B Cycle – 5th Sunday of Lent 21
Jn. 12: 20-33
As Christians, I believe the hardest thing we are required to do is giving witness to our faith by dying to self. Not just corralling our desires for self-satisfaction or to discipline ourselves to conform to some unspoken rules of religious practices. No, today’s gospel is more specific in what dying to self means. It is a total surrender to the will of God. How can we do that when everything that makes us human, rebels at such a surrender of will to another. We have fought wars just to avoid surrendering our freedom to another. Even prisoners, locked up for decades, will tell you how every aspect of daily living is controlled by others, but their minds cannot be controlled.
Yet, dying to self and living for Christ is what we are told is an absolute must for us to be members of the body of Christ. There are people who hate their life and are praying for God to intervene and change the circumstances of their life. In fact, those who are broken hearted who pour out their hearts to those who minster, wondering why God does not respond to their pleas. Those who are broken by the sins of others are not seeking a life of abundance, but they are seeking some sense of peace and contentment with their life as it is. Are people with those issues wrong in seeking something else other than the kingdom of God? Not at all, in fact it is in our power to help them find the comfort Christ offered us when he said, “come to me all you who are heavy ladened.”
How do we apply a passage telling us to die to self to our lives in a way that helps us grow beyond the basic needs of our lives? After all the goal is not just comfort but for us to move on to become a son or daughter of God? How did Peter overcome his angst over his denial of Christ to become a bold witness surrendering to the will of God? Jesus went to him and offered him what is offered each of us, forgiveness for not having the courage to acknowledge him as Lord. We do not see that in the few versus of this gospel, but it is there in later chapters. For us to allow forgiveness to move us to surrendering our will we must first recognize the challenge is to not run away. Surrendering our will to God begins with us recognizing how hard it is to surrender. Jesus in the garden, knew what was in store for him and struggled with what was to come and his humanity was struggling with the events in store for him.
Just one day before there was exultation and jubilation from the masses proclaiming his as Blessed because he was coming in the name of the Lord. We easily do that same thing as we follow the demands and outward signs of conformity as we worship. Like his followers, we love being in his presence even if we fail to understand his mission to redeem us. Like Peter, we will become indignant if anyone dares to challenge our Lord, but like him, we cower when our faith is challenged. All that forms the backdrop of what is happening after the events of this gospel account, through Palm Sunday and into the night of his arrest. What follows that night is the heart of the gospel message and the fulfillment of God’s promise to forgive our sins.
If we can just get past the concept of letting go of our guilt, allowing the penalty of our sins to be paid by Jesus on the cross, then we could begin to grasp the concept of how we can live a life by surrendering to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Left to our own devices we will never be able to die to self. Yet if we surrender our life to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, we will see how we like Peter can totally be used for the glory of God. It all begins when we stop trying to appease God and allow Jesus to pour forgiveness on us as he does to Peter on the shores of Galilee just before the ascension.
This act of surrender goes against every human instinct. It is not human to forgive such a wrong as denying Christ, we must pay a price for our unbelief. Yet, forgiveness has been offered us without us having to do a thing but allow it to be given to us. We must accept it, desire it, and embrace it.
That is why God has promised to transform our hearts by the gift of the Holy Spirit. God knows we want to be in control; we want to do it ourselves; we will continue to try to earn our salvation and by doing so we refuse to allow the Spirit to change us. That is the part of us that needs to be submitted to the will of God. God wants our hearts to change and when that happens what we want will change also. With transformed minds and hearts, we will surrender and discover we have the strength to endure all things. Everything Jesus did went against his human instincts and confounded the religious leaders of his day. Their understanding of following the will of God was following the dictates of their faith and the law. They knew how to do everything demanded of them except to listen to the voice of the Messiah.
That is the real issue and the challenge for us today. Can we like Mary hear the voice of God and like her say, “let it be done to me according to your word” and allow the Spirit to overshadow us and change us into Christ bearers.