Figuring It Out As We Go – A Sermon On John 12:20-36 For Tuesday In Holy Week

On Palm Sunday I told you that Holy Week would be a week of conflict, confrontation, and choices. I told you that again yesterday. Any guesses on what I’m going to say today? 

In case you missed it the first two times let me say it again. Holy Week is a week of conflict, confrontation, and choices – not only for us but also for Jesus, and I think that’s why at the end of today’s gospel (John 12:20-36) Jesus “departed and hid from them.” 

It’s a strange ending to a gospel that begins with the request, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” but I think it makes sense and here’s why I think that. 

We began Holy Week with Jerusalem in turmoil. It was shaken, stirred up, and agitated by Jesus’ presence. In today’s gospel it is Jesus who is in turmoil. His soul is troubled. He is disturbed, stirred up, and agitated. And why wouldn’t he be? 

In yesterday’s gospel (John 12:1-11) he connected Mary anointing his feet to the day of his burial and told everyone in the house, “You do not always have me.” Today he says that his “hour has come” and he speaks about the “grain of wheat [that] falls into the earth and dies.” He struggles with wanting to be saved from the soul troubling hour. He talks about being “lifted up from the earth,” an indication of how he would die. 

I think he’s listening to his own words and confronting his own mortality. I think that’s why at the end of today’s gospel “he departed and hid from them.” Maybe he needs some time and space to get clarity about the choices before him, to confront his fears and limitations, and to work out his life. 

Maybe he needs time to regroup, get his courage up, recommit. Haven’t there been times when you needed to do that? Maybe he was wrestling with himself or God. 

Think about all the feelings, hopes, sorrows, and fears Holy Week brings up for you and me. Do we really think Jesus is above or immune from all that? 

It’s easy to think that Jesus had his life all worked out and put together in ways you and I do not. I think that’s often how we read the gospels. He always seems so calm, cool, and collected. He looks so sure of himself. It’s tempting to believe that it always works out for Jesus in ways that it does not work out for us. And why wouldn’t we believe that? He’s Jesus and we’re just us. He’s the one for whom all things are possible. He knows more than we do and he’s everything we are not. That’s what many of us have been told or come to believe. But what if that’s just not true?

What if Jesus is more like us than we know or sometimes want to admit? What if Jesus was always working out his life just like we are? What if he struggled with life and death in the same way we do? What if Jesus is as ambivalent and hesitant about this week as are we? What if Holy Week for Jesus and for us is a week of figuring it out – figuring out who we are, what we’re about, what matters most; facing our fears and naming our hopes; confronting our limitations; uncovering, discovering, or recovering something new about ourselves and our lives?

I think that’s what we see and hear in Jesus today. He’s not as different from us as we often think or sometimes want him to be. Today we see the human Jesus standing in solidarity with us and our humanity. Today we see the human Jesus working out his life. And who here today doesn’t know what that’s like?

What are you working out and struggling with today? What are you confronting in your life today? What are the choices before you and which ones are calling you to “have life, and have it abundantly”?

Image Credit: By Edal Anton Lefterov – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons.

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