Gospel: John 12:20-33
The Glory of the Cross
Does the cross have any meaning in today's culture? Does the meaning culture gives the cross have any connection to Christian faith?
References to "Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior" have become popular among sports figures and music stars. After a victory or during an award, stars will give "glory" to God for their accomplishments. As admirable as these testimonials might be, do they really speak of God's "glory?" Have you ever noticed none of these testimonials ever mention the cross?
As we come closer to Easter, the cross looms larger. In this Sunday's gospel, Jesus stated his glory in plain terms. It was the cross.
20 People from other countries who were not Jewish traveled to Jerusalem so they could celebrate the Passover festival. 21 These people approached Philip (from Bethsaida in Galilee) with a request. "Sir," they asked Philip, " we would like to see Jesus." 22 Philip went to Andrew and told him what these people wanted to do. Then both Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus about it.
23 "The time has come!" Jesus said. "The Son of Man will be given glory!
Listen! If a grain of wheat stays on the stock, it's just there by itself. But if it dies and falls to the ground, it will produce a lot more grain. 25 The selfish person dies lonely. But the person who rejects selfishness will live forever.
26 If someone wants to serve me, he should follow me where I am going. Wherever I am, my servant will be there, too. If someone wants to serve me, my Father will honor him.
27 Now, I have doubts, but what should I say: 'Father, save me from this time of suffering'? But I came to suffer for others.
28 Father! Show yourself to everyone!"
Then a voice came from heaven. "I will show myself. And will do it again!"
29 Some who were standing there heard the voice. "It's thunder." Others said, "An angel spoke to him."
30 "The voice was not for my sake," Jesus said, "but for yours.
31 God is judging the world right now, and he will throw the ruler of this world out.
32 When I am lifted up, I will gather everyone to myself!"
33 (Jesus said this to show how he would die.)
This gospel can be divided into three sections: the request of the audience, Jesus' comments on self-giving, and the glory/judgment of the Father. With a Gentile audience, Jesus can reveal the meaning of servanthood and give glory to God.
20 Some of the (non-Jews) were going up (to Jerusalem) so that they might worship in the (Passover) festival. 21 Then, these people came to Philip, the one from Bethsaida of Galilee, and were asking him, saying, "Sir, we want to see JESUS." 22 Philip came and told (the request) to Andrew. Andrew and Philip came and told (it) to JESUS.
12:20 "(non-Jews)" is literally "Greeks." Greeks, in this sense, were not citizens of the peninsula region known as Greece, but were simply non-Jews of the eastern Mediterranean or the Fertile Crescent. With the conquest of Alexander the Great, Greek language and culture dominated the area. Many city dwellers adopted Greek as their primary language and culture. These non-Jews were later known as "righteous" Gentiles, people who honored the Jewish people and their God.
"...going up (to Jerusalem)...in the (Passover) festival." The context of 12:12-19 set the identification of the place and the holy day. Since Jerusalem was established on a high point between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, and since the Temple was set on a high point in the city, the notion of "going up" made some sense.
12:21 Philip was a Greek name. Some scholars speculate these Greek speaking Gentiles went to Philip because they thought he spoke Greek and, so, could act as a go-between.
"Sir" is literally "Lord." In the context, they approached Philip with a formal address.
12:22 Why did Philip go to Andrew? In a group oriented culture, a request by two people in front of the group was honorable. A request in private might smack of favoritism.
John opened this section with "Greeks," Gentiles who spoke the language of commence and adopted the dominant culture at the time. They came to Philip with one request: to see Jesus. The verb "to see" meant more than "to behold with the eyes." These foreigners wanted to investigate the possibility of becoming disciples. They had heard about Jesus (i.e., his reputation or "glory") and wanted to "see" if they could follow him.
Like many other times in his gospel, John wove several themes into the scene. The foreigners were fellow pilgrims, seekers of the true God. They mingled with the Jews at Passover, a celebration of the people's freedom by God's hand. (Did a mixture of "Greeks" and Jews represent John's community?) The stage was set for the universal Messiah to reveal his true self, his true "glory." The Passover of the people would become the Passover of the Messiah.
23 JESUS answered them, saying,
"The hour has come so that the Son of Man might be given glory.
24 Amen, Amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falling to the ground dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it carries much fruit. 25 The one loving his (life) destroys it. The one hating his (life) in this world will save it into eternal life.
26 If someone might give service to ME, let him follow (me). Where I AM, there also will be MY servant. If someone might give service to ME, the Father will honor him.
12:23 "The hour has come..." The "hour" as a moment in time has the same meaning as the "right time."
"...Son of Man might be given glory." Glory, here, did not mean human praise alone but self-giving. The Son of Man did not seek the praise of men, but the opportunity to unite all people to God. And, so, to give them eternal life. Jesus spoke of a glory only service brings.
12:25 "(life)" is literally "soul." Jew did not think of the soul as separate part or different aspect of the person. They did not divide the person into body and soul. For the contemporaries of Jesus, "soul" equaled "life" or better "they way one spends his or her life." In this sense, life was a set of daily activities that reflected a person's real values.
"loving (life)...hating (life)" The culture of Jesus used extreme and exaggerated language to make a point. Jesus was not talking about the extremes of self-indulgence vs. self-abasement (even self-abasement performed out of pride is a form of self-indulgence). He used the language to clarify a comparison of values. Does one dedicate his or her life to promote the self or to promote the good of others?
In this passage, Jesus' monologue can be divided into two parts: 1) the self-giving of the Son and his followers and 2) the glory of the Father and the Son. In first part, Jesus defined the glory of the Son as his death and resurrection. His followers are assembled, the Jewish old-timers and the Gentile neophytes. They were gathered by his reputation (i.e., his 'glory"). Now he would reveal what that glory meant: dying to self.
The analogy of the wheat grain addressed the priorities of people. Those who selfishly clung to life would remain on the stalk alone, and would wither away. Those who gave their lives to others would die, but see others live and would enjoy eternal life. They would bear "much fruit." Notice those who gave up their lives unselfishly followed Jesus to his death. Jesus did not follow them.
The glory of Jesus was a paradox with external and internal dimensions. Externally, the common people in antiquity viewed death on the cross as the ultimate shame. Yet, the self-giving of Jesus revealed his status as the only Son of God. Hence, he had the greatest "glory," for he obeyed the will of his Father. (Remember, in a group-oriented culture, obedience to the patriarch was equivalent to family loyalty; what one did for the "father" of the clan benefited the entire family).
But, through his obedience, Jesus revealed his glory as God's "Servant." This image was the internal paradox of the community. To be a servant of the Lord (his follower), one must serve him and others. The servant served the servants, creating an equality among the followers of Jesus. So, the "glory" of the Christian community lie in humility, the quality of giving true deference to others. Leadership was to exercised in love and humble service, not in power and brutality. The Father would honor those who truly followed in the footsteps of the Master. For the Father loved the humble.
27 Now MY soul has been troubled and what might I say: 'Father, deliver ME from this hour?' But, because of this, I came to this hour. 28 Father, give glory to your name!"
Then a voice came from heaven: "I gave (it) glory and I will again give (it) glory." 29 There was a crowd standing (there) and, having heard (the voice) said, "Thunder occurred." Others were saying, "An angel has spoken to HIM." 30 Jesus answered and said:
"This voice did not happen for my sake, but for your sake.
31 Now the judgment of the world is this: Now, the ruler of this world will be thrown outside (his realm). 32 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me."
33 (He was saying this, signifying what sort of death he was going to die.)
12:27 "soul" in this verse is the same word translated as "life" in 12:25. So the verse could be translated loosely as, "The way I have lived my life now distresses me (because it leads to the cross)." While Jesus admitted to self-doubt, he never wavered from his role, as the rest of 12:27 stated.
12:30 "not for my sake, but for your sake" is literally "not because of me, but because of you."
12:32 "I will draw everyone to me." The verb "draw" paints a fishing image of gathering a large catch in a net.
Despite any misgivings, Jesus faced his "hour" because of the Father's will. His death would reveal the glory of the Father (i.e., define what sort of God the Christians believed in). And glorify the "name" of the Father. Since the name revealed the character and inner strength of the person, according to ancient belief, "glorifying the name of the Father" meant revealing the power of the Father. Jesus would show the God's power with an outpouring of his love. Jesus' prayer and the heavenly response, then, affirmed the coming of Jesus' "hour."
As the cross revealed the Father's love, it also reveal the Father's judgment. The ruler of the world (the Evil One) would be ejected. And everyone would be lifted up with Jesus, on the cross and in the resurrection (the image in 12:32 could refer to either). John, then, affirmed God's love did not save anyone from suffering on this earth, or even physical death. But, the faithful Christian would enjoy the presence of God now and in the life to come. All of this, because of Jesus.
Catechism Theme: Christ's Self-Giving Death on the Cross (CCC 613-618)
Christ's death began something new. A new relationship with God in God's new time. The dying breath of Jesus released his Spirit upon the world. It established a new covenant and marked the beginning of the end times. Nothing would ever be the same.
How did the death of Jesus create this new relationship and new time? We can find the answer in his self-giving, his self sacrifice. The image of Jesus on the cross reveals what sort of God we believe in and what sort of response he asks for. First, when Jesus freely gave himself over to sinful men, he clear showed the world his Father was full of love. His Father was willing to go to any length to bring all of us into a love relationship with himself. Second, the image of Jesus on the cross invites (does not demand) us to love God in return. Thus, through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, God offers himself to all of us in love, and, through the cross, we all can respond in kind.
Notice the cross marked the end of disobedience. His Son obeyed. And through his Son's obedience, we can participate in God's love, that which empowers obedience. Through his Son's obedience, we are justified before God, for we now can love as God loves us.
Love has a cost. It involves suffering and sacrifice. We, as Christians, follow Jesus to the cross where he shows us the way to the Father.
What does the cross mean to you? Have you ever meditated on a crucifix, seen a Passion Play, or participated in a "Way of the Cross?" What happened?
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18) RSV
There is a folly to the cross. And that folly still exists today. The glory of the Christian is the cross, for the cross points to God's love far better than any other blessing received in life. It is a universal sign of God's love. And a universal invitation to follow Jesus. Let us pray we, too, can show others God's love, even though his love leads to the cross. And to the resurrection.
Consider your walk with the Lord. How has that walk led to times of discomfort, even suffering? How has your "experience of the cross" helped you to grow spiritually?