The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – the 5th Sunday in Lent (Day 4)

John 12:20-33

20 Some Greeks were among those who had come up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and made a request, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” 22 Philip told Andrew, and Andrew and Philip told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. 24 I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me.
27 “Now I am deeply troubled. What should I say? ‘Father, save me from this time’? No, for this is the reason I have come to this time. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.”
29 The crowd standing there heard and said, “It’s thunder.” Others said, “An angel spoke to him.”
30 Jesus replied, “This voice wasn’t for my benefit but for yours. 31 Now is the time for judgment of this world. Now this world’s ruler will be thrown out. 32 When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.” 33 (He said this to show how he was going to die.)

Jesus parallels “a grain of wheat,” “those who love their lives,” and those who “serve” him (vv.23-26). They are related images. What relates them is, to speak bluntly, death. The single grain of wheat is useless unless it is planted in the ground, breaks open (dies), and reproduces. So they who love their own lives so much that they will not allow themselves to be broken open for Jesus’ sake and others (“hate their lives in this world”) are similarly fruitless. To serve Jesus is to follow him wherever he goes – the cross. Only such will be honored by the Father.

Then Jesus affirms that going to the cross, that is, becoming a reproductive grain of wheat, one who “hates” his life in this world, is the purpose of his coming into the world. This is the moment, this death on a hideous and excruciating instrument of Roman torture, is the climax of God’s glorifying Jesus (v.28).

Glory on a cross? The judged becomes the judge (v.31)? Death attracts (v.32)? This is tantamount to saying that Jesus’ coronation as world ruler took place on Good Friday and his throne is the cross!

To read this test in Lent is especially an exercise in de-centering. Dying to self to find life with Jesus and “everyone” (v.32) for whom he died unseats us from the center of our own lives.

Nothing is more painful for us. Nothing is more essential for us. Nothing else will make us disciples of Jesus, the Lord of the world. And that, that is what Lent is all about.



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