I would like to see Jesus, too. How about you? Like the Greeks who approached Philip at the Jewish festival of Passover, we all want to see Jesus. So, who do we talk with about that? The Greeks decided to speak with Philip first. I wonder why. Was he more approachable? Did he look like a nice guy? Or was he just more available? How did they know he could help them get an audience with Jesus?
Have you ever been to an event that features a famous person? You see that person across the room and think, “Man, I sure would like to meet her?” But as you make your way toward her you start to think that maybe it’s not appropriate to just walk up and introduce yourself. Besides, she is surrounded by so many people there is no way you could even get near her. It would be rude to just barge in.
Then you spot someone with an official nametag. You ask him if you can possibly get a moment with the celebrity. He thinks about it for a moment and says, “Hold on a minute. Let me go ask someone else.” You stand there nervously, feeling exposed. You see the official walk over to another official who then walks up to the celebrity, waits a moment for the conversation to stall, and then grabs the celebrity’s attention.
They exchange a few words. The official points at you. The celebrity looks at you with furrowed brow. Your face feels flushed. You don’t know whether to smile or nod or just act very nonchalant. You don’t want to seem overanxious, do you?
We read this story and expect Jesus any moment to walk over to the Greeks and say something like, “Welcome to the festival! Are you having a good time? Are you a worshiper of the Jewish God, Yahweh, or are you just here for the food and entertainment?
Instead, the story line takes a bizarre turn. Jesus seems to ignore the Greeks and says something very unpredictable. He seems to be embracing his mortality: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Then he talks obscurely about dying wheat grain that bears fruit, loving our lives by losing it, and a not-so-veiled reference to his death by crucifixion. Why does John, the Gospel writer, feel the need to let us know that Jesus has embraced his impending mortality?
Maybe this story is for all of us, because all of us are fragile human beings “walking on the egg shells of time,” as one writer put it. Even at a festival such as Passover, a celebration of life, our mortality hangs over us like an unflappable canopy. Death is always loitering around, ready to walk up to us, unannounced, to interrupt our festivities.
There is a lot of wisdom out there about mortality, about death and dying, and there’s no way I can communicate all of that in one brief homily. And yet it is interesting to think about how Jesus may have embraced his impending mortality and how we should as well.
In all likelihood, Jesus saw it coming. Much like Martin Luther King, Jr. and other great leaders who embrace life so much and in such a threatening way to others that it is like they have offered an open invitation to death. The great ones always die too soon: Socrates, Jesus, Lincoln, Gandhi, the Kennedy’s, Dr. King.
Jesus also knew that through his death he would be “glorified.” This might sound somewhat narcissistic, and yet isn’t it true that most of us receive more glory in death than we do in life. In my husband’s recent book, he writes, “The one thing almost all of my funerals have had in common is that the dearly departed is remembered more fondly in death than they were experienced in life.”
Too bad we don’t get to attend our own funerals. It would be nice to be “glorified,” wouldn’t it? Maybe we should all do what Robert Duvall’s character did in the movie, Get Low: throw a funeral party for ourselves before we die! We might feel the love, and yet the truth is, there will be more love—more glory—at the real funeral.
I have often heard that an artist’s works become more valuable after they die. Why is that? Is it because we realize that this artist will never paint another canvass? Maybe we are uncomfortable giving people too many accolades while they are still with us, for fear of them getting too sure of themselves, and so we instinctively wait until after they are gone to heap praises on them.
Whatever it is, we won’t receive glory in death to any degree at all unless we have somehow sought glory in life. Jesus’ revolution of religious and social reform would not have ignited after his death if he had not pursued it before his death.
The key, then, to preparing ourselves for death, the key to embracing mortality, is to embrace life. To use a bowling analogy, we should live life as if all ten pens are up and our goal is to knock them all down. Don’t start with two bowling pens, or even six. Start with ten.
Recently my husband and I visited a casino where my brother-in-law works in Oklahoma. I played slot machines for the first time in my life and I learned that you can’t win much if you don’t bet much. This applies to my point about embracing life: At the poker table of life, don’t play penny ante poker. Be “all in.” The more you “bet,” the greater potential winnings you will have.
Let me be more personal for a moment. I have really struggled with whether or not I want to be “all in” when it comes to the Women Priest movement. My struggle has nothing to do with whether or not I believe in the movement, because I do. My struggle has to do with time constraints.
I have a special needs daughter who requires 24/7 attention. I’ve very involved in my husband’s life and activities, and together we have six grown children and five grandchildren, all of whom give new meaning to the word “drama.”
On top of that, I would love to be producing art because I am a painter, but I can’t quite find enough hours in the day to paint. Truthfully, I would love to make as much art as I can so that after I’m gone people will find my work more valuable!
Eventually, soon I hope, I will find the time, because I know that the way to embrace my limited time on this earth, the way to embrace my mortality, is to embrace life. Yes, Jesus did this, which is why we still remember him and even glorify him.
And so did the Greeks. Here were people who came to a festival that wasn’t even part of their culture. They were obviously open to life and to life’s many and varied experiences. And when they realized that Jesus was there, they weren’t satisfied to just go home and tell their children they were there when Jesus was there. They wanted to see Jesus.
I understand that. On top of everything else, I want to see Jesus. That’s how I want to embrace my life and my future mortality, by getting in as many “Jesus sightings” as I possibly can. And where do I see Jesus?
When I see love. When I see every drop of love squeezed out of someone’s life. When I see fragile human beings walking on the eggshells of time . . . and yet not walking as if they are walking on eggshells. That’s when I see Jesus.
As the great theologian, Howard Thurman, said, “Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Amen.