In the Gospel today (John 12:20-33) we find Jesus turning toward Calvary.
The position he’s faced with equates to something like a diagnosis of terminal cancer without a morphine pump – without any kind of pain relief, comfort or consolation, nothing but the reciprocal love of his Father!
He takes the tsunami of human suffering that’ll soon crush him, and he uses it to teach us. All that’ll happen to Jesus is not just about him, it’s equally about us, it also represents human suffering and ultimately the death of every single human being.
The first thing Jesus does is place death in a far reaching context. Jesus describes death in terms of the necessity of a wheat grain falling on the ground and dying before it can reach its full potential. Death is not final but the necessary door to fulfillment.
Next, he says that if we serve him we must follow him. It’s easy to miss the brutal quality of this command. Jesus issues it while speaking of his suffering and death; “wherever I am my servant will be there too.” It’s as good as saying; you’ll have your share of human suffering, you’ll have your agony in the garden, your scourging at the pillar, your crowning with thorns, your crucifixion, you’ll follow my path – and children will get bone cancer! Thus the Greeks who “should like to see Jesus” get their answer, as does Stephen Fry; you’ll see me but don’t expect that you’ll be spared suffering and death.
Next, he echoes the cry of every person facing suffering and death but he does so while adding the extra dimension that places death in a momentous context. He puts this human cry in the form of a question to God: “What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?” After all, I’m only 33 and there’s much I still want to see and do. He answers his own question: “But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour.” He presents us with the inevitability of death, with the necessity of death if we’re to reach the fullness of our potential. Significantly he then adds, “Father, glorify your name!”
This is a question we all face. What if we cure everything that brings death; what’ll we do then? Where will we go? How will we control the population of the earth? State controlled fertility and euthanasia? Most importantly how will we cope with living endlessly?
Imagine if time can’t reach fulfillment. We’ll go mad.
The message of Jesus is that time does reach fulfillment, for each one of us, through him, with him and in him, and the door to this fulfillment is death, death in him.