This is a true story.
There was a man named Sundar, born in India, who was originally a member of the Sikh religion. He became a convert to Christianity and decided to stay in India to be a missionary and bear witness to Jesus. One late afternoon, Sundar was traveling on foot high in the Himalaya mountains with a Buddhist monk. It was bitter cold and the night was coming on. The monk warned that they were in danger of freezing to death if they did not reach the monastery before the darkness fell.
Well, it happened that as they crossed over a narrow path above a steep cliff, they heard a cry for help. And deep down in the ravine a man had fallen, and he lay wounded. His leg was broken and he couldn’t walk. So the monk warned Sundar, “Do not stop. God had brought this man to his fate. He must work it out himself. That is the tradition. Let us hurry on before we perish.” But Sundar replied, “It is my tradition now that God had brought me here to help my brother. I cannot abandon him.” So the monk set off through the snow, which had started to fall heavily. But Sundar climbed down to where the wounded man was. Since the man had a broken leg, Sundar took a blanket from his knapsack and made a sling out of it. He got the man into it and hoisted him on his back and began the painful and arduous climb back up the path. After a long time, drenched with perspiration, he finally got back to the path, struggling to make his way through the increasingly heavily falling snow. It was dark now and he had all he could do to find the path. But he persevered and although faint from fatigue and overheated from exertion he finally saw the lights of the monastery.
Then he nearly stumbled and fell. Not from weakness. He stumbled over an object lying in the path. He bent down on one knee and brushed the snow from the body of the monk who had frozen to death within sight of the monastery. And there, kneeling on one knee in the snow, he said aloud to himself the Scripture we heard today: “The one who would save his life will lose it and the one who loses his life for my sake will find it”. And he understood what Jesus meant and was glad that he had decided to “lose his life” for another.
Years later when Sundar had his own disciples, they asked him this question: “Master, what is life’s most difficult task?” And Sundar replied, “To have no burden to carry.” By that he meant not only the burden of challenge, but he also meant the burden of decision, that no one is really human, really alive, really a disciple of Christ, unless that person at some time in life makes the decision to lose his or her life and so to live, to become, in the Gospel’s figure of speech, the grain of wheat. To prefer God to self.
The Jesus we come upon in John’s Gospel seems preoccupied. It’s as if he isn’t paying attention to what’s going on around him. The reason is because Jesus was coming to grips with his Father’s will. He is struggling with a weighty decision and, as we know, he will repeat that struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane. So this is the reverie the disciples have interrupted and now we understand Jesus’ reply, which is no reply to them. Will he flee and save his life, or will he lose his life and thereby save it? Will we flee and save our lives, or will we lose our lives for his sake and find them? He is being called to be a grain of wheat that must die before it can live. Can he accept that? We are called to be a grain of wheat that must die before we can truly live. Can we accept that?
Jesus concludes that he must. There is no other way to salvation. The one who saves his life will lose it, the one who loses it for God’s sake will save it. And God is all for Jesus. That’s the path he chooses, and it becomes the spiritual wisdom, he leaves us. And now, in the form of this gospel, it also becomes the question that challenges us. We are asked to choose: to live or to die to self?
You can’t avoid making decisions—not to decide is to decide. You can let them slide without much thought into self-serving actions. But today you are pulled away from such preoccupations to face what perhaps you would not like to face.
What means so much to you that you’ll die for it? Who or what is larger than yourself? What must you let go of in order to grow? For whose sake will you give your life? Or will you desperately try to save your life, only to wind up losing it.
Jesus had to make a decision. So do we. We are being challenged to give an answer to life’s fundamental question: to love or not to love.