In this Sunday’s Gospel (the Fifth Sunday of Lent, John 12:20–33), Jesus predicts his death. But the point of this story is not to impress us with the accuracy of Jesus’ predictions. Rather, Jesus is making it quite clear that this is the way things have to happen, not only for him, but for us as well; there is no shortcut around the cross. In order to gain our lives, we must lose them. Jesus is telling us that if we want to see what God “looks like,” we must look to the Cross, because that is where God reveals himself most fully—in selfless love.
I am convinced, more than ever, that the key to successfully forming true disciples of Jesus is to apprentice them by involving them in acts of selfless love—works of mercy. This should be done, not only in Confirmation preparation, but in EVERY year of religious formation, including adult formation, especially the RCIA. Our evangelical Protestant brothers and sisters are very good at involving young people in “mission.” We can talk about love all we want, but if we don’t provide opportunities for young people to practice selfless love, it will remain an idea—a nice thought—rather than a way of life.
The Cross epitomizes selfless love. When Jesus says, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life,” he is not telling us that if we hate earthly life, we’ll be rewarded in heaven. He is telling us to choose one form of living over another form of living. To love our life in this world is to love as the world loves, which is selfishly. To “hate” our life in this world is to reject that form of selfishness in favor of another life available to us now: eternal life (not to be equated solely with heaven) which is “gained” (or better, “expressed”) through selfless love. This eternal life, the life of the Kingdom, is available to us now.
Jesus said that the greatest love is to lay down one’s life for a friend. Each and every day, we are called to lay down our lives in order to pay attention to the lives (needs) of others. Parents do this for their children everyday. Older children do it for their elderly parents. Friends do this for friends. Siblings do it for siblings. And disciples of Christ are called to do this for all those we encounter, even strangers.
In what ways did you “lay down your life” for others in the past week?