Greed is a big topic today. It drives politics and business. Yet greed is insanity. It destroys the greedy and everyone connected with them.
To help us understand that greed destroys and selflessness gives life.
We will look at the puzzle of the grain of wheat, self-preservation, the necessity of change, why the phrase “son of man” is so important, the paradox of shame, and humanity’s self-destructive behavior.
Self-preservation is a natural desire. We don’t want to die. We don’t want our way of life destroyed. However, we also know Jesus well enough to know that he would challenge that kind of thinking. One such place is in John 12:20-36. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit. Jesus confirmed this teaching in different words at different times. If we try to make our lives secure we will lose them, but if we lose our lives we will save them. A kernel of wheat preserved is unfruitful, but a kernel of wheat planted can produce an unlimited amount more. A grain of wheat must die if it is to produce. So too, only the life that dies to self is truly productive.
Self-Preservation is Death
When I was a young man I worked in a factory that produced typewriter ribbons. In our department we had about a dozen people and the man who inked all the ribbons. My job was to clean up. I was bottom of the rung. The inker was unwilling to train anyone else lest he lose his position. He was afraid and wanted to preserve his job. The big boss took me into his office and told me that the inker could not be promoted, because he would train nobody to do his job. But, the boss liked my attitude and promoted me to be the boss of the department. Naturally, the inker was angry, but he created his own dilemma. As Jesus said in John 12:20-36, unless a grain of wheat dies it has no future. Self-preservation is death.
Change or Become Irrelevant
Unless a grain of wheat dies it has no future (John 12:20-36). Unless a church buries old fashioned ways it has no future. Change we must or become irrelevant to everybody. The message of the Gospel will never change, but the package must. Kodak, HP and Apple all compete in today’s electronic world. Two of them are failing and one is growing by leaps and bounds. What is the difference? HP and Kodak refused to change and are now companies with uncertain futures. Picture taking and printing will remain relevant, but doing it the old-fashioned Kodak or HP way will not. Apple is now ten times bigger than HP because it continues to innovate and create positive change. Churches must be willing to die to old ideas and innovate to be make the unchanging Gospel relevant to new generations.
As Christians are we nationalistic believers or members of a global community? I have lived in four countries and heard the jingoism and xenophobia that exists everywhere. Each country thinks that it is the best. Each criticizes and puts down the others for various reasons. Yet God hates pride and arrogance. They are not on any list of Christian traits. In John 12:20-36, Jesus introduced his ultimate sacrifice not as a son of David, a loyal son of Israel, but as the Son of Man. In today’s language, we would call him the son of a human being. Jesus did not die for God and country, although that is a worthy thing. As the son of Man, or son of Humankind, Jesus died for God and all human beings. Christianity is not a narrow, nationalistic religion, but a faith for all humanity.
How a Leader is Glorified
As we look at potential candidates for national leadership what do we look for? What makes a leader worthy of the honor? Is it success in the greedy business world, making millions off of people for overpriced goods and services? Is it success in lying and flip-flopping and slinging mud? Is it the ability to win debates? None of that was at the center of what glorified Jesus as king of Kings. In John 12:20-36, we see Jesus’ glory and honor centered on personal sacrifice. While most leaders are self-defensive and self-promoting, Jesus set us all an example of true leadership in self-sacrifice. That is why when Jesus returns he will take the kingdoms of this world from their leaders and give the leadership roles to those who have proven themselves worthy of honor in lives of selfless service.
The Paradox of Glory through Shame
Jesus introduced us to the paradox of glory through shame. It was through the shame of the cross that he now lives in glory (John 12:20-36). Through dying alone he gave life to many. In giving up his life in this world he gained eternal life in glory for all. In the disrepute of the cross was the greatest reputation in the world built. In the greatest dishonor was the greatest honor given to any man in history. How does that affect us? Our natural desire is for glory and honor, but Jesus paradox teaches us that our means of getting it is all wrong. We seek it by means of self-promotion rather than self-sacrifice. The paradox of glory through shame teaches us that it is precisely at moments when we give it all up, that victory is ours.
Material capitalism says that he who dies with the most toys wins. It is a lie, because he who dies having hoarded the most, will possibly not even have eternal life. He is in danger of becoming the ultimate loser. Spiritual capitalism says that he who dies to self gives life to many others (John 12:20-36). Material capitalists are deceived that they love their souls, but in reality they have lost their souls to the devil for temporary material gain. Anyone who loves their life (or soul) will lose it. Spiritual capitalists give their souls away to enrich the lives of others and so keep their souls forever. Anyone who hates their life (or soul) in this world will keep it for eternal life. Our Savior calls us to be creators of spiritual capital, enriching the lives of others.
Humanity’s Self-Destructive Behavior
Easter Island is famous as a microcosm of what we could potentially do to the planet. Destruction of the island’s natural resources almost totally destroyed everyone on the island. Greedy materialism is like that. We destroy our entire civilization in the lust for more and in the end we also destroy ourselves. The saying in John 12:20-36 that he who loves his life loses it, has a far more profound meaning in the original Greek. It says that he who loves his life "destroys it utterly." Mental health professionals recognize the need for people to get outside of themselves and give to others. In helping others, mental health improves. That is why greed is the ultimate insanity, because it only ends up destroying the greedy. The remedy is selflessness. Giving life to others is the ultimate act of sanity.
Greed drives politics and business. Yet greed is insanity. It destroys the greedy and everyone connected with them. Only a selfless life is worth living.