Jesus said to his disciples: "Amen, amen, 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. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me."
Do you love your life? Do you hate your life? This wording, which is at the core of today’s Gospel, sounds rather odd in our ears, does it not? I, for one, love my life. Hating it is not an option. We thus need to put Jesus’ words into context a little bit in order to discover just what He means to say to us today.
Being the feast of a martyr, St. Lawrence, the liturgy refers to “life” as to our biological integrity, the beating heart in our chests. A martyr lays down that life, he “hates” it, in the sense that he gives more value to his faith, to justice, to love, or to fidelity than to his own wellbeing. Jesus Himself laid down His life and allowed His very heart to be pierced out of love for us. In this sense, Jesus promises eternal life to the martyrs in exchange of their earthly life.
When we say “life,” we often mean more than just the biological function of our bodies. We mean existence. That what we are, what we have become thus far, and to what we look forward. Life is our project of existence. As such, our lives are given to us as talents which are meant to shine. You are meant to shine. Now, sometimes we come upon people who are so determined to shine that this strife, which in and of itself is natural and even good, becomes distorted. The more they want to, the less bright they shine. Are we not sometimes ourself imprisoned by obsessive ambitions? Are we not seeking for a kind of shininess that blinds and hurts rather than to warm and inspire? The brightest lights among people are the saints. They shine, oh how they shine! But if you study their lives you will discover that they did not pursue to become stars. Their life’s project was, more often than not, to give up their dreams, to give precedence to others, to renounce that what sparkles in society and assume that what is small and hidden. Like Jesus. Look at His life’s project for a second. Honestly: what could He not have accomplished for Himself! And yet, He, the brightest light on the firmament of the history of mankind, “hated” his life and put Himself last day after day.
A final and maybe deepest meaning of “life” is our soul. In fact, the Greek original speaks of psyché which is the word for both soul and life. In this sense, “life” means simply you yourself. The martyr gives up his biological life and the Saint disregards his life project because they put themself last. They forget about themselves. They dedicate their lives to doing good, to proclaiming the truth, to loving God and their neighbors. What Jesus tells us today is a stunning promise therefore. He assures us that, if we follow Him, He will make us happy, thriving, and fulfilled come what may. We can put all our money on Him, even if the odds seem low. For the project of our happiness is His project.