Gospel for Holy Tuesday: John 12:20-36
20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
There were some Greeks. These are actual Greek Gentiles, as opposed to Greek-speaking Jews, who likely would have already encountered Jesus in his ministry. (Or would have sought him for different reasons.) The writer of the Fourth Gospel is signaling the opening of God’s plan of universal salvation. That is to say that the way of salvation would be open to all people, not only to the Jews. It is important to remember as we read that God’s plan in Jesus is not a zero-sum game, wherein if the Gentiles are included, the Jews must be excluded. As we consider Greek Gentiles seeking Jesus, we are to marvel at the way word must have spread about him and his works. We are to wonder at how good news can spread like wildfire and ponder if we act like kindling or sand.
23Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very 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. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” (John 1:1-4) (I realize adding this seems like answering a question with a question, but bear with me.)
John 12:25 seems to have been Jesus’ best-known saying, appearing in some form in each gospel. The Fourth Gospel shapes its understanding of what it means to follow Jesus through his giving of a new commandment, foreshadowed here. Bearing fruit means loving AND serving. There is no love without service, for then the statements of love are hollow. There is no service without love, for then the service has no roots and will fade away.
The Fourth Gospel has a high, high Christology- meaning the Lord can seem less Jesus and more Christ. Here we get a glimpse of the sacrifice of Christ, if we hark back to the opening of John. This is the Living Word, out in creation, drawing all people to himself. In order to come among us, Jesus had to give up being fully in the presence of God- a reality that was all that had ever been. This was, apparently, worth doing so that we, Greeks and Jews, might come to a deeper understanding of God’s love and hope for creation.
27Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say — 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."
God doesn’t seem to dwell much in nouns, but more so in verbs. “I am.” “I will glorify.” “I will save.” “I have wept.” “I love.”
29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him."
It is very easy to say that the crowds “don’t get it”. If the other choice is believing that the man standing in front of you is so interconnected with God that they finish one another’s sentences and God affirms his prayers on the spot… which one would you pick?
30Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34The crowd answered him, "We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?" 35Jesus said to them, "The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light."
Things are about to get confusing and Jesus is trying to encourage the people who have placed their trust in him not to be overcome by what is about to happen. The Evangelist, the author of this gospel, loves Jesus the rhetoric, who can be difficult to understand. Then, of course, sometimes we don’t want to.
After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.
This marks a break between Jesus’ teaching and the beginning of John’s passion narrative. This is the gospel literary equivalent of a fade-out to intermission.
Holy God, in the midst of all that seems uncertain, You are. Your permanence and omnipresence awe and overwhelm us. So also some of the truths of this week dance just beyond our grasp. We seek epiphany, but we sometimes confuse your voice with thunder, angels or our desires. Be with those who have heard your promise. Grant us deeper faith and broader understanding. Be with those who are drawn anew to the good news of your salvation. Stir up their faith and strengthen their resolve in questioning and in waiting for your answers. Amen.