3/22/2012 9:04:00 AM WORD OF FAITH Our dying and rising
BY REV. ROGER KARBAN
FROM A READING FOR MARCH 25, FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT 'He learned obedience through what He suffered...having been made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.' - Heb 5:8-9
John has arranged his Gospel in such a way that Sunday's passage (John 12:20-33) comes immediately before Jesus' last supper. These are Jesus' final words before His Passion and resurrection.
The evangelist puts this statement on Jesus' lips: "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit." John's original readers understood that Jesus wasn't teaching agriculture 101; He was teaching Christianity 101.
As a child, though Lent was a time of "giving stuff up," I never looked at that practice as a dying-and-rising experience. By sacrificing things I liked for 40 days, I simply was preparing a higher place in heaven for myself. Though I heard Sunday's "dying seed" passage, I only applied it to Jesus. I never understood how it mirrored my own life of faith.
It's important we hear Jesus' "dead seed" comment against the background of the Greeks who came to see Him. John's original readers would have been conscious of the death the Christian community had recently experienced by accepting non-Jews (Greeks) into their faith without demanding they convert to Judaism.
This decision had not only split the Church's members, it also brought them a life they'd never anticipated. A movement which started as a Jewish reform sect in the early 30s was now, in the mid-90s, a worldwide faith - but to achieve that, followers of Jesus had to die to their old frame of mind.
It's no accident that the author of the Letter to the Hebrews brings up Jesus' obedience (Heb 5:7-9). As a good Jew, we presume Jesus kept the 613 laws of Moses and fulfilled His liturgical obligations.
Yet, as we hear in the Gospels, He began to understand that God was calling Him to go further: to put people before laws and his relationship with God before institutions.
Six hundred years before Jesus' birth, Jeremiah courageously talks about a similar process (Jer 31:31-34). He's given up on reforming the Judaism of his day and age; he's willing to let the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and its temple in the hope that a faith born in exile will actually be the faith Yahweh demands.
One dimension of this faith is recognizing that God is working in each person who professes it: "I will place my law within them," Yahweh promises, "and write it upon their hearts. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know Yahweh."
The prophet presumes everyone has God's plan written deep within themselves. Jesus agrees. Had he just followed the laws and did what the institution demanded, He would never have talked about dying. Perhaps that's also where He wants us to be on the second-to-last Sunday of Lent: to give up what He gave up. There's no other way to experience the life He wants to share with us.