Choose Life

Hagia Sophia ; Empress Zoë mosaic : Christ Pan...
Hagia Sophia ; Empress Zoë mosaic : Christ Pantocrator; Istanbul, Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sunday’s readings:

Jeremiah 31:31-34     Psalm 551:1-12     Hebrews 5:5-10     John 12:20-33

In this story, Greeks visiting Jerusalem seek out Jesus. They go to Philip first, and he goes to Andrew. Andrew was one of the first to get to know Jesus, and as soon as he realized who Jesus was, Andrew ran to get Peter. Maybe the other disciples thought of him as the one to go to with new people. Anyway, Peter and Philip then went to Jesus. John doesn’t say this, but I think they took the Greeks with them.  Andrew took Peter, and I think he said, “Let’s take these people to Jesus.” I think Andrew knew that Jesus would make himself available to speak with these inquirers.

John also doesn’t really say that Jesus talked with the Greeks. However, after Philip and Andrew approach, John says, “Jesus answered them.” I think the rest of the narrative to the end of today’s reading is the conversation Jesus had with the Greeks. Other people appear to have been present as well, but it just doesn’t make sense that John would mention the Greeks and then simply drop them.

In his conversation with the Greeks, Jesus talks about life, and then death. He says, “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) It is important to note that the Greek words behind the English words are not the same in all three instances. The first two occurrences in Greek are ‘psyche’ which is organic or biological life. The final occurrence is ‘zoe’ which is a more spiritual reference. Biological life is not eternal. Jesus, therefore, is talking about the difference between the life in our universe bounded by time and space and life in an eternal and infinite universe.

Jesus also predicts that “the ruler of this world will be driven out.” (John 12:31) People who observe that bad things still happen, that bad things happen to good people, and that the world is not always a pretty place doubt that the evil ruler is gone. They would like to dispute this statement.

I don’t think Jesus meant that the evil one would leave the earth. After all, in the parable of the wheat and the tares, he made it very clear that evil will persist on the earth until the end of time. I think he meant that those who choose the life Jesus gives will live in submission to Christ, not to the evil one. The evil one will be driven out of those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The evil one will be forced out when people choose to enthrone Christ in their hearts.

Anyone who is honest knows that we human beings cannot and do not dethrone self and enthrone Christ in perpetuity. That battle goes on daily, even hourly. It is the reason we continue to need to ask for forgiveness and to give forgiveness to others. What Jesus says in this brief conversation gives us hope, however.

We have all met people who seem to be able to enthrone Christ with great consistency. Mother Teresa is an example. We look at her life, and most of us would say that the evil ruler was certainly driven out of her heart. Yet those who have read her diaries know the truth. Mother Teresa was a flawed human being with great commitment to do God’s work. She did it well and faithfully, but she was not perfect. She did not have perfect faith. She was a human being who struggled with her faith and her calling just as I do.

Jesus gave the key to that kind of success when he said, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Faith shapes a choice, and the choice is all about life. If the evil one is driven out, and if Christ is on the throne of the heart, then it is possible to choose real life. The idea of hating the life in this world sounds repugnant, but life in this world means a constant battle. Unless the ruler of this world is driven out by Christ, then a person’s life is ruled by evil.

Whether someone chooses to serve evil or simply chooses not to serve Christ, the result is the same. As Jesus said in one of the parables, it isn’t enough to cast demons out. Somebody must come in and fill that dwelling. When someone chooses to serve Christ, there is no place for the evil ruler of this world to live.

In the letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote about the kind of life people experience when Christ is not enthroned in their hearts. He said that these people would live with “fornication, impurity, licentiousness,idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” (Galatians 5:19-21) You might readily observe that you know people who don’t love Christ who don’t seem like bad people. They are kind to children and pay their bills. They work hard and give money to the poor. The point of Paul’s comment is not to give an exhaustive list of the bad things people might do if they do not love Christ. He even says “and things like these.” Lying and theft and adultery, major items in the Ten Commandments, are not specifically listed. And many of the things listed are behaviors we tend to excuse, such as anger, quarrels and factions. Those who value the things that are important in this world, the world of time and space, get caught up in the kinds of things Paul lists, because they do not have the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We get caught up in those things, too, when we dethrone Christ and say, “I deserve …” and go what we think is our own way. Our own way always winds up being through the wide gate and down the broad highway Jesus said would lead to our own destruction.

When we recognize the life of this world for what it really is, we learn to ignore the things that the ruler of this world makes so appealing. Money, fame, importance, power, attention. We find that those things lose their appeal precisely because they are constrained by time and space. As a famous rock singer said, you never see a U-Haul behind a hearse. When we put Christ on the throne of our hearts, he drives out the evil ruler of this world and we get a real life. We start enjoying the qualities of that real life right here and now: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) These qualities and these blessings will persist into eternity. When we enthrone Christ in our hearts, we show that we don’t want the temporary excitement of the things that last only in time and space. We show that we have relinquished those earthly values. We choose to live by eternal values, and we demonstrate that our eternal, timeless life has already begun.

When the Greeks came to talk with Jesus, therefore, he set before them the same choice Moses set before the Israelites when he was about to die.

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

Jesus set this choice before the Greeks and he sets this choice before each of us. Let us choose life.