Friday, March 27, 2009

Getting the point

John 12:20-33

Lately Little Charlie’s class has been learning to identify the main point of things that they read.  Sometimes his homework has him practice writing paragraphs with a main point.  Other times he brings home reading worksheets with a series of short paragraphs about all kinds of different things, and after each one is a multiple choice question that asks, “What is this paragraph mostly about?”

After looking over the paragraph or so that make up the gospel reading for the fifth Sunday in the season of Lent, I began to wonder if Jesus had forgotten everything he learned in 2nd grade about main points!  What on earth is this paragraph mostly about?  Andrew and Philip expect it’s going to be something about when he can make time for the Greeks who want to meet him.  Instead, Jesus starts talking about the hour of his glorification, the growth cycle of grains of wheat, the servants of God, and the state of his soul.  A voice from heaven interrupts for a moment, after which Jesus continues his paragraph, now talking about the ruler of the world, his own magnetism - I will draw all people to myself - and being lifted up, which John helpfully tells us is in reference to the kind of death Jesus was to die.

So, what is this paragraph mostly about?

Preachers the world over will do their best to answer this question, and I suspect some congregations will hear how the church is the fruit that grows from the grain of wheat that has died and yet lives.  Others may hear that Jesus died not just for a chosen few but for the whole world.  Still other preachers will ponder how Jesus is glorified in those who are his servants.  My husband will describe this paragraph as a pivotal point in John's gospel, before which Jesus has repeatedly told those seeking messages and miracles that his time had not yet come.  But now, the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Why do we seek Jesus, Charlie will ask his congregation?  Why do we want to meet him, as the Greeks in the gospel reading do?  Do we want to see miracles and hear powerful messages?  Or do we want to see a life lived entirely and unreservedly out of love, so unreservedly that not even death can deter it?

What is this paragraph mostly about?

On Wednesday night, I attended a dinner hosted by Muslim families whose children attend St. Andrew’s.  Rukhsana Khan, our storyteller at school this week, was guest of honor, but much of the evening was devoted to sharing with those of us who were Christian what it means to be Muslim.  It was a beautiful, intimate evening...right up until the moment I was asked to provide a paragraph with a main point.  Would you explain Christianity to us, one of our hosts asked me.  I’m afraid the paragraph I spoke in front of that gathering was as full of main ideas as Jesus’ words in John’s gospel.

I’ve thought a lot about that experience, and now find myself wondering, what if I had simply tried to answer the question, What is my faith mostly about?  What would I say then?

If the season of Lent is mostly about clearing away those things in our lives that come between us and God; if this is the season when we await the fulfillment of the promise, Where I am, there will my servant be also, when we will fall into the dirt as grains of wheat with Christ and rise again fruitful and life-filled, then perhaps the hour has come - perhaps this is the right time for us all to ask ourselves, What is my faith mostly about?  Amen.

Artwork: Lenten altar frontal, by Connie Backus-Yoder

1 comment:

knitnanabana said...

"What is my faith mostly about?" What a thoughtful, thought full question. I have easy, pat answers and deep, unformed answers. I have a one word answer and a "could be a dissertation" answer. I do appreciate the word "mostly!" Thank you for the question.