Myths are all around us. Yes, myths. When I say this, you may think I’m talking about the mythology you learned in ninth grade, the stories of the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology, Zeus, Aphrodite, Apollo and all their troubling interactions amongst themselves and with humans. And in a way, I am; Now I wish I had a paid more attention in school, as retelling some of these mythical stories would surely make an entertaining sermon; but alas, I put the world of myth on the shelf in my school years, in favor of what I deemed real subjects, such as biology and mathematics.
I wish I had not. I’ve come to understand, just how much the world we live in, is full of myths and that myths are as real in our lives as any molecular structure or chemical equation. Myths define us and tell us so much about who we are.
Lest you wonder where I’m going with this, or what brownies your rector has been eating this Lent, which by the way I haven’t, I remind you that our gospel begins by telling us that “among those who went up to worship at the festival (where Jesus and his disciples had gathered) were some Greeks.” We don’t get to learn anything more about these folks except that they wanted to see Jesus. We don’t know if they were Hellenized Jews or if they were Judaized Gentiles. We don’t even know if they ever got to see Jesus– But we do know this: their coming to seek out Jesus signaled a change in Jesus.
All through John’s gospel, Jesus had been saying, “My hour has not yet come.” Jesus told his mother this, when she asked him to help the host at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, “Woman, why does this concern us? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus instructed his disciples to go on to Judea, to the festival of Booths, without him, because he said, “My time has not yet come.” Later John also remarks that no one seized Jesus when he was teaching at the temple, “because his time had not yet come.” But now, now at time of the Passover, Jesus says the opposite; hearing that some Greeks have come to see him, Jesus immediately replies, “The hour has come.” His disciples must have been shocked. What is it about the Greeks’ entrance that signals Jesus to say so emphatically, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified?” Why now?
John’s gospel tells the Passover story with great detail, and he captures this significant turning point, because John wants the Christian world to hear an incredibly important message: that Jesus chose this end to glorify God. Jesus did not succumb to the cross, he chose it. Jesus chose this gruesome end for God’s glory and so that when he is lifted up, he may draw all persons to himself.
We are so familiar with the story that we are hardly shocked by this, but folks in Jesus’ time would not see crucifixion as anything but THE END. The end of Jesus, the end of this new movement they were so excited about, the end of believing Jesus could be the Messiah. The prevailing understanding of a messiah is one who would come in power and might, to kick out the Romans and restore the kingdom of Israel. Jesus’ life looked nothing like this; his death on the cross would be the final blow. There was no understanding this Jesus who talks as if his destiny, as the one sent by God, was to die on the cross. How would this glorify God? How would he draw all persons to himself — everyone?
“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit.”
In other words, Jesus wants everyone to hear, Jew and Greek alike, that the ways of God are not your ways. We must die to our old ways in order to bear new fruit, new life.
Jesus is teaching a new understanding of Messiah, of saving grace, to people who live in a world of myths that they cannot even see.
The people in Jesus’ time believed in the myth of redemptive violence—that fighting with power is necessary to redeem what God intends. If this sounds familiar, that is because this is a myth of our time too. Jesus is reaching back to what the prophets of old—Joel, Micah, Isaiah– tried to teach but people resisted that too—God will teach us his ways and the people will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
The myth that violence is necessary to achieve a rightful or Godly end is seen throughout human history. Now, I want to pause and be careful here. I am not speaking out against our human response to help those suffering from the violence of horrible tyrants who wage war or to help those suffering from cruelly violent terrorists. I am speaking to our too often acceptance of violence to solve a whole range of human problems. We are so used to seeing violence that it is even part of our kids’ entertainment. I grew up watching Popeye eat his spinach and fight the bumbling Bluto. I laughed along with you when Tom caught Jerry by the tail and flung him against the wall. We have a plethora of video games ready for us to grab a virtual weapon and join in the fun and yes Superheroes fight for justice, but the point is that too often we see violence as THE way to bring order. I read a few weeks ago that 40% of Americans believe that violence is necessary to achieve a political end. Vigilantism is alive and well, and while we think our lynching past is over, our modern day lynchings are just as scary. Just ask the family of Ahmaud Arbery.
We can get so sucked into the myth that violence is the only way to bring order, that we have a hard time imagining an alternative to solving our problems.
Jesus begs to differ. He says my kingdom is not of this world, if it were my followers would be fighting in resistance. They are not. Jesus’ walk to the cross shows another way to fight fear and hatred, a way that glorifies a God who loves so much that he lays down his life.
We live inside another myth, too, and that is: History belongs to the victor. This is the way of the world, we say, and we accept it as if there is no way of changing the fact that the powerful get to write whatever history they want and to call it truth.
But for a minute, think like Jesus and beg to differ. The Romans may have continued to rule the land, even destroying the temple in 70 CE, but eventually Rome fell, and the Word of God lived on—Christ’s defeat was and is God’s glory.
History does not belong to the victor. “History,” as the theologian Walter Wink puts it, “History belongs to the intercessors; history belongs to those who believe the future into being.”
Like Jesus. Christ is the one who intercedes for us, (this is why, as we read in the book of Hebrews today, Christ is depicted as a priest)—Christ is the intercessor who approaches God on our behalf. Christ prays for us, offers his healing grace, by dying, lights our way into the future.
Christ rewrote the myth. In Christ we can rewrite the myths under which we live.
As Christ’s Church, we become intercessors ourselves in our worship , called to reimagine the world’s myths around us in the eyes of God to build a more peaceful, just, and loving world. History belongs to those who believe the future into being.
Thanks be to God.