Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Life to Love or Hate

On Monday, I admitted in this blog that I find Sunday's gospel lesson (John 12:20-33) a little disjointed. There are the Greeks who wish to see Jesus. There's Jesus' parabolic semi-response about a grain of wheat falling into the ground. There's Jesus' instruction that serving him means following him. There's the statement about glory and the thunderous answer from heaven. And there's the prediction about Jesus' raised-from-the-earth-on-a-cross death. But the part that really sticks out--the part that almost begs for a sermon by itself--is what Jesus says about this life:

Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

This came up in staff meeting as one of my colleagues admitted that this was a troubling verse--not because of its "hate your life" implications but because of its head-spinning nature. His comments surprised me. What's the "it" that one loses or gains? If you hate your life, are you stuck with it? What's better: to love your life for a little while before losing it or to hate your life and be stuck with it forever. I've never struggled with the meaning of this sentence--just its execution--but those questions left me wondering whether people really know what Jesus meant.

What did Jesus mean? What does it really mean to hate one's life? I think the emphasis has to fall on "in this world" before the sentence can make sense. This isn't just about hating life itself. Life is good. Life is a gift. But it is about living so fully in the next life that we forsake this life. Hate is a funny word. In the Greek (miseo), it can imply "detest," but it can also mean "love less" as in the choice one makes. The decision of where we will place our priority is what really matters. Do we choose this life or the next?

Do you want to be rich in this life or the next? Do you want to be happy in this life or the next? Do you want to experience peace and comfort in this world or in the next? You can't have both. That's the challenge. That's the real falsehood we have to overcome. We are accustomed to having our cake and eating it and a second slice of it, too. But, for Jesus, it must be this world or the next. And those of us who think we can have both have decided "this world" without realizing it.

At this point in John's gospel, Jesus' movement is reaching its climax. He has paraded into Jerusalem as a direct challenge to Roman authority. The conflict he has with the religious authorities of his day has reached the breaking point. The great cosmic collision between the powerless and the powerful is unfolding. And, in that moment, Jesus asks innocently yet decisively: where do you want your status to be--in this life or the next? 

This is the great conflict of Jesus' day, and it is the great conflict of ours as well. As we make our way closer to Jerusalem, we face that choice. Will we live for God and God's kingdom or the kingdom of our own making? You can't have both. This is the time to choose.

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