Scots Church Adelaide
The Human One

Bible: John 12:20-33

We have included verses from the beginning of Chapter 12 for context.

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?' (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.'

[A Plot to Kill Lazarus] 
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

[Entry into Jerusalem]
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord- the King of Israel!' Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: ‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!' His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!'

[The Reading for the week]
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.' Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say-"Father, save me from this hour"? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.' Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.' The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.' Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.' He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.  (You can read a sermon on these verses here.)

I am reminded of the hoopla when President Obama was elected. There was celebration and excitement, coupled with a lack of understanding of what this event meant for the future. The implications were not clear to everyone. Hindsight will show all of us to be ignorant of things that began with that election!

The same is happening as Jesus enters Jerusalem in John's gospel. There is celebration, celebrity status, misunderstanding. "The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!'"

John is written after the event, so his cake is richly iced with irony. Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, was at the dinner where the woman anoints Jesus for his burial. Lazarus is part of the reason for all the fuss.

... they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

Lazarus pre-figures what will happen to Jesus, but the Jesus event will exceed that miracle.

The world had gone after him. There were Greeks at the festival, who wanted to see Jesus. Greeks is not an ethnic word so much as a cultural description; people were "Jews" or "Greeks." The Greeks were culturally Greek, even these people who none the less were at this most Jewish festival as worshippers. But even these, whom the Pharisees perhaps felt were their responsibility to bring closer to orthodox "Jewish-ness," wanted to see Jesus.

When the request gets to Jesus, his response at first seems to make no sense. Then I saw it; "You want to see Jesus? You really want to see Jesus? Well it's about to happen, for the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." I take glorified to mean he will be shown as he really is. His true nature and purpose will be made clear. The ambiguity and misunderstanding will be removed for those who want to see.

The next few lines do make it clear. ...unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit; we see the centrality of his dying. It is only in dying that he will bear the fruit. And this applies to us: Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. It's that great challenging paradox of life, which demands we lose our selfishness and self focus if we are to truly live. This selflessness is not without content and direction. He claims he is the one to follow; whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. This is the way to live the life God wants of us; whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

Sometimes John seems an esoteric "in-group" document. The language is other-worldly, written for the initiated. The text is "jam packed" with meaning, so dense it is more like a text book than a story.  It doesn't move me like the immediacy of Mark's portrait of Jesus. But then there are moments of deep pathos. Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say-"Father, save me from this hour? A little flash of humanity reminds us that this is a man, a human being.

Should I say-"Father, save me from this hour"? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Jesus seems so clear on what will happen to him in John. He knows. And at last, at the end, he says, "It is finished." But here I see a very human person weighed down by inevitability. Sometimes we realize we have set our course, and now there is no choice but to see it through. Perhaps we didn't see how hard it would be, but there is no pulling out. This little portion of John might be the whistleblower's prayer; we can only hope there will be some resurrection for us at the end.

Then we drop back into the rarified language of John.

Father, glorify your name.' Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.' The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.' Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.' He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Half of us don't see what is going on with Jesus... it's all noise. Perhaps others of us feel it's all beyond us, and "out of our sphere." It's all angels talking. It fascinates me how language allusive to Gnosticism works so well in talking about John! John, however, is quite clearly not heading in that direction. It's as though he was speaking in that kind of atmosphere, but opposed to it. Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. This Jesus stuff is for us. It's not some heavenly transaction. It is to help us believe; these things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31) This belief is not esoteric or formulaic either. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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