Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.
‘Now 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. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ Jesus 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. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’
John 12:20-36 (NRSVA)
The passage above makes me wonder: Who is the ‘them’ Jesus is addressing as he explains his coming ‘glorification’? Is it just Phillip and Andrew or is it also the Greek worshippers?
I like to think it is – or at least includes – these Greek visitors. If so, Jesus’ pointing to his coming passion is in answer to their question: ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Jesus’ thinly veiled reference to his coming crucifixion and resurrection offers them the requested glimpse of the Christ: ‘…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.’
Such a sighting of Jesus is sorely needed. Confusion and bafflement are not far from any with an interest in Jesus at this stage. He is already controversial – even among his disciples.
So, how will any of them make sense of the coming cross and grave?
Perhaps they can’t – at least not just yet. Jesus is, once again, preparing his hearers for what is to come – offering no more than a way to re-imagine the devastating events that will soon unfold. Jesus’ suffering and death will be like a grain of wheat, dying in order to produce.
It is a hope they can’t yet fully access.
Jesus’ words, however, are not only a pointer to the path he will take. They are also and a call to those who would follow: ‘Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.’
It is an invitation to follow, serve, and honour God – in the same way the Messiah will.
Jesus is, however, far from detached. There will be real pain, suffering and a real death. He is far too human – too much like us – to go to the cross untroubled. There is here an open confession to prayers for salvation from the fast approaching hour. This is real suffering. His is genuine passion.
Jesus will, however, remain infused with the hope and purpose of God. Indeed, as the voice from heaven indicates, Jesus’ suffering will lead to glory.
And this glory is not only for Jesus. It is a lifting up that will ‘…will draw all people…’.
I am sympathetic to their plight. Who could imagine a Messiah who will die? Messiahs stay. Messiahs rule and conquer. They expel Roman oppressors.
Perhaps it is slowly becoming clearer to the disciples – and maybe to these international visitors – that this is God’s ways are not ours. A suffering Messiah? A dead Messiah? A Messiah who needs to rise? It is all so far outside their frame of reference. It is so far beyond their experience.
Death has always had the final say.
Perhaps this is why Jesus’ encouragement is simple, accessible, and asks only for the next step: ‘‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you.’
All Jesus is really asking is that they believe enough to follow him a little further. Their promised reward will be their transformation. They will see – and then become offspring of this incomperable light.
In what ways are you sympathetic to the difficulty of understanding a Messiah who suffers and dies? In what ways do you see this God-economy as obvious?
Do you see hope in Jesus parable of the falling, dying, and producing seed? Is this hope strong enough for you to embrace this path?
What will it take for you to take one more step behind Jesus, the ‘light’? What might that step be?