life.
26 If someone might give service to ME,
let him follow (me).
Where I AM
there also will be MY servant.
If someone might give service to ME,
the Father will honor him.
27 Now MY soul has been troubled and what might I say:
‘Father, deliver ME from this hour?
But, because of this, I came to this hour.
28 Father, give glory to your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven: “I gave (it) glory and I will again give (it) glory.”

32 (Jesus continued,)

"And when I am lifted up from the earth,
I will draw everyone to me.”

33 (He was saying this, signifying what sort of death he was going to die.)

12:23 “The hour has come...” The “hour” as a moment in time has the same meaning as the “right time.” “...Son of Man might be given glory.” Glory, here, did not mean human praise alone but self-giving. The Son of Man did not seek the praise of men, but the opportunity to unite all people to God. And, so, to give them eternal life. Jesus spoke of a glory only service brings.

12:25 “(life)” is literally “soul.” Jews did not think of the soul as separate part or different aspect of the person. They did not divide the person into body and soul. For the contemporaries of Jesus, “soul” equaled “life” or better “they way one spends his or her life.” In this sense, life was a set of daily activities that reflected a person’s real values.

“loving (life)...hating (life)” The culture of Jesus used extreme and exaggerated language to make a point. Jesus was not talking about the extremes of self-indulgence vs. self-abasement (even self-abasement performed out of pride is a form of self-indulgence). He used the language to clarify a comparison of values. Does one dedicate his or her life to promote the self or to promote the good of others?

12:27 “soul” in this verse is the same word translated as “life” in 12:25. So the verse could be translated loosely as, “The way I have lived my life now distresses me (because it leads to the cross).” While Jesus admitted to self-doubt, he never wavered from his role, as the rest of 12:27 stated.

12:32 “I will draw everyone to me.” The verb “draw” paints a fishing image of gathering a large catch in a net.

John’s gospel can be difficult to understand, but can lead to brilliant flashes of insight. In this gospel, Jesus spoke of his death as the point that united all humanity with God.

In his gospel, John used opposing images of life and death. He also turned these images upside down to make a point. Death led to life; here death was used in a literal sense and as a metaphor for self-giving (“dying to self”). In Christ, the meaning of death was used in both senses; his literal death was his death to the self for the good of others. The farming analogy of the seed painted this point beautifully [24]. Christ’s death and resurrection became the example and the power for our self-giving [25].

To follow Christ meant to partake in his death and resurrection in a very real way. When Christ died and rose again, the Father was present. When the Christian served and died to self, Christ was present; if Christ was present, so was the Father [26]. Note the language is not purely symbolic; God is truly present in our unselfish acts. As Christ is truly present when we are fed at Eucharist, he is present when we fed others through our selfless acts.

The high point of God’s self giving is Christ on the cross. At the right time (the “hour”), Jesus gave himself up to the Father in a very public (and humiliating) manner. In the world’s eyes, Jesus’ life, symbolized by his death, was a failure. By raising his Jesus, however, God vindicated his Son and his self-giving revelation. Death led to life. Faith (God’s reputation, his “glory”) grew as Christ on the cross drew everyone to himself [27-28, 32-33].

How has Christ drawn you to himself? How has his “draw” changed you?

All Souls Day gives us a chance to reflect on God’s love and on the way we view death. Nothing will separate us from God’s love. Death (both symbolically in our self giving and literally) is the door to God’s love. In God’s love we are alive (both figuratively and literally). In Christ, we are all truly connected.

On this day of remembrance, think of the ones you have lost in the light of Christ’s death. How does that thought comfort you?