Tuesday in Holy Week: John 12:20-26, 31-36

*God is light and in him
there is no darkness at all. I John 1:5
(Kirsten Malcolm Berry)
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, 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. Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, "We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?" Jesus said to them, "The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light."

This passage is an image-fest.

We have the image of a grain of wheat being buried in the ground - metaphorically dying - so that it can rise up and bear fruit. Is Jesus talking about his own death, that it is only by his death that his mission and message will come to bear fruit in the world? Is he saying that only by his death will we be able to receive the fruits of his resurrection, namely the fulfilled promise of new creation and new life? Or is he talking about us - that only when we die to our old lives, the old regime, the old systems and selfish desires, only then will we be able to rise up as God's children, bearing the fruits of love, compassion, and justice in the world?

We have the topsy-turvy images of losing a life in order to gain a life, and hating a life in order to keep a life. Again, we have this same sense that there is something eternal to be gained from loss, whether we are talking about Jesus' death or our own lives.

And then this image of light warding off the darkness. Jesus is the light, the one who is "with [the disciples] for a little longer." But more than that, Jesus plays darkness and light off of one another, talking about how hard it is to walk when it is dark and how much better it is to walk when it is light, as if he is reminding all who are listening that it hurts to stub your toe on a chair in the middle of the night when all the lights are off and you get up from sleep to go to the bathroom. Jesus is the light, and while he tells the disciples that it is far easier to believe in him - the light - while he is still with them, of course we are stuck in a place where we have to believe in a light that we have not yet seen, at least not in the flesh.

All of these images and paradoxes trip over one another in today's reading. I've been sitting and struggling all day with how to make some general statement about this passage, or how to boil it down into a succinct and pithy statement about faith. But I've found my own thoughts to be as scattered as the images.

So instead, I leave you with picking out the images that speak most clearly to you in this passage as you move through Holy Week. As we look toward death and resurrection at the end of this week, perhaps you need the image of the seed dying and rising to help you focus on Christ's sacrifice. Maybe this Holy Week is a week that is driving you toward renewed commitment to discipleship, and you need to hear about the buried seed bearing fruit in order to remind you that it's okay to let the old self die, because God has even better life in store for you on the other side. Maybe you need a reminder of who is first and who is last, and a nudge to hold more tightly to God and more loosely to the things of this world and your own self-created life. Maybe you just need the assurance that you are a child of light.

But whatever you need from this passage, whatever image you cling to, whatever clever turn of the phrase that captures your imagination, know that Jesus is painting a picture of "before" and "after." Before: darkness, death, sin, misplaced power. After: fruitfulness, life, new life, light, Jesus' reign. And the good news is that through the cross, we have already been given the "after."

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