A Lectionary Reflection on John 12:20-33 for Lent 5B
As the old saying goes, “You get to choose what you’ll do, but you don’t get to choose the consequences.” The problem is that we all spend way too much energy trying to avoid the consequences of what we do, and who we have become. Every one of us, by ignorance or design, has moments of destructiveness, addiction, narcissism and laziness. To use Scott Peck’s term, we are all, at one point or another in our lives, people of the lie.
The essential motivation for this struggle with integrity is our fear of what may come should we choose to face the music. We know that if we allow our actions and attitudes to catch up with us, we will be judged, we will be found guilty and we will need to be executed. What we don’t know is that we can never outrun our brokenness, and the judgement has already happened, the sentence already pronounced.
In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus speaks those very disturbing words: “Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to be My disciple must follow Me, because My servants must be where I am.” (John 12:24, 25) We talk a lot today about Jesus dying so we can live, but the truth is, according to Jesus, we do not get to avoid death. We are called to follow him, to be where he has been. This means we have to travel the entire road through the cross and beyond. We don’t get to life without passing through death. The reason for this is both very uncomfortable and quite obvious.
At the end of this section, Jesus speaks about the moment of his death which, he has already confirmed, has now come. This moment, he says, is the moment when the world will be judged and Satan will be cast out. The moment of the cross is the moment of judgement, and no one can avoid it – that’s one of the reasons why the whole world is drawn to Jesus as he is lifted up. The cross reveals the inevitable result of our narcissism, our laziness and our destructiveness. When we refuse to face the music, to confront the truth about ourselves, we all, finally, build crosses to destroy what we refuse to integrate and welcome into our lives. We are all masters at projecting our darkness on to others and condemning them for it. We are all merciless in giving the thumbs down to the executioners whose blades hover over our foes. And the cross brings all of this dark, destructiveness out into the open and reveals it for what it truly is. The cross is the moment of judgement on the world.
It is also the moment when, having seen the truth about ourselves, we are faced with a choice – to ignore the truth and continue to live in darkness, or to allow the Satan in us to be cast out. When we face the music, and accept that we have been judged by the cross, Jesus words become a difficult challenge. If we seek to save our lives we will lose them to the darkness we mistakenly think we can hide or avoid. But, if we can find it in ourselves to accept the judgement and submit to the cross which must execute the destructive us, only then can we find the true, eternal life free from the darkness that destroys us and others.
Make no mistake, facing the music is not easy. Even Jesus, facing the cross, expressed fear. John’s Gospel has no Gethsemane, but it does have the moment when Jesus considers asking to be released from his moment of sacrifice (v.27). But, even in the midst of his prayer, Jesus recognises that the moment cannot be avoided, and he submits to the cross. John’s Gospel also has no Transfiguration, but it does have the moment when the glory of willing self-sacrifice is profoundly revealed. Jesus prays that God’s name would be glorified through him, and then a voice from heaven proclaims that, “I have already brought glory to My name, and I will do so again” (v28). Facing the music is hard and excruciatingly painful, but, it is also the place of glory, because it is the necessary surgery that enables us to overcome the darkness that destroys us. In this sense, also, Jesus draws all people to himself through the cross. He reveals to us all that there is an alternative way to live. We can leave behind our denial and darkness, we can face the music and embrace the death that leads us to authentic, abundant life. The cross, then, is the doorway to glory for broken humanity.
As much as we would love to avoid the consequences of our worst selves, to attempt to do so is nothing less than a guarantee of ongoing brokenness and ultimate death. The paradoxical good news, though, is that, if we face the music and submit to the judgement and execution of our destructive selves on the cross, we are freed from our worst, and are able to emerge through our death into the abundant life that Jesus promised. It’s a simple, difficult choice, but one that we must all face – sooner rather than later – to face the music in order to become reflections of the life-giving glory of a loving and life-giving God.