Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for February 16, 2013

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. (John 12:27-36)

This is the part of the story where Jesus starts focusing on the death he fully expects to die. He knows that it is coming, that it will be horrible, and the life he has known among humans is about to crash and burn.

Jesus asks the question, “And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’?” Well, if it were me, I would probably say a big YES to that question. I would explain to myself that my grisly death might satisfy the local religious big shots, but it really wouldn’t do anyone any good. They’d bury me when it was over, forget about me, and move on. Surely my heavenly father wouldn’t care if I slipped out of town and just behaved myself until I died quietly in my bed fifty years later.

But this wasn’t my question. I hear the question as one who considers illness to be an inconvenience easily resolved by medication, and death something to be managed, sanitized, and put off as long as possible. The question belonged to Jesus, and for him it was apparently rhetorical. He would not beg to be spared the suffering and death that came with his prophetic territory, suffering and death that would allow the people of God to be reborn as people inhabited by the Holy Spirit, participating in God’s mission in the world.

There is something disturbing, however, in Jesus’ words about his impending death. In the text preceding this one, he says something that doesn’t allow me (or you) to stand at a distance, appreciating and admiring Jesus’ courage and willingness to die on our behalf. His words haunt me:

“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.”

In this Lenten season, I remember that following Jesus means more than working up the discipline to act like he did and reflecting abstractly about his sacrifice. It means really following him. And it means that suffering and death remains a possibility for us within that followership. This is serious discipleship.

God help us.

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