Sunday, March 25, 2012
We wish to see Jesus
John 12: 20-33
1. Opening prayer
Father, hear our prayer: we implore you to send your Spirit abundantly upon us, so that we may learn to listen to your voice that proclaimed the glory of your Son who gives himself for our salvation. May this attentive and concerned listening germinate in us a new hope so that we may follow wholeheartedly our Master and Redeemer, even in difficult and dark moments. Who lives and reigns forever and ever.
a) The context:
We have come to the end of the "book of signs", which is the interpretative key that John uses in his Gospel and is already foreshadowing the deadly conflict between the ruling class and Jesus. This passage is like a hinge between that which John has told us up to now and which ends with this appearance of the "peoples" (marked by the term "Greeks"), and that which is about to take place. John subdivides the next events into two sections. The first section is the dialogue with the disciples alone, in the context of the paschal supper (cc. 13-17); the second will be the public scene of the passion and the apparitions as the risen one (cc. 18-21).
This passage may not be entirely real. It wishes to point out that the opening to the peoples began with Jesus himself. It is not a question of going to others to convince them of something, but above all of welcoming their seeking and bringing it to maturity. This kind of maturity does not happen by itself but requires the collaboration of others and dialogue with Jesus. John does not tell us whether Jesus spoke to the Greeks. The text seems to abbreviate the story when it immediately points to the "kind of Jesus" those who seek him must go. It is the Jesus who gives his life, who bears fruit through his death. Not, therefore, a "philosopher" or "wise" Jesus, but above all one who is not attached to his own life and who gave his life and placed himself at the service of everyone else’s life.
Verses 27-33, which show the anguished and troubled soul of Jesus when faced with his imminent death, are also called "the Gethsemani of the fourth Gospel", in parallel with the Synoptic Gospels concerning the painful vigil of Jesus in Gethsemani. That which happens to a grain of wheat, that is, only when it breaks and dies can it free all its vitality, is also true of Jesus who in dying will show all his love by giving his life. The story of the grain of wheat is the story of Jesus and of every disciple who wishes to serve him and have life in him.
b) The text:
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.(Picture) 26 If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honour him.
27 "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify thy name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." 29 The crowd standing by heard it and said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." 30 Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; 32 and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." 33 He said this to show by what death he was to die.
3. A moment of silent prayer
to re-read the text with our heart and to recognise in the words and structure, the presence of the mystery of the living God.
4. Some questions
to see the important points in the text and begin to assimilate them.
a) Why is it that precisely Philip and Andrew were the ones approached?
b) What were the "Greeks" really seeking?
c) Have we sometimes been asked similar questions concerning faith, the Church, Christian life?
d) Jesus does not seem to have met the "Greeks" but he made reference to his coming "hour". Why?
e) Did Jesus expect them to answer in set forms? Or through their witness?
5. A deepening of the reading
"Sir we wish to see Jesus"
This is the request some "Greeks" put to Philip. It is told that they "went up to worship at the feast". They were probably those "who feared God" of whom the New Testament frequently speaks, people who were sympathisers of the Jewish religion, even though they were not Jews. They may have been of "Syro-Phoenician origin as Mark tells us (7: 26), when he speaks of the woman who sought the healing of her daughter. By their request, we may think that these "Greeks" were just curious to meet a famous and much talked of person.
But the context within which John places this request shows that they really sought Jesus with all their heart. Especially since they come immediately after it is written: "The whole world followed him" (Jn 12:19). Then Jesus comments on the statement with "the coming of the hour of the Son of man". The fact that they went to Philip, and Philip then went to Andrew, is due to the fact that both of them came from Bethsaida, a city where people came from mixed background and one needed to understand several languages. These two represent two sensibilities: Philip is more traditional (as we can see from his words when he meets Jesus (Jn 1: 45); while Andrew had already participated in John’s movement and was more open to new things (cfr Jn 1: 41). This is to show that the community that opens itself to pagans, that welcomes the request of those who seek with a curious heart, is welcomed by a community that lives in a variety of sensibilities.
"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth…"
Jesus’ reply seems to be less interested in the Greeks who wish to see him, and more directed to all, the disciples as well as the Greeks. He sees frontiers opening, hears the tumultuous following of the peoples, but he wishes to point out that this fame, which has attracted them, this "glory" that they would like to know more closely, is quite different from their expectations. His is a life that is about to be destroyed, a "word" that is about to be silenced, trampled to death, buried in the bowels of hatred and the earth is as to make it disappear. Thus instead of seeing glory in human form, they stand before a "glory" that reveals itself through suffering and death.
This is true for them, but it is also true for every Christian community that wishes to open itself to "Greeks". Such a community must "consult" with the Lord, that is, it must keep in contact with this facet, this death for life, must give its own contemplation of the mystery and not just provide ideas. It must live in full detachment from security and human gratification, so that it may serve the Lord and, it too, receive honour from the Father. Attachment to one’s life and to worldly wisdom – and in the Greek world these were important values – is the great obstacle to a true "knowledge of Jesus". To serve the name of the Lord, welcome the request of those who "seek him", bring these seekers to Jesus, without living according to the Lord, without above all giving witness to sharing one’s choice of life, one’s gift of life, is useless.
"How is my soul troubled"
This "disquiet" of Jesus is another very interesting element. It is not easy to suffer, the flesh rebels, the natural tendency is to flee from suffering. Jesus too felt this same repugnance, had the same horror before a death that promised to be painful and humiliating. His question, "And what shall I say?", reveals this trembling, this fear, this temptation to avoid such a death. John places this difficult moment before the last supper; the Synoptics, however, place it at the prayer in Gethsemani (Mk 14: 32-42; Mt 26: 36-46; Lk 22: 39-46). Anyway, they are all agreed about this trembling and trouble, which makes him like us, fragile and afraid.
But Jesus deals with this anguish by "entrusting himself" to the Father, reminding himself that this is his plan, that the whole of his life is directed precisely to this hour, that it is here that he reveals himself and makes sense. We know well that the theme of the hour is very important for John: see the first mention at the wedding feast of Cana (Jn 2:4) and then frequently (Jn 4:21; 7:6.8.30; 8:20; 11: 9; 13:1; 17:1). It is not so much a matter of a precise time as of a decisive circumstance towards which everything is pointing.
"I will draw all men to myself"
Seen apart from the homicidal violence of one who felt threatened, the hanging on the cross becomes a real elevation, that is, the exhibiting of one who is salvation and blessing for all. From the violence that wanted to marginalize and eliminate, we move to the centripetal force exercised by that icon of the elevated. This is an "attraction" generated by curiosity, but which through love will become the source of discipleship, of allegiance in all those who can go beyond the physical event and see in him total free gift of self.
It will no longer be seen as the ignominious death that creates distance, but the source of a mysterious attraction, a way that gives new meanings to life. A life given that generates life; a life killed that generates hope and new solidarity, new communion, new freedom.
6. Psalm 125
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
"The Lord has done great things for them."
The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb!
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy!
He that goes forth weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
7. Closing prayer
Lord our God, keep your Son’s disciples from the easy ways of popularity, of cheap glory, and lead them to the ways of the poor and scourged of the earth, so that they may recognise in their faces the face of the Master and Redeemer. Give them eyes to see possible ways of peace and solidarity; ears to hear the requests of sense and salvation of so many people who seek as by feeling; enrich their hearts with generous fidelity and a sensitiveness and understanding so that they may walk along the way and be true and sincere witnesses to the glory that shines in the crucified resurrected and victorious one. Who lives and reigns gloriously with you, Father, forever and ever. Amen.