3/21/21 Gospel John 12:20-33
This account follows the brief story (in this gospel) of Jesus entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. A crowd who had been with Jesus when he raised Lazarus from the dead, and those who had heard of the miracle, came to meet Jesus. There were Greeks in the crowd, as well as Jews. So, the message of salvation and new life is to be spread beyond the Jewish community. Now they have all come out to meet Jesus, and have asked Phillip to take them to him.
When Phillip and Andrew tell Jesus about the crowd, Jesus replies that now is the time for him to be glorified. Earlier in this chapter of the gospel, Jesus has had his feet anointed with nard by Mary, as a foretelling of his end. Then Jesus speaks of a grain of wheat that must die in order to give new life – a further clarification of what is to come.
For me this is a very powerful parable. My parents had a farm in the Sacramento Valley, and one of the crops that they grew was winter wheat. It seemed like forever between the planting of the single seeds, the emergence of the first green shoots, and finally the arrival of the “head” or stalk of wheat. (I can still remember my mother coming into the house after looking at the field and joyfully saying “it’s heading out”!). What was one, was resurrected as many and gives new life.
I can imagine the crowd listening to Jesus, nodding, as this cycle was so familiar to them, and brought forth the key ingredient for their daily life-giving sustenance. They understood that there had to be the death of the one grain to bring forth the new crop. And this foretells Jesus own death and resurrection – he dies so that we may have new life in Christ. And we can then spread the good news to many, having been given sustenance by the “bread of life” – Jesus.
We are made stronger together, as are the grains in the stalk of wheat. Together we can do so much more than we can do on our own. And we are bound together in our love of Christ. This is what enables us to go out into the world with confidence to live a life of service to others – a “resurrection life”.
Jesus then confounds the crowd with the exhortation that we must “hate our life in this world to keep it for eternal life”. What a tough concept! What does it really mean? And how can we do this? I think that the point is that we must set aside our personal agendas, our self-centeredness, and turn outward. It is in this turning to others that we find our true lives and participate in the work of God in the world. At the crucifixion Jesus tells Mary his mother to “behold your son”, and tells John “behold your mother”. This points us to an outward, inclusive view of the world, rather than a self-centered exclusive world view. And I believe it is a call to action – to actively participate in the life of the world, and to work for healing of ourselves, our community and our planet. This is hard work, but in this work, we will meet Jesus in unexpected people and places, and our lives will be richer for it.
Now, Jesus states that his hour has come, and calls on God to glorify the father’s name. He also does not ask to be saved from his final hour, as this is the path to “draw all men to himself”. The voice from heaven that says that God will glorify his name is perceived by the crowd as thunder or the voice of an angel. Jesus says that the voice is for the sake of the crowd, not for himself. He states that by his death he will draw all men to himself. That is his ultimate gift to us – to share in the eternal life. And in order to share in his gift, we must share with one another. We need to always keep this in mind, and be aware of the great gift we have been given. And to help this gift to grow, we need to share it with others. In that way, we will be as the seed that is planted and brings forth abundant life.