The theme of a new beginning in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) Reading for the Fifth Sunday in Lent continues in the Gospel Reading from John 12: 20-33. In Jeremiah 31: 31-34 God declares, “the days are surely coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah”. We have noted what is different with this new covenant: that it will be written on human hearts not on stone tablets, it will lead to the knowledge of God through forgiveness of sins and restoration.
This is a new beginning indeed.
In the Gospel Reading, Jesus speaks of a grain of wheat dying and through its death, abundant life coming out. Undoubtedly, Jesus is speaking about his own death, and in retrospect we see the meaning of his resurrection: a new beginning. In his latest book, Surprised by Scripture, N. T. Wright points out, again and again, that Jesus’ resurrection marks a new beginning for everything from creation to relationship with God.
This new beginning, forgiveness of sins and restoration is not for the house of Israel and the house of Judah only. In the Gospel Reading, John recounts Greeks seeking to meet Jesus. These were Gentiles, and not even believers. Yet they were drawn to want to meet Jesus.
This leads to Jesus’ remark, addressed to everyone – including us today: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). All the four Gospels have this statement though in different contexts (cf. Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9: 24).
Jesus is not urging us towards self-contempt. But how does one love life – in this world – and thereby lose it in eternity, or vice versa? Actually the double-use of the word life, in this verse is a translation of two Greek words, psyche, meaning the individual person and zoe, which means that spiritual dynamic that aligns with God.
Jesus is therefore urging us to strive for a life higher than ourselves – sacrificial living focused beyond our individual personalities.
We ask ourselves, especially during Lent – but at all times – are we suffering with those who suffer, hunger with the hungry, feel, with the stranger, the pain of alienation, and forego the comforts of this life to serve others?
When that happens, people are drawn to God. Like Philip and Andrew that is how we lead people to Christ.