The connection between the first reading and the third reading is not hard to discover today. God tells Jeremiah that the upcoming, New Covenant will not be like the Sinai covenant with Moses. The new covenant will be one written on the hearts of his people. Relationship. Our Gospel tells of Jesus’ revealing that covenant.
John tells us of two Greek gentiles who have a request: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip, one of the apostles with a Greek name receives the request and tells his fellow, ethnic apostle, Andrew. Together they convey the request. As often happens, Jesus does not address the situation directly; he uses this occasion to reveal a positive change in the way that his followers are to relate to God, one another, and to creation. The passage also prefigures the church’s future mission to the Gentiles.
Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” Jesus, of course, is speaking of his personal death and resurrection as the proto-example to his followers. He generalizes; he extends the teaching to us with “whoever hates [loves less] his life.”
This “life” that is to be lost can take different forms. For alcoholics and those addicted to drugs, it means to trade their non-lives of addiction for sobriety, being clean. For us not addicted, the genius that articulated “life” by naming life’s principal components; time, talent and treasure have surely served us well. If we serve ourselves and not serve others with our time, our talent, and our treasure, we fail this challenge of dying to self and bringing life to others.
When couples become parents, they seem to learn this lesson of life very quickly. With a child who is the expression of their love, they unhesitatingly give their time, their talent, and their treasure to their child. Fortunately, it is still “news” when a parent serves oneself, fails miserably, and neglects a newborn.
Serious students and serious new-hires know the wisdom of the denial of self that is required for graduating or holding a job.
Did you notice the difference in Jesus’ attitude in john’s gospel from the synoptic gospels [Matthew, Mark, and Luke] where Jesus prays that the cup of suffering will pass, that he will not have to drink it? Today’s Gospel from john admits that he is troubled, but does not struggle with the agony of suffering. He says, “It was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” This is another example of John viewing Jesus as more divine than human. It is in the Synoptic Gospels we see Jesus as more human than divine.
Jesus’ issue is the urgency of “his hour.” The tone is set by the image of the “grain of wheat.” There is no “cheap grace.” Jesus must die to produce the “fruit” of the community of believers who will be united with him and form what Paul will call “the body of Christ.” Jesus’ prayer is quickly affirmed by his Father.
As we move downhill toward the conclusion of Lent, we need to determine if there is any part of ourselves as grains of wheat that must die to produce the fruit of metanoia, the change of heart/mind that will allow us, as believers, to live Jesus more deeply at our celebration of Resurrection on Easter and our union with our God and our fellow believers both here and hereafter.