Seeds of Love Planted in This World

John tells us that some Greeks—some foreign-born practicers of Judaism—have made their way to Jerusalem to take part in the upcoming feast of the Passover.  While there, they seem to have heard about Jesus and his teachings and the miracles he has done.  Maybe they saw him when he came into the city riding the donkey amid the shouts of “Hosanna!”  Perhaps they overheard someone at the local coffee shop talking about Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead, which happened just a couple of days before.  Regardless of how they found out about him, these people know they want to meet Jesus in person.  So they seek out Philip, the most Greek-sounding name of the lot, and make their request.  “Sir,” they say, “we wish to see Jesus.”

A Lenten sermon on John 12.

Philip finds Andrew, and they in turn go and speak to Jesus. Instead of replying to their request—John doesn’t tell us if those Jewish Greeks met with him—we hear Jesus respond that the hour has come for him to be glorified.  He then uses a metaphor from agriculture to tell us what he means, describing how a grain of wheat—a single seed—gets buried in the earth and dies.  If we stop and think about it, we know this about seeds in general.  Seeds of any kind—be they apple, sunflower, or pumpkin—dry out and are useless, unless, of course, they land in fertile soil.  For once they get planted, something miraculous happens.  With moisture and sunlight, a single pumpkin seed can produce a whole vine full of new pumpkins—anywhere from six to twelve per seed.  In turn, each of these pumpkins themselves will produce about 450-500 more seeds. Through the single seed dying, a tremendous amount of new life results.

But what does this mean when it comes to Jesus? And what about those who love life in this world, and Jesus’ call to hate our life in this world?  These are not easy statements to understand.

Theologian Charles Campbell suggests we rethink how we define the word “world” in this passage.  He writes, “‘The world’ ([which in the Greek, is] kosmos) here is not synonymous with God’s creation, but is rather the fallen realm that exists in estrangement from God and is organized against God’s purposes. The ‘world’ is a superhuman reality, concretely embodied in structures and institutions, that aggressively shapes human life and seeks to hold human beings captive to its ways.  Kosmos is probably best translated as ‘the System.’  And this System is driven by a spirit or force (‘the ruler of the world’), whose ways are domination, violence, and death.”  That’s quite a difference from the created order which gloriously exhibits the goodness and beauty of God. That created order is a place where life abounds, where the fecundity emerging from a single grain of wheat shows God’s desire for abundance and not scarcity, for life and not death.  If we put these sayings of Jesus in this context, that we should seek to lose our lives dominated by “the System” to truly find our lives, then it makes much more sense.

But to do so means we need to confront the ways of this world.  Professor Campbell suggests we look closely at violence in our culture, and at the myth that there is such a thing as “redemptive violence,” one of the primary myths of the System.  He writes, “According to this myth, the way to bring order out of chaos is through violently defeating ‘the other.’ And the way to deal with threats from enemies is by violently eliminating them—as the System seeks to do to Jesus.”  We learn this myth at a young age—remember the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote?  Or any number of good vs. bad animated films—like one of my favorites, “The Incredibles.”  Never mind the Star Wars franchise, or any other number of video games.  Campbell reminds us that “we see it in the death penalty, in acts of terrorism, and in nations’ responses to terrorism.  Many of us have trouble even imagining alternatives to this myth—a grim signal of our captivity to it.”  And so the response to the problem of violence easily becomes that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to have a good guy with a gun.

But friends, there is another way. 

Madeline L’Engle’s book A Wrinkle in Time tells the story of a thirteen-year-old girl named Meg whose father disappeared a number of years earlier. After an encounter with three other-worldly women, she travels with them to look for him along with her younger brother and her friend, Calvin. They ultimately encounter her father trapped by IT, a thing described as being filled with darkness and the domination of others.  Meg learns from the women that she has the power to combat IT within her—something she has that IT doesn’t have—but she cannot figure it out.  She stands there almost overcome by the dark power pulsating out from IT, and then, by accident, she stumbles on the answer of what she has to combat the fear and darkness.  It is quite simply love.  

I don’t want to give any more away; you really should read the book yourself if you never have, but Love is the way that we can stand against the System, against the powers of this world, against all that rebels against God.  We do not need to pick up weapons of any kind, or seek to dominate others, but rather live as Jesus did through showing love.

This is not the way of our world. We are told that any legislation on firearms is worthless and will not change anything. We see how Israel and Hamas seek to annihilate each other while thousands of civilians—including many children—suffer needlessly, unable to receive aid. We read about the bullying of LGBTQ kids—and adults—and the impact it has on their lives, like Nex Benedict, a non-binary teen from Oklahoma who died by suicide last month the day after some classmates jumped them and fought with them at school. And then we read about stricter legislation against kids like Nex and the treatments they can receive in many states. The System of this world always deals in domination and fear and, sadly, it often leads to death.

And so we must be the ones to embody hope and love as disciples of the very one who was lifted up by the powers of this world, by the System.  Jesus’ crucifixion starkly reveals the System’s desire to embrace the way of death and destruction, and not the way of life.  As Dr. Campbell puts it, “once we have seen the System for what it is, we begin to be set free from its captivating ways.  We are set free to die to a life shaped by the System, in order to live fully and freely in the way of Jesus.”

Jesus lives and desires for us to fully do so as well.  To not get enchanted by the false teachings of this world declaring the necessity of violence and fear. Rather we are to show through our very lives that loving others brings about tremendous goodness, hope, and peace.  We are to honor the call of our baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of every human being—even those we think have been overcome by the System—and see in each human being the face of Jesus. We can offer them hope and love, recognizing it is God’s desire for all to be redeemed.

Friends, we can choose to die to the life that is dominated by the System of this world. We are free to follow Jesus, who stood against the powers of this world and declared the truth that love shines brighter than hate, that hope surpasses violence. Many in our world do indeed cry out, “We wish to see Jesus.”  So we can choose to show Jesus to them through things we do and say because we follow him, the one who became love incarnate.  For he is the one who can draw all people away from the powers of the System and bring them into abundant life.  We must choose to live bravely and courageously in these times, in order to fully declare his love to a world and system that so desperately need it. 

Image by Deborah Jackson from Pixabay.

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