April 2, 2006 - Year B - Lent 5

John 12:20-33

 20 There were some Greeks who had come up to Jerusalem to worship during the feast. 21 They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 22 Philip went to Andrew and the two of them told Jesus.

23 Then Jesus said, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

25 Those who love their life destroy it, and those who despise their life in this world keep it for everlasting life.

26 Whoever wants to serve me, let him follow me and wherever I am, there shall my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

 27 Now my soul is in distress. Shall I say: 'Father, save me from this hour'? But, I have come to this hour to face all this. 28 Father, glorify your Name!" Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it and I will glorify it again."

29 People standing there heard something and said it was thunder; but others said, "An angel was speaking to him." 30 Then Jesus declared, "This voice did not come for my sake but for yours; 31 now sentence is being passed on this world; now the prince of this world is to be cast down. 32 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all to myself." 33 With these words Jesus referred to the kind of death he was to die.

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Notes from [The Community Christian Bible

• 20. Several foreigners (called Greeks because of their language) were converted to the faith of the Jews. Though they did not observe the Jewish laws, they were accepted in the Temple of Jerusalem where a courtyard, (separate from that of the Jews) was reserved for them. The question from those Greeks offers Jesus the opportunity to announce that his kingdom will be extended through the whole earth, when he will have been raised on the cross.

Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies (v. 24). Jesus will die and the universal Church will be born. Jesus allows his lifeless body to be laid in the earth; on rising from the tomb, his same body, now glorified, will also embrace the believers united to him. The life that is now his will be communicated to all the children of God.

Unless the grain dies. This is the law for all life that will be fruitful (Mk 8:34). The first believers were already saying: "The blood of the martyrs is a seed."

• 27. This page of John’s Gospel records both Jesus' transfiguration (Mk 9:2) and agony in Gethsemane (Mk 14:32).

Then a voice came (v. 28). While Jesus was in the midst of the noisy crowd a noise erupted: a message from heaven or simply a noise? This event, insignificant perhaps for the historian, was like the fleeting presence of reality breaking through the illusory scene in which most people are caught up. The fact that the people misunderstood his message, and that later they would deliver him up to their rulers, has become of minor importance to Jesus. He looks beyond all that. Jesus knows that he cannot save the nation from historical failure, but he understands that his death will change the course of world events: he will conquer where the destiny of humankind is to be played out.

From the beginnings of our history, the ruler of this world, the Spirit of Evil, has obscured in humankind the capacity to recognize God. God has directed the whole of creation towards a progressive growth in maturity until the birth of the New Creature. Because of sin this birth comes about in a world characterized by suffering, indifference and slavery.

The only way to salvation is to return to obedience, not "to God," but to the Father. And Christ had to open the way through his sacrifice: I have come to this hour to face all this (v. 27).

We easily forget that the purpose of our life is to glorify God. We do not glorify God principally by constructing temples or by singing: "Glory to God!" but by making ourselves pleasing and living sacrifices to God. A bishop and martyr of the primitive Church, St. Irenaeus, wrote: "God is glorified when people are fully alive: but for a person to be fully alive is to see God."

A sacrifice is a surrender of something for the sake of something or someone else. Our sacrifice is to allow God to be our life, to make us like him and to prepare us to reflect his own Glory. This indeed requires sacrifice because God makes us pass through a death to attain this life. Through obedience to God's will, we are freed of our selfishness and the limits of our present condition, and we are prepared for another and everlasting state. God is glorified when his children attain glory, that is to say, attain his own perfection and are transformed through fire and the Holy Spirit.


Jesus' life of preaching is coming to an end. John later finds it difficult to understand how God's chosen people could remain so blind regarding their Messiah. John tries to search out the meaning of this refusal by using two texts from the prophets:

The first is a long poem dedicated to the Servant of Yahweh, a voluntary victim for the sake of his people (Is 53:1). It shows us that people do not willingly accept a humiliated Savior.

The second text shows how the rejection of Christ could have been foreseen. Indeed, the ancient prophets were also ignored while they were living, thus fulfilling a mysterious plan of God.

John stresses the sin of the majority who were not committed to Christ, although within themselves they secretly respected him. Somehow the Jewish people suspected that Jesus came from God, but to believe in what he claimed and asked was another matter.

For us, too, to believe in the Gospel is to take a stand; we cannot pass by the Church Jesus founded even though it may not be totally transparent. His word comes to us amidst numerous preoccupations, and most often we feel inclined to respond: "I'll see later!" When we neglect his word, we often think it not grave. Actually it is God and his truth that we reject and we may not have another occasion to receive it. All eternity is decided today.

There is absolutely nothing in the Bible to support the belief that we will have other lives in order to repair our errors of today. If so many people of our time have grasped this belief in a succession of lives, it is above all because it encourages them to delay making real decisions; the devil takes charge of spreading this belief.

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Comments by Wesley

1. We are familiar enough with the first part of this paragraph from John Donne: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another's danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

We are less familiar with the prayer that ends this meditation: "O ETERNAL and most gracious God, who hast been pleased to speak to us, not only in the voice of nature, who speaks in our hearts, and of thy word, which speaks to our ears, but in the speech of speechless creatures, in Balaam's ass, in the speech of unbelieving men, in the confession of Pilate, in the speech of the devil himself, in the recognition and attestation of thy Son, I humbly accept thy voice in the sound of this sad and funeral bell. And first, I bless thy glorious name, that in this sound and voice I can hear thy instructions, in another man's to consider mine own condition; and to know, that this bell which tolls for another, before it come to ring out, may take me in too. As death is the wages of sin it is due to me; as death is the end of sickness it belongs to me; and though so disobedient a servant as I may be afraid to die, yet to so merciful a master as thou I cannot be afraid to come; and therefore into thy hands, O my God, I commend my spirit, a surrender which I know thou wilt accept, whether I live or die; for thy servant David made it, when he put himself into thy protection for his life; and thy blessed Son made it, when he delivered up his soul at his death: declare thou thy will upon me, O Lord, for life or death in thy time; receive my surrender of myself now; into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit. And being thus, O my God, prepared by thy correction, mellowed by thy chastisement, and conformed to thy will by thy Spirit, having received thy pardon for my soul, and asking no reprieve for my body, I am bold, O Lord, to bend my prayers to thee for his assistance, the voice of whose bell hath called me to this devotion. Lay hold upon his soul, O God, till that soul have thoroughly considered his account; and how few minutes soever it have to remain in that body, let the power of thy Spirit recompense the shortness of time, and perfect his account before he pass away; present his sins so to him, as that he may know what thou forgivest, and not doubt of thy forgiveness, let him stop upon the infiniteness of those sins, but dwell upon the infiniteness of thy mercy; let him discern his own demerits, but wrap himself up in the merits of thy Son Christ Jesus; breathe inward comforts to his heart, and afford him the power of giving such outward testimonies thereof, as all that are about him may derive comforts from thence, and have this edification, even in this dissolution, that though the body be going the way of all flesh, yet that soul is going the way of all saints. When thy Son cried out upon the cross, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? he spake not so much in his own person, as in the person of the church, and of his afflicted members, who in deep distresses might fear thy forsaking. This patient, O most blessed God, is one of them; in his behalf, and in his name, hear thy Son crying to thee, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? and forsake him not; but with thy left hand lay his body in the grave (if that be thy determination upon him), and with thy right hand receive his soul into thy kingdom, and unite him and us in one communion of saints. Amen.

2. How is it that the voice to Jesus was for others? What else that we associate with Jesus is also for others? Is this why John will shortly (chap. 14) envision and encourage us to even greater things than Jesus.

3. What irreparable choices have you made recently? In some sense this is equivalent to an unpardonable sin. As long as we are tied together, as Moses' staff holding a bronze serpent and a cross holding Jesus' body can be seen together we will always be able to redeem and universalize choice. This may not be able to be done without loss and sorrow, but redemption and sacrifice are still within reach.

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