Sunday, March 18, 2018
The Way of Love
The 12th chapter of the Gospel of John presents a turning point in the narrative. To understand it, we must listen with the ears of our ears and observe it with the eyes of our eyes. We must open our hearts, not just our minds.
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. The signs and wonders of the first 11 chapters have given way to the singular action that will fulfill the divine purpose at the heart of God’s incarnation. Jesus has entered Jerusalem at Passover as an act of love for the whole world, as a gift of life for all people everywhere. Demonstrating God’s deep, abiding love for God’s entire creation is the purpose of Jesus’ life. And the fulfillment of that purpose will involve his suffering and death. There is no other way.
Why is there no other way? This is a question that his own disciples asked long ago. It is the question we continue to ask today. Why is there no other way than to absorb and endure the violence that awaits him? How has Jesus’s death become the way of love?
I solemnly assure you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Jesus entered Jerusalem after having been anointed for death by Mary, riding on a donkey, without a crown, without a royal robe. Jesus’ actions were meant to counter the nationalistic spirit that engulfed both Jesus’ friends and enemies, the disciples as well as the religious and political elite. His enemies wanted Jesus to serve the interests of the powerful and the status quo. His unwillingness to do that made him a threat, a subversive, a disrupter. His friends wanted him to make them powerful, to overthrow the current regime and install them instead as the new rulers of the nation. But Jesus had come to draw all of humanity toward God, not a chosen few, not a self-selected group, not just the rich, famous, and powerful, but the outcast, the forgotten, the lost, the least, the last. In order to do that, he had to give up the love of power and embrace the power of love.
What motivated Jesus was his deep empathy, his compassion, for the suffering of the world, for the fractured spirits of both those who perpetrate violence and those who are its victims. He did not throw up his hands in resignation or despair. He never said that the way the world is is the way the world must be. He wept with those who wept. He agonized over the inhumanity of the powerful, who somehow in their distorted imaginations saw themselves as better, more deserving, more beautiful, wiser than all the rest. He knew that the only way to show God’s love for the world was to expose the utter foolishness of violence, the sheer impotence of death.
In the suffering and death that was to come, the God of love would be powerfully present in the Crucified One, transforming the anguish and terror into something unimaginably glorious—a human being fully alive, a New Creation. Listening with our hearts as we journey through the events of Holy Week, may we find the humility and courage to die to our love of power, our glorification of violence, and our distorted self-images, and open our hearts to the power of love that reveals our true selves and seeks to find and uphold the dignity and worth of every human being.
Rev. Dr. James L. McDonald
SFTS President and Professor of Faith & Public Life