Here we are, a week away from Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. A little less than two weeks away from His horrific death on the cross… and His ultimate triumph over death. Talk about a roller coaster ride of emotions for his followers. We have the benefit of knowing what’s coming. Jesus’ disciples did not know they were headed toward a Wilderness experience of fear and despair.
Part of our Lenten journey has been about wrestling with rules in the wilderness. Over and over, we see the people of God struggle with disobedience and questioning God’s love. We are no different today.
Recently, we heard a reading of The Ten Commandments. Jesus boiled these down to two commandments – “love the Lord your God with all your heart… Love your neighbor as yourself.” If we love our neighbor, we won’t covet what our neighbor has, we won’t kill, we won’t steal. If we love God, we won’t worship idols or misuse His name; we will keep the Sabbath and honor our parents. Simple. Right? Yet, we struggle with obeying. It’s a heart issue. And trust me, it’s not God’s heart that has a problem.
In today’s Psalm, David nails it! After recognizing his own faults, he prays, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” It’s a heart issue.
God is all about fixing our hearts, and he makes this point in the reading from Jeremiah, where we find God making a new covenant with His people yet again. This one is really promising, for instead of a list of laws, this time God declares, “I will put My law within them and write it on their heart; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” He is dealing with His people intimately! The familial love of God is evident when He says, “I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt… I was a husband to them.” What father doesn’t take his child by the hand to lead it? And as a husband, He had watched over the Israelites as they wandered in wild places, protecting them. In this new covenant, God declares, “I will forgive their wrongdoing, and their sin I will no longer remember.” This is Love, real Love.
Now, let’s look at John’s Gospel. Here we find disciples, Philip and Andrew, plus a few curious Greeks. These are people who, like us, are living in a mixed society – mixed ethnically – mixed religiously – with people crossing boarders bringing with them different rules for living and being. John doesn’t say why the Greeks came seeking Jesus, nor what questions they asked of Him when they spoke. Were they asking if they had a place in Jesus’ message of salvation? Or was his message just for the Jews?
Ken Kesselus writes, “Jesus used a parable to explain how not only Greeks but everyone would see him. ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’ A seed, by itself, is only a small piece of matter. If eaten, it provides a little bit of nourishment. If left in the blazing sun, it can dry up and lose its value. If sealed in a jar, it can remain viable for centuries. But even then, it is only potentially powerful. But if it is buried and dies beyond its present condition, it can release all that is contained within – the very nature and substance of a whole stalk of ripened wheat.
“His own death and resurrection would be the vehicle through which not only his disciples and curious Greeks, but all humankind, could see Jesus – truly see what he as all about. It was by dying that the power of God contained in Jesus would be fully released… Jesus was saying that only by his death could true life come. Just as a grain of wheat, remaining unfruitful in the protective security of a barn, can only release its power by being buried and dying to what it has been.”
What was true for Jesus was also true for his followers. Those who would truly see him would know that only by their deaths to the values of the world could they gain true life.
Jesus said, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” As followers of Christ, we are called to take up our cross, to die to ourselves and, like the grain of wheat, be transformed.