Some people from Greece have arrived for the festival and have asked to ‘see’ Jesus. But this is more than a casual meeting. To ‘see’ Jesus is to enter into a profound revelation. In Saint John’s Gospel, Jesus must be ‘lifted up’, (Jn, 3.14) crucified in order to be seen. For Jesus, the arrival of these Greeks is a sign that the time of universal revelation is at hand. The Beloved Son of God has come for all people. Yet, the way that He shows himself is paradoxical. The image of the single grain of wheat that falls on the ground and dies in order to grow into ‘much fruit’ (v.24) provides the key to understanding this paradox. For Jesus, death is never seen as a loss. It is only the beginning of a time of change that will yield greater results than an individual life.
Jesus will become more through death, not less. In death he will become universally available. Closer to us than we are to ourselves. This revelation contains crucial instructions for His disciples. It illuminates a universal spiritual process. They are asked to see it and embrace it. If we identify ourselves as individuals with separate lives, we will lose that life. Death will eventually take it from us. But if we do not identify as individuals with separate lives, the death of that life becomes a gateway into transformation. There is no real loss here, only a crossing over to eternity. The death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus will make this truth clear. But still He has to navigate the anxiety which precedes loss. He does this by turning to His Abba in prayer. His prayer is answered immediately because it is aligned with the Fathers will. It is to the glory of the Father to bring greater life out of lesser death. This is what God has always done. This is what God has been doing through His Beloved Son. This is what God will continue to do through His disciples. Death has held sway until now but now it’s reign of terror is ended. Jesus’ death will not entail the universal fate of going down into the earth. In His death He will be ‘lifted up from the earth’. (v.32). It is this kind of dying, as a transforming process, that will attract people to Jesus. Death as extinction will bow to death as exaltation. This will be the kind of death Jesus will die and thus will draw all people to Himself.
Wheat falls, acorns crack, and cocoons split, bringing bread, oak trees and butterflies. Seeing death as a transition is essential for any disciple of Jesus. In his poem, ‘Holy Longing’, Goethe has written,
As long as you haven’t experienced
this: to die and so to grow,
You are only a troubled guest
On the dark earth.
If this is true, perhaps we should be practicing how to die to ourselves on a regular basis! Here is a little story in this theme.
Once upon a time, a rich and generous man would freely give gold coins to various groups of people. One day it would be widows, another day the less able, another day poor students. The only request he made was that they should wait in silence for the gift to be given.
When it was the day for lawyers, one pleaded his cause with gusto. The rich man simply passed by. The next day was the turn of the lame, so the lawyer put splints on his legs and posed as such. The rich man recognised him and passed by. The next day, the lawyer disguised himself as a widow, but he didn’t fool the rich man who just passed him by.
So the lawyer found an undertaker and concocted a plan that he would be wrapped in a shroud and placed in the path of the rich man. Surely he would throw some gold coins on the shroud for a proper burial. Afterwards, the lawyer and the undertaker would split the proceeds.
The rich man did throw gold coins on the shroud. The lawyers hand shot out and grabbed the coins. Then he jumped up and triumphantly proclaimed that he had deceived and beaten the rich man. “Do you see how, at last, I have received from your kindness?’ ‘Yes’, said the rich man, ‘but first you had to die’.
We must die to the schemer and become the receiver. It is the posture of contemplative silence which allows us to receive the gold that the rich and generous man is giving. As Rumi says,
” The mystery of die before you die is this:
that the gifts come after your dying and not before.
Except for dying, you artful schemer,
no other skill impresses God”