March 21, 2021 (Liturgical Year B)
Today’s conversations with Jesus take place in the bustling streets of Jerusalem. It was even busier than usual due to the festival. His return to the city comes after he raised Lazarus from the dead. He is more well-known than ever before. His impossibly miraculous deed is known far and wide. I expect His presence created a stir wherever He went, and even more so in the city’s festival atmosphere.
This day was no exception. He is approached by two men. The text makes a big deal of their identity as foreigners, but I think focusing on that detail causes us to miss the point. For unclear reasons, the men ask to see Jesus. Rather than taking even a small moment to absorb and enjoy this fame, Jesus turns this interaction into an opportunity to teach.
I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
This is surely not the response the two men expected when they first approached Jesus! And it is a difficult teaching to hear, even today. We are called to give up things which seem important now so we can have things which matter more later on. It’s the ultimate delayed gratification! And it goes against our very nature.
I still remember a video we watched in one of my undergraduate psychology classes. Children were put in a room, alone, seated at a table. Each child was given two pieces of candy. The fewer pieces they ate immediately, the more they were given later. I don’t remember the exact number. It was something like: eat only one, and we’ll give you two more, don’t eat any and we’ll give you four more. But there was a rub! That one little word: later. You can probably imagine the body language of debate which ensued during this brief by highly challenging “waiting period.” I’m sure the thought makes you smile. (I can see some smiles behind your masks!). But it is a serious issue, even for us grown-ups. Put in a room in the same circumstances, I don’t know if I’d do any better than the most impatient kid. Would you?
Knowing delayed gratification, the giving up of immediate comforts — goes against our very nature, what are we to do? How are we to respond to Jesus’ call?
I think we are called to do our imperfect best, knowing it will be imperfect and knowing through God’s grace and continued presence in our lives and in the world it will be enough. We need only love the best we can, every day, and trust God will do the rest.