Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” was considered controversial (and still is for some) but few can deny it was brilliantly funny in places. One scene in particular still makes me smile. John Cleese, as leader of the ‘Palestinian Peoples’ Popular Front’, demanded, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” Instead of silently nodding heads, one by one his men mentioned education, sanitation, the roads, the aqueduct, the wine… the list went on and on, much to Cleese’s annoyance. When you think about it, the Romans did bring a great deal of civilization to the world, but their criminal justice system was arguably the most inhumane and barbaric of all. The felon had the briefest “trial” by a jury of one, followed by flogging to within an inch of his life, then nailed to a cross to be spat at, sworn at and humiliated by an angry crowd fired up by the soldiers, and left to die a slow, painful, drawn out death. A point to ponder here, was it by chance that God chose such a barbaric moment in history to pay the price for our offences? Or was it just one more powerful way of saying, “That’s how much I love you”? For what it’s worth, I suspect God never does anything by chance or by accident!
Whenever Jesus spoke of His impending fate He never shied away from it. Jesus knew exactly what was coming next and even though in His heart He was dreading it (‘Father, save me from this hour’) He was fully prepared to go to any length, no matter what the cost, to do His Father’s will. That’s how much He loves us. But it’s the conversation at the beginning of this morning’s reading that interests me the most – a conversation with the Greeks. Verse 32 strikes me in particular. “When I am lifted up from the earth, (I) will draw all people to myself.”
The Greeks loved philosophy. They saw it as a means to self-improvement. The very fact that they wanted to meet Jesus suggests to me that they’d heard of this great ‘philosopher’ and wanted to talk with Him, if nothing else to boast to their peers later. They were in for a shock! Their idea of being lifted up is rather like many in today’s western culture. TV shows like “Love Island” typify the way some super-egos long to bring the whole world’s attention on themselves, the same way as actors parade before the paparazzi on Oscar night. So, what’s Jesus’ idea of being lifted up (or “exalted”)? Well once again we have a double-edged sword. When He speaks of being ‘lifted up from the earth’ He’s predicting the resurrection, but that’s not before first being lifted up on the cross of crucifixion.
“Whatever goes up must come down”. The hopes and dreams of many are as tempered by the cruel facts of life as they are by the laws of gravity. “I’ve never expected much out of life and so far I’ve not been disappointed” or (as Sunderland supporters say) “you draw some, you lose some”. Jesus turns all that on its head for all who believe and trust in Him, but there’s a cost. When He says “I will draw all people to myself” He’s not talking like an actor or a Love Island contestant, He’s reminding His listeners of His main mission, to bring attention to His Father’s will for humankind, life in all its fullness. For that to happen, every one of us has to learn to put our own hopes and dreams on hold and put others first, just as Jesus put us first. The key is in verse 25 “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life”.
I leave the last word to St Paul, and his letter to the Philippians (3)
7 (but) whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ
Revd. Geoff Eales