The Sweetness of Death

It was a case of mistaken identity, but five years ago  “Sugar” – Daniel Antonio Puac Calderón – was riddled with bullets and killed as he was closing up his little store in Guatemala City.

We all knew him simply as “Azucar” (“sugar” in Spanish). Anyone who had ever met Azucar and witnessed the way he sweetened his neighborhood understood immediately the rationale behind his nickname.

After reforming his own life, Azucar had returned to his troubled neighborhood and helped other troubled youth find God and exit the cycle of gangs and violence. Read more of his beautiful story and watch a video on our Magazine story about Azucar.

“Truly I say to you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
– John 12:24

In this week’s lectionary Gospel reading, Jesus utters these words in anticipation of his own death – and Sugar’s.

Herein lies a solemn statement that illuminates profound truth – we truly must die to self to be reborn. Appropriately, we encounter this text on the fifth Sunday in Lent, just before Palm Sunday and Holy Week. The time is nearly upon us – “the hour for the Son of Humanity to be glorified” is about to arrive.

The judgment of the world will be Jesus on the cross. It doesn’t occur at the end time, and neither Jesus nor God does it. Like Azucar’s killers with guns in hand, we hang up an innocent man. It is a truth that we have always wanted to hide from. We find ourselves trying to keep peace by marginalizing, rejecting, even murdering those we dislike. Nearing now the end of our Lenten journey, we are assaulted by the reality of who hangs on the cross before us and, even more hauntingly, how he got there.

The cross is God’s mind and heart, shattering the window of the world’s values. The gospel of the cross is not one more philosophy to add to countless others the world has to offer. It is, in actuality, the overturning of all of them. The cross says the way up is down. The way to real power is to give power away. The way to real influence is to seek to not be influential. The way to get real riches is to give all your money away, etc. In other words, “seeds need to fall into the ground and die.” Jesus fell into nothingness so that we might be able to fall into him.

Azucar represents the best of the grassroots leaders that we at Street Psalms have the distinct honor and privilege of serving around the world. He will be profoundly missed. In his life we hear the voice of God saying, “I have glorified my name, and I will glorify it again” (v. 28).

Joel Van Dyke
Street Psalms
Latin America