Life & Death

Jn. 12:20-33

Several years ago my Irish mother-in-law, Gladys, was enthroned in her easy chair at one end of my living room. I was burrowed into mine at the other end. A veritable keening arose periodically from behind her National Enquirer. Finally, I put down my New York Times, and asked, “Gladys, what is the matter?” “It’s terrible, just terrible, all those awful things that have happened to the Kennedys. Rose has had an awful life.” “Well, yes,” I offered. Just warming up, Gladys expanded on how badly the Irish have been treated. She concluded with “Nobody has ever had it as bad as the Irish have in this country!” “Now, Gladys,” I replied, “among my ancestors were American Indians. Certainly they had it pretty bad.” Gladys, the Grand Master of nonsequiturs, shot back, “They don’t count; they’re all dead!”

Little did I know when I married 36 years ago that I was not only acquiring a helpmate, but also Gladys, the motherlode of anecdotes. I love this woman dearly. She is generous beyond compare, long-suffering with my teasing, and forever exploding with a malapropism or outlandish statement, which she doesn’t mean but which is an effective sentence stopper - and which causes me to chew on matters philosophical and religious. Such is the phrase, “They don’t count; they’re all dead.”

Gladys’ statement, “They don’t count. . . !” is a natural response. The world often overwhelms us, especially at age 85. Our instinct is to focus on “my group,” “my family.” We need to prioritize, manage, and control. By focusing on our own group, we define ourselves by means of the experiences of the group. This certainly happened in the Bible. The Hebrews, called by God and fearing syncretism and assimilation, rejected the validity of other religions. For them, the Gentiles “don’t count.” For the Romans, Jesus “doesn’t count.”

When the Gentiles sought Jesus, he told them a parable. Grain must fall on the ground and die before it can bear fruit. To cling to life is to lose it. Like love, the tighter you grasp life the more you lose it.

God often works through those things that are counted as dead. His intentionality transcends our attempts to deny, control, restrain, and limit reality and His purposefulness. God invites us to participate in His creative, loving, life-giving force, which is incarnate in Jesus. You and I are invited to open our hearts to the redemptive love which shines forth from one who was once seen as of no account and dead, Jesus Christ. Amen.