Fifth Sunday in Lent B
The Rev. Leonard Oakes
“Do we care if God sacrificed His only Son?”
In today’s gospel, among the huge crowds that had come to Jerusalem for the Passover feast were some Greeks. By the time of Jesus the Greeks had become among the most broad-minded people in the world. Various religious and philosophical traditions flourished among them and strive for popularity. It did not take these Greeks long to see that all was not well in Jerusalem. So they came to see Jesus. Why did they come to see Jesus? It is more probable that they came to alert Jesus to the seriousness of the danger surrounding him and to suggest to him to flee with them to Greece, the land of freedom.
The response that Jesus gives to their request shows that it has to do with his impending death and that he has chosen to stay and face it rather than seek a way to escape it. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say– `Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.
Jesus explains to his apostles that it is by his suffering and death that he is bringing life and liberation to the sinful world, just as a grain of wheat sown in the field ceases to remain itself, “just a seed,” by germinating and then growing into a plant which produces many new grains of wheat.
In many different occasions, Jesus spoke to his disciples about his death, but one may wonder do they really appreciate his impending death and understand what it means to them? In our own contemporary understanding of salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross, do we comprehend the price that was paid for our salvation? Does living in the resurrection mean anything to us?
Today, I wish to share a moving story I read From Hank Hanegraaff. A story about a man from Oklahoma named John Griffith who was in his early twenties – newly married, and full of optimism. Along with his lovely wife, he had been blessed with a beautiful blue eyed baby. John wanted to be a traveler. He imagined what it would be like to visit faraway places with strange sounding names. He would read about them and research them. His hopes and dreams were so vivid that at times they seemed more real than reality itself. But then came 1929 and the great stock market crash. With the shattering of the economy came the devastation of John’s dreams. Brokenhearted, he, like so many others, packed up his few possessions and with his wife and little son, Greg, headed east in an old Model-A Ford. They made their way toward Missouri, to the edge of the Mississippi River, and there John found a job tending one of the great railroad bridges that spanned the massive river.
Day after day John would sit in a control room and direct the enormous gears of that immense bridge over the river. He would look out reflectively as bulky barges and splendid ships glided gracefully under his elevated bridge. Then, mechanically, he would lower the massive structure and stare meditatively into the distance as great trains roared by and became little more than specks on the horizon. Each day he looked on sadly as they carried with them his shattered dreams and his visions of far-off places and exotic destinations.
It wasn’t until 1937 that a new dream began to be born in his heart. His young son was now eight years old, and John had begun to catch a vision for a new life – a life in which Greg would work shoulder-to-shoulder with him, a life of intimate fellowship and friendship. The first day of this new life dawned and brought with it new hope and a new fresh purpose. Excitedly father and son packed their lunches and, arm in arm, headed off toward the immense bridge.
Greg looked on with wide-eyed amazement as his dad pressed down the huge lever that raised and lowered the vast bridge. As he watched, he thought that his father must surely be the greatest man alive. He marveled that his father could single-handedly control the movements of such a stupendous structure. Before they knew it, noontime had arrived. John had just elevated the bridge and allowed some scheduled ships to pass through. Then, taking his son by the hand, they headed off for lunch. Hand in hand, they inched their way down a narrow catwalk and out onto an observation deck that projected some 50 feet over the majestic Mississippi. There they sat and watched spellbound as the ships passed by below. As they ate, John told his son, in vivid detail, stories about the marvelous destinations of the ships that glided below. Enveloped in a world of thought, he related story after story, his son hanging on every word.
Suddenly John and his son were startled back to reality by the shrieking whistle of a distant train. Looking at his watch in disbelief, John saw that the bridge was still raised and that the Memphis Express train would be by in just minutes. Not wanting to alarm his son, he suppressed his panic. In the calmest tone he could muster, he instructed his son to stay put. Leaping to his feet he jumped onto the catwalk and ran at full tilt to the steel ladder leading into the control house. Once in, he searched the river to make sure that no ships were in sight. And then, as he had been trained to do, he looked straight down beneath the bridge to make certain nothing was below. As his eyes moved downward, he saw something so horrifying that his heart froze in his chest. For there, below him in the massive gearbox that housed the colossal gears that moved the gigantic bridge, was his beloved son.
Apparently Greg had tried to follow his Dad but had fallen off the catwalk. Even now he was stiff between the teeth of two main moving parts in the gearbox. Although he appeared to be conscious, John could see that his son’s leg had already begun to bleed profusely. Immediately, an even more horrifying thought flashed in his mind. For in that instant John knew that lowering the bridge meant killing the apple of his eye. Panicked, his mind probed in every direction, frantically searching for solutions. Suddenly a plan emerged. In his mind’s eye he saw himself grabbing a coiled rope, climbing down the ladder, running down the catwalk, securing the rope, sliding down toward his son and pulling him back up to safety. Then in an instant he would move back to the control room and grab the control lever and thrust it down just in time for the oncoming train.
As soon as these thoughts appeared, he realized the ineffectiveness of his plan. There just wouldn’t be enough time. Perspiration began to drip on John’s brow, terror written over every inch of his face. His mind darted here and there, vainly searching for yet another solution. What would he do? What could he do?
His thoughts rushed in anguish to the oncoming train. In a state of panic, his agonized mind considered the 400 or so people moving inescapably closer toward the bridge. Soon the train would come roaring out of the trees with tremendous speed. But this – this was his son – his only child – his pride – his joy. His mother – he could see her tear stained face now. This was their child, their beloved son. He knew in a moment there was only one thing he could do. He knew he would have to do it. And so, burying his face under his left arm, he plunged down the lever. The cries of his son were quickly drowned out by the relentless sound of the bridge as it ground into position. With only seconds to spare, the Memphis Express – with its 400 passengers – roared out of the trees and across the mighty bridge.
John Griffith lifted his tear stained face and looked into the windows of the passing train. A businessman was reading the morning paper. A uniformed conductor was glancing calmly at his large vest pocket watch. Ladies were already sipping their afternoon tea in the dining car. A small boy, looking strangely like his own son, pushed a long thin spoon into a dish of ice-cream. Many of the passengers seemed to be engaged in either idle conversation or careless laughter. But no one looked his way. No one even cast a glance at the giant gearbox that housed the mangled remains of his hopes and dreams.
In anguish he pounded the glass in the control room and cried out, “What’s the matter with you people? Don’t you care? Don’t you know I’ve sacrificed my son for you? What’s wrong with you?”
No one answered; no one heard. No one even looked. Not one of them seemed to care. And then, as suddenly as it had happened, it was over. The train disappeared, moving rapidly across the bridge and out over the horizon.
This story is but a slight glimpe of what God the Father did for us – of what Jesus did for us in offering up for us his own life. Unlike the Memphis Express, that caught John Griffith by surprise, God, in his great love for us – determined to sacrifice His Son so that we might live.
But do we care? Do we even have the time to look or open our eyes to the reality of what God have done for us? Are we willing to lend our ears and look deeper to the meaning of the cross? Or will it be just another ordinary day, another ordinary news?
In our several stations of our walk to the cross, let us ask ourselves the question, are we willing to stand up for Jesus and raise the cross up high so that others may see Jesus? There are many of them out there in isolation wishing to “see Jesus” and we can not just be sitting here and not doing anything about it. We’ve got to stand up and tell others the wonderful life in God through His Son Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.