A Weak and Troubled Soul – A Sermon On John 12:20-36 For Tuesday In Holy Week

Winter Sunlight by Giles Watson, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Tuesday in Holy Week – John 12:20-36

You know what it’s like when you are walking along and you miss a step, right? You stumble and twist. You can’t get your balance back. Everything is unstable. You reach for something, anything, that you hope is there, but it is not. And you don’t know how it will end; whether you’ll stay upright or fall to the ground. 

I saw that happen yesterday. “I didn’t know there were two steps there,” he said in the midst of trying to steady himself. And just as he got himself together he did it again and said, “Or a third.” I didn’t laugh. I remembered my missteps and the steps I have missed. 

Sermon, Holy Week, Tuesday in Holy Week, John 12:20-36, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Weakness
Winter Sunlight by Giles Watson, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

That’s my image of a troubled soul. It’s those times in life when we’ve missed a step or three. We’re agitated, stirred up, going to and fro, back and forth, stumbling and staggering. We feel overwhelmed and powerless to control, fix, or insure our life or the lives of those we love. The outcome is uncertain. Life is out of whack and we’re out of balance. We come face to face with our own weakness. A troubled soul knows it is weak. And most of us do not like being weak. 

When has that happened to you? When has your soul has been troubled? What troubles your soul today? What’s it like for you to recognize and feel your own weakness? Are you scared, embarrassed, ashamed? Do you feel inadequate, defective, vulnerable? What’s your prayer in those times, “Father save me from this hour?” 

I know that prayer. I’ll be you do too. And so does Jesus. Despite what he says in today’s gospel (John 12:20-36) it will be his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). It’s a prayer in which we face our weakness and ask to be saved from it. But what if we just faced our weakness and lived from it and not apart from or in opposition to it?

St. Paul talks about the weakness and foolishness of God, as if those, and not power and wisdom, are the ways of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). A weak and foolish God? It makes me wonder if there is more to our weakness than we often see or trust. What if there is a surprise waiting for us in our weakness? What if weakness is a garden for the possibility of the impossible? What if weakness teaches a new and different way of being in the world?

Do you remember when you were a child putting little bitty fragile seeds in a paper cup full of dirt? There was nothing strong or powerful about those seeds. And remember how surprised you were when saw that first sprout, the greening of life? One of my best friends has a weakness with alcohol. His weakness has shaped his life in a beautiful way. It has given him a life and a new way of seeing himself. He is one of the most beautiful souls I have ever known. I’ll never forget the weakness I experienced with my divorce or the death of our son. My soul was troubled, but I also know that weakness helped me better understand who I am, who I am not, and what really matters. I know someone who went through a severe debilitating illness. She had never before been ill but she lay in weakness for weeks. She’s since recovered and says it changed the way she understands and relates to others who are ill. It softened her heart and filled it with compassion. I am not a golfer but I can’t help marvel at Tiger Woods winning the Masters after years of shame, humiliation, and weakness. Who would have ever thought that possible?

And who would ever think of blessing weakness? But that’s exactly what Jesus does. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who weep and mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the peacemakers. And let’s not forget Jesus on the cross, dying, and feeling abandoned. That is an image of weakness, not strength and power. 

Weakness has a way of opening our eyes, ears, and hearts to a new and different way of seeing, hearing, and living. It shapes our lives in a way that power and strength not only cannot but that sometimes prevent. It gives our lives a Jesus shape. 

If Jesus is our way, then our way is weakness. And maybe taking up our cross means taking up our weakness. So, what is your weakness today? Look at what troubles your soul and you’ll likely find a weakness there. 

What if we stopped running way from our weakness? What if we stopped grasping for power to overcome our weakness? What would it be like to just name and hold your weakness, not out of resignation or defeat, but with faith and hope in the possibility of the impossible? Isn’t that the story of Jesus through Holy Week? Look at the liturgies and scriptures of this week. It’s one event of weakness after another.

I wonder what new life is calling from your weakness.


  1. I don’t write often enough to say how much your words, your questions, your stories… challenge, inspire, support my journey. Your Holy Week reflections are no exception! Thank you very much!

    Liked by 1 person

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