Saint Laurence, Deacon and Martyr – Readings

Commentary on 2 Corinthians 9:6-10; Psalm 111; John 12:24-26

The Gospel reading for the feast is from John and presents an ideal image of Laurence. Just before today’s reading begins we are told by John that some ‘Greeks’ had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. They were non-Jews who had probably converted to the Jewish faith. It is clear, too, that in Jerusalem they had heard people talking about Jesus and what he was saying and doing.

So they approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee. They may have approached him because ‘Philip’ (Filippos, literally ‘one who loves horses’) was a Greek name. They also probably knew that Philip was with Jesus so they said to him, “We would like to see Jesus.” Philip then went to consult with his fellow disciple, Andrew (another Greek name, Andreas) and they both went to Jesus with the request.

It is at this point that our reading begins. Jesus answers their request in what seems a very strange and enigmatic manner. He says three things:

•Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit.
•Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
•Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.

In fact, this is a very clear answer to the ‘Greeks’. They asked to ‘see’ Jesus, but just to lay one’s eyes on him was not to see him. To ‘see’ Jesus fully or properly requires that one have an insight and understanding of the inner mind of Christ. So Jesus cannot be ‘seen’ or understood unless one grasps the purpose and meaning of his death and resurrection. In order for it to be fruitful, a grain of wheat has to fall into the ground and effectively be disintegrated, so that it will be transformed into a new plant which in time will reproduce itself many times over.

This is exactly what Jesus will do. He will surrender his life through his suffering and death on the cross, only to rise again in new life. But not only that, he will bring new life to countless numbers of people who, inspired by him, will become other ‘Christs’. And that is what we celebrate in the Eucharist when we take the bread, the fruit of wheat grains, and say the words:

This [bread] is my Body which will be handed over for you.

And we then share this Bread as a sign of our total identification with the Vision and the Way of Jesus.

And that is why Jesus says that not only must he die, but all who wish to follow his Way will also have to be ready to surrender their lives – will have to be grains of wheat losing themselves to bring more life to others. All who serve Jesus must go his Way, because where Jesus is, his servant is there too.

All of this, of course, applies beautifully to Laurence who gave his life so generously for the sake of the Gospel. His death was an inspiration to large numbers of people who were inspired by his example.

Laurence, like the grain of wheat, fell to the ground and died, but out of his death, life came for many. Far from being wiped out, the persecuted Church only flourished and continued to flourish – and it continues to thrive in easier, but still challenging conditions.

In the First Reading which is from the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, he is urging the Christians of Corinth to be “a cheerful giver” – generous in giving help to the impoverished Christian community in Jerusalem. As they excel in many Christian virtues, he wants them to excel, too, in their generosity to their brothers and sisters in need.

Paul says he is not ordering or compelling them, but rather putting it up as a test of their love and concern. And Paul has previously given the example of Jesus himself who became poor, who emptied himself, that we might be enriched, enriched in those things which really matter:

For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. (2 Cor 8:9)

Laurence was noted for his generosity in helping the poor and needy. And it is a message that we need to learn and to live, because that the real source of riches is not in accumulating things for ourselves, but in giving to others from the gifts we have received.

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