John 12 records Jesus’ effort to explain that death will soon claim him. In an attempt to describe the meaning of his death, Jesus utilized the image of the grain of wheat. He reminded them that the grain of wheat that falls into the earth will die, but spring forth again to bear much fruit. In a similar way, Jesus seemed to say, his own death will bear the fruit of eternal life.
An important stewardship concept for contemporary Christians is that sometimes great sacrifice is required to reap great benefit for others. Important as it is, it is difficult to incorporate into the life of faith. Much of our experience of the world encourages us to pursue comfort and ease above all else. Often sacrifice is depicted as what one gives up in order to further one’s personal cause. The sacrifice of studying hard has benefits in the job market. The sacrifice of money throughout the year may be seen to bear fruit in the form of a nice vacation the following summer. Certainly there is nothing wrong with either meaningful work nor fun vacations. But the kind of sacrifice required to attain them is not the kind made by Jesus.
Jesus’ sacrifice of his life was not for personal gain, but for the attainment of eternal life for others. Christian history is full of good examples of this kind of self-sacrifice. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not expect personal glory as a result of his tireless self-giving for the cause of justice for African Americans. Mother Teresa did not give herself to the poor of Calcutta as part of a personal quest for the Nobel Peace Prize (though she and King both received this honor). Both enfleshed the meaning of Jesus’ death for others by energetically depleting themselves in order to attain redemption for others in this world.
- When have you figuratively “died” like a grain of wheat in order to bear much fruit?
- What makes such sacrifice so difficult?
- What areas of life, or issues, await your sacrifice?
- What kind of relationship might exist between sacrifice and money?
- Rent “Eyes on the Prize” and watch it with some friends. This series by PBS traces the history of the civil rights movement in America. Talk about the special role that Christian faith played in inspiring and supporting the leaders of that movement.
- Get a copy of your congregation’s budget. Identify those areas of the budget in which your church is sacrificing in order to promote the well-being of others without expectation of a return benefit.
- Explore what groups in your community are pursuing sacrificial ministry for oppressed persons. These groups may not be sponsored by any church, but you find that personal faith is integral to the lives of many who participate in those programs. Invite someone to address the church about this ministry.