“The Grace of Perfect Danger”
John 12: 20-36
In our gospel text today, Jesus is having an intimate conversation with a group of people, including some of his closest friends.
And he’s had a series of really stressful weeks. The other preachers in town are really angry with him.
So as it becomes more and more clear he’s not likely to live out the week, can we imagine what his loved one’s must have felt?
If I were to invite you to picture your closest friend, someone you feel deep love and affection for, what would you be feeling seeing this freight train barreling down the tracks at them? Pure nightmare.
And then we see Jesus over here doing what human beings often do when they’re about to die.
He begins taking inventory – of himself, his relationships, his work, his dreams, what he’d hoped to accomplish in his lifetime, and what’s going to come to pass when he’s gone.
And then he turns his attention to his friends (who are going out of their minds with fear for his safety) and he says this:
“Unless a grain of wheat falls to earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
It’s as if he’s saying, “I need to die… but what’s going to be even harder for both of us is this… you need to let me.”
So this is a message about loss and how to face it.
And I really hoped I could get around that somehow, because talking about grief can very personal and very sensitive.
When we lose someone or something we love, and someone approaches us with this sentiment – “that it’s for the best” – how does that usually land? Was that soothing to Jesus’ friends and loved ones? Probably not.
But it’s really great wisdom Jesus offers his loved ones here: some grains of wheat are not given to us for us to hold onto and consume; some grains are given to us to let go of, so they can be planted. It’s great life wisdom.
I would suggest, though, he says this to them not in an effort to comfort them or help them feel better … he says this so they won’t try to stop it.
Sometimes grains in our life – in ourselves – need to die. Even those we thought were essential to our life and happiness and well-being.
So if the idea is not to try to stop it – and not necessarily to feel better about it – what is the invitation here?
How can we be good friends and love one another well as we practice this letting go… letting die…
One thing we might practice perhaps is instead of avoiding or resisting the process, we might help one another name it – name what’s dying… maybe it’s my sense of control… or safety… or a part of my self-image I’m really fond of… maybe it’s a person who made me feel really loved…
And we practice just feeling our feelings – it’s an awful practice. I’m terrible at it.
Okay, what else might we try…?
We might take up the practice of staying by one another’s side in our hurt so at least we know we’re not alone in it.
We can practice not shying away or shunning one another when things seem to be falling apart in our lives…
Because have you noticed that when something nonessential in us is dying, it’s a beautiful process, yes, but it can look on the outside like a full-blown utter disaster.
This letting a grain of wheat fall to the earth and die… it sounds graceful and romantic but it’s not. For most of us usually it’s messy and embarrassing and undignified.
And so perhaps we might develop eyes to see when this is what’s happening – so we won’t mistake it for a sign that something’s gone terribly wrong, when it could be a sign that something’s gone terribly right.
“May you come to know the grace of perfect danger…” The poet John O’Donahue penned that horrible blessing. And it strikes me as the perfect prayer for us as we make our way this week with Jesus toward the cross. That we would know the grace that puts all the nonessentials of our life in danger, but ensures that everything truly essential in us is infinitely loved and protected.
Dr. Gena Minnix joined the Seminary of the Southwest faculty in 2014 as Assistant Professor of Counselor Education. Gena is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist trained in systemic and trauma therapies, personality theory, and Relational-Cultural Theory.