Jer 31: 31-34; Heb 6: 7-9; Jn 12: 20-33
As human beings, we are naturally drawn to nature. A beautiful vista evokes in us a sense of wonder and awe. Earth's splendour captivates us; its oceans, mountains, deserts, plains and forests help us to find within its quiet places a guiding force, a unity and oneness with Creation.
When we observe nature, we see that all living creatures are built to follow the principle of altruism. The animal kingdom presents some spectacular examples where each element works to benefit the whole. For instance, we have learned many lessons from the annual migration of geeseeach winter. As each goose flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the birds following. By flying in a "V" formation, the whole flock adds 71 percent more flying range than if each flew alone. Researchers have also learned that the flock will not follow until all are headed in the right direction and the geese at the back of the formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it immediately feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the birds ahead, and when a goose gets sick or wounded, two geese drop out of formation and follow their fellow member, to help and provide protection. They stay with this member of the flock until it is able to fly again. Other animals act very similarly. Dolphins support their wounded companions and keep them close to the top of the water to keep them from drowning. Elephants have joined to help one of their own that was dying on the sand. They tried their hardest to pick the dying elephant up by pushing their tusks under its body. Some even broke their tusks in the process. When we observe our surrounding Nature, we discover that the inanimate, vegetative and animate levels of Nature all carry out Nature's principle of bestowal, or altruism.
Jesus tells us in today's gospel, "If a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it produces much fruit." When one buries his own comfort and convenience he finds joy and an inexplicable peace. Jesus uses the metaphors of the "dying grain of wheat" and of "surrendered life": Jesus explains to his apostles that it is by his suffering and death that he is bringing life and liberation to the sinful world. In the same way, it is by the self-sacrificial lives of holy men and women that life and salvation come to mankind. In other words, when we "die" to our selfishness, we "rise" to new life in Jesus Christ.
It is always because men have been prepared to die that the great things have lived. It is a fact that we have learned from history that only by spending life do we retain it. The man who loves his life is moved by two aims, by selfishness and by the desire for security. Only when people came out of this were they able to do something meaningful in their life.
Just after midnight on Feb. 3, 1943, an act of extraordinary unselfishness by a group of men became a legend of martyrdom and sacrifice.
When the Army ship Dorchester was torpedoed by the Germans just south of Greenland that night, its passengers and crew had 25 minutes to get off the boat. As 902 people went for the life jackets, it quickly was discovered there weren't near enough. Of the 13 lifeboats, only two functioned.
In the ship's final minutes, Methodist senior chaplain George Lansing Fox, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Dutch Reformed minister Clark V. Poling and John P. Washington, a Roman Catholic priest, were helping passengers leave the vessel. Then four men appeared, all of them without life jackets.
The chaplains quickly gave up their own vests and went down with the ship, perishing in the freezing water. Survivors saw them, locked arm in arm, praying and singing the Navy hymn, "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" just before the ship dove beneath the waves.
"The Four Immortal Chaplains," as they are now known, have been honoured many times, including on a stamp issued in their honour by the U.S. Postal Service.
This world has lost much if there had not been men prepared to forget their personal safety, security, selfish gain and selfish advancement. The world owes everything to people who recklessly spent their lives for others. "There came a time when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." Says Anais Nin. If we seek to avoid all pain, if we take things easily, if we avoid all stress, if we avoid all risk, if we become over conscious of our health, if we are preoccupied with our wellbeing, we may exist longer – but we will never live.
The second lesson Jesus emphasized was that only by service comes greatness. The people whom the world remembers with love are the people who serve others. Once, in the middle of the prayer of Yom Kippur, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi removed his tallit and went to a house at the edge of Liozna.
There was a woman who had given birth there who had been left alone when everyone went to the synagogue, and he attended to her vital needs--chopping wood, building a fire and heating water in the midst of the holy day, because the woman's life was in danger.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch commented that here we see the self-sacrifice of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, how he pulled himself away from attachment to Godliness and descended to do a Jew a physical favour.
The Jews looked on Jesus as their liberator. They looked on glory as conquest, acquisition of power and the right to rule. But Jesus taught that only by service comes greatness.
Let us listen to the message of Jesus, and do little acts of charity in our work place, in the church, in the community, and wherever we go. May God bless us.