Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. These approached Philip, who came from Bethsaida in Galilee, and put this request to him, ‘Sir, we should like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew, and Andrew and Philip together went to tell Jesus. Jesus replied to them:
‘Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
I tell you, most solemnly,unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.
Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life.
If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too.
If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.
Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say:
Father, save me from this hour? But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name!’
A voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ People standing by, who heard this, said it was a clap of thunder; others said, ‘It was an angel speaking to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not for my sake that this voice came, but for yours.
‘Now sentence is being passed on this world; now the prince of this world is to be overthrown.
And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself.’
By these words he indicated the kind of death he would die.
“During his life on earth, Christ offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard. Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.”
Father, today we pray to you to change our hearts, that we may understand the Word whom you have given us, and accept our own weaknesses.
Lord Jesus, inspired by your love, guided by your example, change our selfishness into self-giving.
Help us find the time to meet you in prayer and in the Eucharist, where you are giving us the greatest gift of yourself.
Assure us that you are the “resurrection and the life,” and that, in placing our faith in you, we will “never die.”
With you at my side, let me to pray: “I am troubled now. Yet let me say with you ‘Father, save me from this hour’. It was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, may your name be glorified.”
Lord Jesus be with us always, safe us from every evil, and guide us on our journey. Amen.
Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem and his journey towards the grave are of interest to the people round about. They want to meet him, so they approach two of his first disciples. The curiosity of some Greeks provides the setting for the last public discourse of Jesus, directed in the first place towards his disciples (Jn 12,23-32), and later as a response to the people (Jn 12,35-36). The people hear Jesus but do not understand (Jn 12, 29.34). He is interrupted first of all by a heavenly voice (Jn 12, 28), and then by the people. Jesus has to explain himself better in order to clear up the misunderstanding (Jn 12, 30).
Some Greeks, gentile proselytes who were taking part in the feast, want to see Jesus (Jn 12, 21). For John the word ‘see’ means not only making contact with Jesus, but also a willingness to believe in him. It is the first step in the personal journey of faith (Jn 9, 37; 20,29).
The first words that Jesus spoke to the disciples who presented the request of the Greeks are not what we might expect (Jn 12, 23-26). They are not an answer to the disciples, nor to the request of the Greeks. Jesus speaks about himself and does not pay much attention to the people around him or those who are looking for him. The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified (Jn 12, 23.28; 17,1), the long awaited hour (cf. Jn 2,4; 7,6.8.30; 8,20), will now be realized (Jn 13,1; 17,1). The implication is that the arrival of the people who want to see him is what has convinced Jesus that his hour has come.
Since that hour coincides with his death, Jesus introduces solemnly the image of the wheat grain. The grain must die as a prior condition for bearing fruit. Without death there is no new life. The harvest is linked to the giving of life (12, 24): unless a wheat grain dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest. The death of one gives life to many.
But, to the surprise of his listeners, Jesus has more to say. He declares that the law governing his existence and his ‘condemnation’ to death, must also govern the lives of his followers. The death of one so that others may have life is a law that applies in full to all Christians. Only the one who is prepared to give his life will save it for eternal life (Jn 12, 25). This rule of Christian living is paradoxical in the way it is stated – He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life will keep it. However, it is a fundamental Christian conviction, present in the whole gospel tradition (cf. Mk 8,34-35; Mt 10,38-39; 16,24-25; Lk 9,23-24; 17,33). Jesus’ destiny is to be shared fully by his disciples. The death of Jesus continues to have consequences. There is no journey of life for the believer other than the journey undergone by Jesus. Only the one who serves him, by following him along the same road, will reach the place where the Son is. Anyone who follows him in death will follow him in glory. Following Jesus is here identified with personal service (cf. Jn 13, 16; 15, 15. 20) which, in turn, is understood as giving one’s life. Personal following means personal self-denial. The cross is the way of glorification, also for the servants of Jesus (Jn 12, 26).
The gravity of the moment is emphasized by the statement that Jesus is troubled (Jn 12, 27). This is one of the few instances in all the gospel where we get a glimpse of his fragility when facing death (Jn 11, 33; 13, 21; 14, 1. 27). His mortal sadness led him to pray. This brief episode of doubt and anxiety is a kind of ‘Johannine Gethsemane’ (cfr. Mk 14, 33-36; Mt 26, 36-46; Lk 22, 39-46) but it was quickly overcome. The discourse shows that Jesus was convinced that he would triumph over death. The only prayer on the lips of the one sent by God is one of acceptance (Jn 12, 27).
Not even in his moment of greatest weakness does Jesus lose touch with his Father. He seeks the Father’s glory and this is what he prays for (Jn 12,28a). The Father is constantly glorified by the works of the Son (cfr. Jn 4, 34; 5,36; 9,4; 10,25.37; 11,40; 17,4). For that reason, God will be glorified definitively in the definitive work of Jesus, which is his death.
He does not have to wait long for the Father’s reply. The fourth gospel does not say anything about the transfiguration of Jesus (Mk 9,2-10; Mt 17,5; Lk 9,35), nor does it mention the voice of God during his baptism (Mk 1,9-11; Mt 3,17; Lk 3,22). Now, however, it reports the presence of a voice from heaven in answer to his request (Jn 12,28b). The same voice that introduced him to the Baptist (Jn 1, 33) is heard once more, assuring him that his name will be glorified: “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.” In this way, the only scene of weakness and anxiety in the gospel is transfigured.
The people are divided on what happened (Jn12, 29). Some think it is thunder, the voice of God (cf. Exod 9, 28; 19, 16). Others think it is an angel (Acts 22, 9). The different reactions confirm that the event did happen and, at the same time, that the people were unable to comprehend it. The misunderstanding evokes a comment from Jesus explaining that the voice is not meant for him, for he knows that he is always heard (Jn 11,42), but for them (Jn 12,30). After his prayer in time of anxiety, Jesus is transformed into an interpreter of what God is saying.
The Son’s acceptance of death and the response of the Father glorifying the Son, bring judgement on the world and victory over the prince of this world, who is condemned to be overthrown (Jn 12, 31). Now there is no escape. The imminence of the passion accelerates the hour of the definitive crisis. Now the moment of decision has come. Anyone can feel himself drawn to him when he is lifted up (Jn 12, 32; 8, 28). Both the evangelist and his readers understand that “being lifted up” is an allusion to the death of Jesus (Jn 12, 33). From the cross, his place of triumph and glory, Jesus attracts all men, reuniting those who were scattered, so that, following him to the cross, they may obtain glory. Jesus crucified is a beacon of universal attraction. The only insuperable obstacle is that created by those who do not believe in him. This constitutes a severe warning for us today.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life
This gospel passage is taken from John’s narrative of Holy Week, of the last days of Jesus in Jerusalem. All that is recorded is of great value, because it hands on to us part of the memories that the disciples preserved of those days, and of Jesus’ willingness to die for us. By meditating on this passage we can unite ourselves more closely with the personal mystery of Jesus, getting to know the sentiments of his heart and contemplating the reasons which led him to accept death for our sake.
We should be moved when we recall how Jesus faced his end. Today, in his presence, we ask ourselves if our life has changed in any way during this season of Lent, if we have been open to what he wants of us, if we are able to accept his will, and if we have been won over by his love. We will never become truly Christian if we continue to live today as we lived yesterday, this year the same as last year, without some improvement in our lives, without renouncing the evil that controls us, and without opting for what is good. Jesus renounced his very life, and chose to give his life for our sake and to die in our place. This gospel passage speaks to us precisely of the will of Jesus to die for us. It points to the cross as the place and the sign of his self-giving and the proof of his love.
If we still feel far away from God, we need to pray for a re-awakening of the desire to be converted to him. It is significant that the gospel passage mentions some strangers who wanted to see Jesus. Amid all the crowds of people that went to Jerusalem for the feast, only a few strangers sought information about Jesus and wanted to get to know him. The rest of the crowd were not interested in Jesus. They were too busy celebrating the feast. They were not doing anything wrong – after all, that is what they had come to Jerusalem for. It is easy for us now to criticize the contemporaries of Jesus for their indifference towards him. We blame them for what they missed when they turned down the chance of meeting him face to face. We forget that they thought then, as many of us do today, that they knew Jesus well enough. Why pay him further attention? They were not expecting anything new from him, or anything good. Why should they bother to search for him?
And so, like his contemporaries long ago, we Christians are allowing him to be taken away from us by those who come from afar, who do not know much about him. They come from a distance to get a closer look at him. We are used to having him near, so we are no longer curious about him. We ought to admit that our many years of religious practice are stifling the desire to discover him anew. We are losing him, gradually, simply because day by day we treat him with disinterest and indifference, We take Jesus for granted. We do not take seriously his desire to love us more than he loves his own life, and so we run the risk of losing him and losing our own life. If we lose Jesus, who will save us? Or do we think we know somebody better than Jesus who is willing to give his life for us?
When Jesus was told about the presence of some people who wanted to see him, he knew that his hour had come. His death and his glorification were near at hand. When someone really searches for him, it convinces him that the end of his life is near. If someone among us is interested in Jesus, he should remember that it is not just personal curiosity that leads him to seek Jesus, but rather, the desire of Jesus to offer himself for each one of us. Jesus himself said so: “when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself.” Jesus’ death on the cross for us is the source and the reason for our interest in him. Despite our fickleness and forgetfulness, Jesus has paid a high price to gain our attention. If we forget this, it will be more difficult for us to come back to him. It was to ensure that we show an interest in him and a desire to meet him that Jesus died on the cross for us.
There is another interesting detail in this passage: those who came from afar did not go directly to Jesus. They asked the disciples to accompany them. The disciples were the people who knew him best and had been closest to him. They knew where to find him and how to speak to him. Anyone searching for God in Jesus must go through the people who have been living in the company of Jesus. Searching for God on our own, in the intimacy of our own lives, without intermediaries, does not guarantee that we will discover the true God. He is greater than our hope. He is beyond our imagination. He is the one in whose image and likeness we are created. He is the one who is found where there is a Man who has loved us to the point of giving his life on the cross for us.
When we are looking for Jesus, we need people who will lead us to him, believers who have already travelled the road that we are starting out on. We allow ourselves to be led by them, and we walk beside them, without necessarily expecting them to be better than us. We take advantage of their experience and it keeps us from losing our way. Anyone who has found Jesus, with the help of another disciple, should be willing to offer himself as companion on the journey to those who are still searching. If we are sure that we have found him, should we not be happy to act as guide for others? What right have we to allow our discovery to die within us? For what strange reason do we refuse to help those who are searching, and to bring them to find Jesus?
We have all felt the need of someone to help us to meet God, because it is not easy to reach him. The image of the wheat grain, that Jesus used when they came to tell him that some people wanted to see him, teaches us that whoever draws near to Jesus will see him, not as he expected – glorious, powerful, attractive, stupendous – but hidden, unknown, buried, or hanging on a cross. Jesus makes it clear to people of our day who want to see him that the cross is the place of our appointment with him, it is his place of residence, and the sign by which he is recognised. If we are looking for a God who is not on the cross, we will never find the God of Jesus. Herein lies the root of our woes – we want God, it s true, but we don’t want God on a cross. “What use,” we ask ourselves, “is a God so weak and powerless? If he could not even free himself from suffering and humiliation, how will he be able to defend us when we suffer and are humiliated?”
Still, because we seek so desperately to save our life, and we are so afraid to give our life for others, we lose it with no hope of recovery. We lose not just the next life, but this one as well. We make huge efforts to save our life while in fact we are wasting this life and risking the loss of eternal life. We dream of salvation without the cross, and we do not wake up to real life. What kind of servants or friends are we, if we want to be better than our friend and master? If we feel far removed from the God who hangs on the cross, we need to return to him. He is waiting for us. It is for that very reason that he remains on the cross.