This morning’s passage from John has more than its fair share of paradoxes; statements that seem contrary to common understanding. The most obvious and confusing one is when Jesus tells us that those who love their life will lose it and those who hate it will keep it. It doesn’t make sense? Is Jesus asking us to have a low self-esteem? Are we to treat ourselves poorly? Since when is loving one’s life so bad?
“Those who love their life lose it.” What does this mean? It doesn’t make sense. It is contrary to common thought; to destroy your life because you loved it. It reminds me of my son, not that my son’s life is lost or destroyed. But when my son was two he was as most two year olds are; he hated to share his toys. When another child would try play with a toy that he wasn’t even using, it was as though that toy were lost forever in the clutches of some hideous monster bent on hoarding all the toys of the world. So Jude would respond by becoming a monster himself and the two little beasts would become locked in battle over the prize.
In reality, Jude wasn’t losing a toy. What he was losing was the opportunity to play with another child, to have a friend – something much greater than any toy. The sinful nature that all of us were born into binds us in a way that we cannot help but be selfish little imps lost in the pursuit of our own desires and it blinds us to the will of God.
Perhaps a book written in the 1890’s about a man named Dorian can help illustrate this. In the book, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” the title character Dorian is described as a beautiful, youthful and handsome man who one day receives a painting of himself. After looking at the portrait, Dorian vainly falls in love with his own beauty and youthfulness. He decides that he would preserve his own beauty at any cost. So he makes a wish that the painting would age instead of him. After callously breaking the heart of a woman due to his own vanity, he noticed that indeed his portrait developed a sneer causing it to become ever so faintly grotesque and a little bit older.
His wish was granted; his life, if you could call it that, would be preserved. From then on Dorian lived a life of pleasure and experimented with every kind of vice. All the while it was his picture that aged and showed the effects of his corruption while he remained young and unaffected. Whatever he wanted he took and enjoyed regardless of the cost to fortune or soul until it no longer fulfilled his desires. And with every sinful fulfillment of self his portrait grew older and more hideous always revealing his true self and nature. In the end, Dorian loved his life to the point of losing it to total and utter corruption.
Ultimately, what Jesus is talking about is our fanatical desire to control our lives. It goes as far back as Adam and Eve reached for that piece of fruit desiring to be like God. Instead they forever planted a seed of corruption into the human race. We are all born with an insatiable desire to be like god and hold control over our lives. We have such a fear of losing that control that we work tirelessly to maintain it and to build our own little kingdoms.
Though Jesus tells us that “those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life,” it isn’t quite that easy. To hate one’s life in this world means to give up all control or our lives to the will of God. But, we cannot help but be obsessive and controlling in our love for our life. It is inherent in us.
Yet we are told to hate our life in this world in order to keep it for everlasting life. So we have on one hand something we can’t possibly help but do but aren’t supposed to – love our lives to the point of losing them. On the other hand we have a command that we should do, but can’t possibly hope to do – hate our lives so that we can keep it. What is a person supposed to do?
Thankfully, there is another paradox, another oddity; that is the oddity of Christ’s death which he refers to as his glorification.
Jesus tells his disciples “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” But it wouldn’t be an easy glory to obtain. Christ would be glorified through his horrible and excruciating death on the cross. It was the only way he could be glorified.
Two thousand years removed from the cross, it is hard for us to read something like this without glossing over it, but the road to glory troubled Jesus, even if only for a moment as John suggests. He knows what the cost is, but knows without a doubt that this is the reason he has come. He has not come to love and preserve his own life. Where our inclination is to live selfishly, His was a life of complete selflessness. In his selflessness and unswerving obedience, Jesus gave his life over to the will of the Father.
For him, the will of the Father meant death on the cross. But it wasn’t a meaningless death. It wasn’t arbitrary. Christ died for you. He died for me. Where we could not hate our lives for the sake of keeping them, Christ could. Christ hated his life on our behalf.
In this the Father’s name is glorified. In this Jesus becomes the kernel of wheat that falls into the earth and dies. In this cross, Christ bears much fruit. The good news this morning is that you are his fruit.
As the fruit of Jesus Christ things work a little differently for you. Christ has hated his life for you and as we saw this morning. You are forgiven. You are cleansed in the waters of Baptism where you were crucified with Christ and raised to new life with him. You are a new creation.
You are a new creation in which the Holy Spirit dwells and now leads you in orienting your life to the will of the Father who has called you to live a life of sacrifice and good works to the glory of his Name. For some that may be ministry and the mission field, for most it is not. Rather it is very likely that God has called you into the very vocation and place in which you already find yourselves, be it in the tractor, in the home, or in the office. He has given you the venue to do the good in loving your neighbor across the street and across the world as He has called you to do. And where we fail, (and we will fail), and where we struggle, because there are always challenges when bearing the mark of the cross, God is there to forgive and restore for the sake of his son Jesus Christ.
In his cross and resurrection Jesus declares to you be his, sealed with his cross as we witnessed in Holy Baptism this morning. He proclaims to you, “You are my fruit. You are my child. I love you and I claim you as such. I have done what you could not do. Through my death I forgive you and through my resurrection I pass on to you new life. I give you my Spirit in order that you may do what I have called you to do.”