5th Sunday in Lent: Gospel – John 12:20-30

How Do I Live a Fulfilling Life?"

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 25th March 2012

In today’s Gospel, what does Jesus mean when He says, “Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest?”  He explains this further by saying, “Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life.”  The context of this passage is that Jesus is going to die a cruel death of crucifixion on the Cross.  Thus, in this parable of the “wheat grain that must die, Jesus is talking about Himself and describing His impending death.

In presenting the Cross, Jesus is teaching about the paradox of life that, only through death can we gain life; that only in spending our life for the sake and salvation of others can we retain life; and only if we are willing to serve selflessly can we gain greatness in God’s Kingdom.

We are aware that even as we try to understand what this paradox means, we will somehow still find it a great challenge to live it in our daily lives.  This challenge is never easy and certainly impossible to live without God’s graces.


John Maxwell, the American specialist on leadership and bestselling author of more than thirty books asks, “Who are the happiest people in the world?  Are they young people?  Are they healthy people?  Are they wealthy people?  No, not necessarily.If you want toknow real happiness, dream a dream that is bigger than you are; find something you can lose your life in.  More importantly, let us remember: Jesus Himself teaches that if you keep your life you will lose it, and if you lose your life, for my sake, you will keep it.  (Lk 9:24)”  (Be All You Can Be!  A Challenge to Stretch to Your God-given Potential, Singapore: Campus Crusade Asia, Ltd;, 1994, p. 62).

If we were to reflect on our lives carefully, we will surely be able to identify the many occasions in which we were able to serve genuinely and care for the needs of others, and at the expense of our own personal time, money and energy.  We can be sure that during such occasions, we would have experienced special moments of fulfilment that a self-centred person would never experience.  We can also be sure that during these moments we were more fully alive.

The reason we are more “fully alive” is because each time we love another person genuinely and selflessly, we are actually getting in touch with our deepest innate desires to love one another that God has planted within our hearts when He created us in His image of Love because God is the fullness of Love.

There is a true story published in the “Evening Echo” newspaper of Mr Griffiths who lived in Middlesex, England.  It reports that Mr Griffith was a lonely figure since the death of his wife last year.  Mr Griffith had stopped to watch a carnival procession when suddenly his attention was distracted.  A toddler, Danny Brooke, just 20 months old and wide-eyed at the parade, was wandering into the path of a motor cycle which was skidding out of control.

Without any hesitation, Mr Griffiths threw himself in front of the boy as the motorbike crashed into them.  He took the full force of the blow and suffered multiple injuries.  While Danny was treated with minor cuts and bruises, Mr Griffith did not survive.  A police spokesman said, “Mr Griffith saved the baby’s life.”  Danny’s mother, Mrs Wendy Brooke said, “If it had not been for Mr Griffith, my son would not be here today.  Her neighbours shared that Mr Griffith was one of those who would do anything to help someone.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, a good question we could ask ourselves is, “If we were at the carnival and if we were in Mr Griffith’s shoes, would we have thrown ourselves in front of the motor cycle to save baby Danny’s life or would we have closed our eyes and screamed at baby Danny to get out of the way or worse still, would we have simply jumped to safety to save our own life first?  We will never fully know what our actual response would be until it actually happens.  However, a good indication of what our response might be can be gauged by the quality of the way we live our Christian faith daily.

We know that it is not surprising that Mr Griffith gave up his life to save baby Danny because his neighbours testifies that he was the “type who would do anything to help someone.”  We could ask ourselves the same question, “Are we the type of person who would spontaneously and selflessly respond without any hesitation if we encounter the needs of someone or are we the type of person who would often be hesitant and be very calculative with first attending to all our family needs before we consider helping others who have needs or make sure that we are not inconvenienced whether in our time, money or energy?

My brothers and sisters in Christ, when Jesus speaks about the “wheat grain that must die in order to yield a rich harvest . . .” He is not appealing to our left over time, but prime time; Jesus is also not speaking about the loose change we have in our pockets or the crumbs that fall off our table but the support we need to render even though and more so, if it is going to hurt our purse or sap the energies of our tired bodies and brains.  When we give leftovers, it is better than not giving, but it is also a shameful contrast to Jesus, the Son of God, who has given us His life even to the point of dying on the Cross for our sake and salvation.

In today’s Gospel Jesus reminds us that unless we are willing to die to ourselves like the wheat grain; unless we are willing to lose our lives for the sake of others, we will not be able to reap a rich harvest or gain the eternal life that Jesus is preaching about through His willingness to die for our salvation.

Yet, it is good to note that being a Christian is more than doing more good to people in need; the challenges of today’s Gospel is about how we are willing or not willing to live responsibly the gift of salvation that God has given to you, me and all peoples in the world.  And, this challenge of the Gospel is more complex than we think because we all live in a secular world that constantly influences us to be “self-centred” instead of being Christ-centred and thus, others-centred.

Fr Henri Nouwen spiritual diary reflections on May 13th 1986, even though they are some twenty six years ago would still give us good insights and indications of what we are also experiencing in our secular world today.  He says, “What most strikes me, being back in the United States, is the full force of the restlessness, the loneliness, and the tension that holds so many people.  The conversations I had today were about spiritual survival.

So many of my friends feel overwhelmed by the many demands made on them; few in today’s secular society feel the inner peace and joy they so much desire. So few are able to celebrate life together wholesomely, to be together in community, to simply enjoy the beauty of creation, to love of people and the goodness of God – all these values these seem to be faraway ideals.  There seems to be a mountain of obstacles preventing people from being where their hearts want to be.  This is so painful to watch and experience.  The astonishing thing is that this battle for survival has become so “normal” that few people really believe that it can be different . . .

I want so much to bring them to new places, show them new perspectives, and point out to them new ways.  But in this hectic, pressured, competitive, exhausting context of the secular world, who can really hear me?  I even wonder how long I myself can stay in touch with the voice of the spirit when the demons of this world make so much noise.

To be the “wheat grain that dies in order to yield a rich harvest,” we need to return to the very basic virtues of life.  We need discipline, we need community, we need prayer, we need silence, we need caring presence of family and friends, we need simple listening, we need adoration, and we need deep, lasting and faithful relationships.

Deep within us we all want it so much to be the wheat grain that dies and yields a rich harvest, and yet, we are constantly faced and influenced by the powers of the secular world that dilutes and distorts our Gospel values and turn them into fantasies, are enormous.


We have another main problem to contend with in secular society, and that is that silence has today become a very fearful thing.  For most people, silence creates itchiness and nervousness.  Many experience silence not as a richness, but an emptiness;  for them silence is like a gaping abyss which can swallow them up.  As soon as a minister says during a worship service, ‘Let us be silent for a few moments, they do not know what to do with themselves; thus, some would start to read the parish bulletin, others would whip out their mobiles to read sms messages and still others would simply become so restless that they are preoccupied with only one thought: ‘when will this silence be over?’  (cf. Adapted from: “Seeds of Hope, A Henri Nouwen Reader, Robert Durback, Ed., Darton, Longman and Todd; 2001; pp. 54-6).

And so as we conclude let us ask ourselves some basic questions: Are we open to the challenges of today’s Gospel to willingly die to ourselves?  If not, then when will we ever be ready?  If yes, then let us dare to trust that God will surely give us all the graces we need to have the needed strength to die to ourselves so that we will truly be able to be God’s instruments to yield a rich harvest of God’s peace, unity and salvation in today’s world in our daily living .

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.


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