Each day, as I drive to the parish where I serve, I encounter folks driving into our property to exercise-either in the pool or in our SilverSneaker program that is in our home. I am reminded of the saying…No pain, no gain! Those who come to exercise forge ahead with the painful task because their desire for the end result is stronger than their impulse to avoid pain.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of different kinds of pain. There is the physical pain of his crucifixion, alluded to when he speaks of his being “lifted up from the earth.” He also speaks of the pain of dying, of losing our life, of serving him by following him. In all this pain, the focus is not on the suffering, but on the fruits that come from being faithful. The dying grain “produces much fruit”; losing one’s life now “preserves it for eternal life”; serving brings “honor.” In all these examples, Jesus does not so much emphasize the pain, but the gain.
By dying to self for the good of others we come to new life. Giving ourselves for the sake of others is never easy. Sometimes it even makes demands on us that seem impossible. Both the gospel and second reading make clear that Jesus did not want to suffer. Gospel: “I am troubled now . . . save me”; second reading: “he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears” to his Father.
We hear a similar plaintive cry when Jesus prays to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking his Father to save him from the cup of suffering he must drink. Jesus, however, taught us the most important lesson about the paschal mystery: death (self-giving) is the way—the only way—to fullness of Life. The dying itself is a gift and grace because it is a harbinger of new Life. Our glorification is in the very dying because in dying we fully identify with Jesus, who passed through death to risen Life. So will we.
Opportunities for dying to self, losing life for the sake of others, and serving Jesus in others are abundant; we need only to see them and respond. For example, parents giving time and energy to help their children grow; employees speaking the truth even when there is personal cost; neighbors responding to the needs of the poor. The glorification we receive for being other-centered is given to us even now in the joy that comes from deepened relationships, from seeing the relief and gratitude of others, from our own satisfaction for having acted like Jesus. In such faithful discipleship, we grow toward the ultimate glorification of eternal Life.