A father is asked by his friend, “Has your son decided what he wants to be when he grows up?” “Yes, he wants to be a garbage collector,” replied the boy’s father.
His friend thought for a moment and responded, “That’s a rather strange ambition to have for a career.” “Well,” said the boy’s father, “he thinks that garbage collectors only work on Tuesdays!”
“What about a preacher?” the friend says, “They only work on …” “I know,” the father interrupts, “but the kid wants his weekends free.”
Choices… to choose is to mentally make a decision by judging the merits of multiple options and then selecting one of them. The son apparently made his choice of a life career based on a desire to work as little as possible. Of course, as every parent knows, picking up garbage is an endless job.
Most of our choices are simple ones that generally have a low-impact on our lives. What you wear may look ridiculous but it really isn’t a big deal. We learned, early on, to pick our battles with Duncan and wearing shorts every day of the year was not a hill I was willing to die on. Other choices are more complex… like making a serious career choice or choosing a spouse. These choices are larger and more serious choices that pack greater ramifications.
William Arthur Dunkerley was an English journalist who also wrote poetry under the pen name John Oxenham. One of his poems is titled: The Ways
To every man there openeth
A Way, and Ways, and a Way.
And the High Soul climbs the High way,
And the Low Soul gropes the Low,
And in between, on the misty flats,
The rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth
A High Way, and a Low.
And every man decideth
The Way his soul shall go.
While some choices are benign others are not. We always have a choice to choose between good and evil or to take the high way or the low way. Low-impact decisions may not matter but our high-impact decisions do. Our text today is about the choices Jesus faced as He made His way to the cross. And as we walk with Jesus we too may identify with Him in making our own choices.
As our text opens up we see that Jesus was faced with a decision relating to His identity.
Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration paid a visit to Phillip. They said, “Sir, we want to meet Jesus.” Phillip told Andrew about it and they went together to ask Jesus.
It was the season of Passover. Passover is an important event in the lives of Jewish people in that it marks God’s protection and deliverance from the Egyptians and the onset of their journey to the Promised Land.
Most historians estimate that 200,000 people streamed into Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. At any rate, there were a lot of people there that week and among those were also Jewish proselytes and tourists. It isn’t known if the Greeks mentioned in our text were proselytes or tourists. The Greeks were famous for their thirst for knowledge and always on the prowl for the latest new idea, so we don’t know their motives but they had heard of the excitement that surrounded Jesus and wanted to meet Him.
Jesus was on something of a roll. He had raised Lazarus from the dead. He had entered Jerusalem as a triumphant King. He had purged the temple of money-changers. The word among the religious leaders was that they had to do something about Jesus because the whole world had gone after Him. He was a very popular person and thought to be the promised Messiah, which not only rankled the religious leaders but the Roman government as well. And all this was happening in the context of Passover week.
Apparently, the request of these Greeks means something has changed; they trigger “the hour” that has been talked about throughout John’s Gospel. Several times we have heard Jesus say that the hour had not yet arrived. Now, however, He faces an incredibly difficult choice: He can turn away from the city, the epicenter of political and religious power and give into the attention of tourists and those just hanging around. Or He can walk forward into what will be certain death, and become a powerful witness against the oppressive violence of humanity. His whole life has led Him in this direction. In this brief passage, you can almost imagine Jesus’ inner dialogue: “Is this really worth it? Couldn’t I make more of an impact among the small fishing villages? Why do I need to stare power in its face? Am I really ready to give my life for this cause?”
Who among us wouldn’t ask the same questions? And who among us wouldn’t turn back when faced with the death penalty? Yet, in this fragile moment where Jesus’ human nature is on full display, we see the profound divine strength and resolve that marked His life and ministry. “I am deeply anxious, but should I seek to be delivered from these consequences? No! This is the very reason I have come into the world. God, glorify yourself through me.”
There would be no talk show appearances on Stephen Colbert or Jimmy Fallon. He would not be brunching with the Pope. He was not going to speak before the United Nations. He was not going to be doing a few magic tricks on America’s Got Talent. He was going to die on the cross for all the sins of all mankind of all time.
Earlier I said, “Most of our choices are simple ones that generally have a low-impact on our lives. Other choices are more complex. These choices are larger and more serious choices that pack greater ramifications.” Go with the crowd or choose for the glory of God and the greater good of others? This is one of those more serious choices.
As He made the choice, Jesus understood the ramifications it held. “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels… a plentiful harvest of new lives.” John 12:23-26
When a farmer plants 1 kernel of corn the resulting ear of corn has between 14 and 18 rows of corn with between 36 and 44 kernels per row? One kernel of corn produces between 700 and 800 kernels. If a kernel of corn exists alone it is 1 kernel of corn. If that kernel is planted it results in 800 kernels of corn.
Jesus is saying that if He lives He lives on for a short time as one man; one popular teacher. But if He willingly gives His life for the good of others the result is a harvest of new lives. When Jesus died for all the sins of all human beings of all time – the result is the salvation of all who place their faith in Him.
Generally we don’t fully consider the ramifications until after the fact. This week Mary told me of a story she read about John Sylvan, the creator of the Keurig K-Cup and I looked into it a bit. He now regrets creating the K-Cup pods. He originally bought shares in the company for $3.20 per share. A few years later, he sold his shares for $140 per share… so while he is laughing all the way to the bank, he does regret creating the coffee pods and wishes he had never done so because they are so bad for the environment. Last year they sold over 10 billion K-Cups which are disposable but not recyclable – unless you take the time to remove the used coffee grounds and filter, which most people don’t. If those 10 billion cups were placed end to end they would circle the earth 11-12 times.
We often regret our choices in retrospect. Choosing for the glory of God and the greater good of others means dying to self. Such sacrifice is hard, but it is always the right choice despite the personal cost.
Today’s Gospel text is John’s equivalent to the Garden of Gethsemane scene in the other Gospels. When Jesus says, “Father, glorify your name,” that’s the same as “Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Either way, we are shown that for Jesus there was nothing more important than pleasing God. And God responds, audibly, affirming that He has already glorified Himself in His Son; undoubtedly pointing out that all the work which Jesus has done has certainly been pleasing to the Father.
If we want to please God through our choices as well, then in our times of inner turmoil and facing sacrifice the correct prayer is always, nevertheless not my will by your will be done, for the glory of God and the great good of others.
As we walk this Lenten journey toward the cross, may we take time to reflect on the sacrificial bravery of Christ. Never forget that this was a real choice; an honest struggle Jesus faces. He could have walked away. Yet, out of anguished love for sinful humankind, He chose us. In His moment of deepest distress, leaning on the strength of the Creator, He resolves to take the hard path. And in so doing, He transforms the world for good. May His bravery become our bravery, and may we heed His oft-spoken words to His disciples to “Go and do likewise.”