Deborah Beach Giordano
© March 19, 2018
John 12:20-33 ~ told by Deborah
It was Passover, and people who had come to Jerusalem from Greece met with Philip and asked, “Please, sir, we’d like to meet Jesus.”
Philip went to Andrew and told him, and then the two of them went to tell Jesus.
Jesus nodded, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He took a grain of wheat and placed it in the palm of his hand: “Think about it: a grain of wheat is just that: a single grain; but if it falls into the earth and dies, it grows into a huge plant, producing a lot of grain.”
He continued, softly, meditatively, his eyes on the grain of wheat as it rested in his hand, “If there’s nothing you’re willing to die for, there’s nothing to live for; but if you have no fear of death, eternal life will be yours.”
Jesus looked up at the disciples, “Those who serve me will follow me, and will accompany me wherever I go. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”
He brushed the wheat from his hand and watched as it fell to the earth: “I’m troubled, deep in my soul; so should I say: ‘Father, save me from this’? No, it’s why I came; this is what I’m here to do.”
Jesus raised his eyes, “Father, glorify Your name.”
At that moment a voice came from above, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
Some of those who heard the sound said it was a thunderclap. There were others who said, “An angel spoke to him.”
Jesus replied, “That was said for your sake, not for mine. Now the world will be judged; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people into myself.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.)
Glorify. Glorify. Glorify. What’s with all this “glorifying” business? That’s a peculiar way to describe the approaching tragedy. Soon the group of disciples will be torn apart by the betrayal, arrest, trial, torture, and death of their leader. Jesus is going to be scorned and spat upon, he will be beaten, flogged, mocked and maligned. He is going to be condemned and crucified; he will die, and be buried.
Not exactly “glorious” by the standard definition of the term.
But the Johannine community looks at things differently. They view all that happens over the next several days as a single event — the Glorification — beginning with the betrayal of the Lord, through his arrest, trial, crucifixion, death and burial, all the way to the resurrection. The Easter event is the defining aspect of their faith and their understanding; it’s what makes the “glorification” glorious — transfiguring all that went before into a prelude to the Divine Proclamation of love and light.
Easter changes everything.
John can appear almost casual toward Jesus’ “passion” by comparison with the other Gospels — notably Mark — which focus on the terrible suffering and sorrow that the Lord endured. In John’s version, Jesus not only accepts, but actually orchestrates his betrayal, and forces Pilate to condemn him. He has a couple of moments of hesitation, but otherwise seems to understand it as necessary, inevitable; he is riding the wave along to its conclusion:
This is why I’m here. This is what I’ve come to do. If the grain doesn’t fall into the earth and die, it won’t be raised up into a stalk of wheat that will fill the fields with grain.
One event leads to the other, that’s simply how it works. It’s presented as very reasonable, rational, logical. I can imagine Mr. Spock as the Jesus of John’s gospel: “Quite logical.”
Even as he writhed, cut and bleeding and dying, from the cross, John’s Jesus did not cry out in mortal despair (“My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”), but arranged for his mother to be looked after by one of the disciples (“Son, behold your mother”). It is positively other-worldly; very unlike the other Gospels. So, which one is right?
Just as no two witnesses of a bank robbery or a ball game will describe what happened in the same way, neither do the witnesses to the Christ event. Each of the Gospels offers a different perspective on the life of Jesus: Mark speaks to the Lord’s deep humanity, Matthew and Luke are concerned with shaping an understanding of his Message, and why he should be accepted as the Messiah. And then there’s John.
John is in an entirely different realm, working from an entirely different premise. For the writer of this gospel, Jesus is the Risen Lord; he is the Christ, and all else flows from there. If you don’t know that — and I mean really know: accept it as a fact, deep in your bones and firmly in your heart; hold it as the foundation of all that you say and do, hope for and believe, pray for, and work for — if you don’t get it, you simply won’t understand.
“If you have to ask what jazz is, man, you’re never gonna know.”
~ Louis Armstrong
John doesn’t seek to convince anyone, he simply presents the facts (as he understands them). To know Jesus as Lord is not through “reason” or logic, but through direct apprehension: some folks are going to “get it” (more or less spontaneously) and some aren’t. It is an experiential gift of the Spirit that blows where it will. It is a truth that presents itself to you; it is a knowing: divine wisdom that exceeds mere logic.
The tricky bit is that, for those who have been given access to this divine insight, nothing is more frustrating than those who don’t have it. And so they fuss and complain and often, unfortunately, condemn those who “refuse to see” what to them is obvious.
This week’s passage provides a perfect example of the situation between those who “get it,” and those who don’t. After Jesus prays, a sound is heard from the heavens. The rational and literal-minded hear thunder; but there are others who “have ears to hear,” and they say that it was the voice of an angel.
Both are right. And each side will accuse the other of ignorance, stupidity, or stubbornness.
The members of John’s community simply can’t understand how anyone can fail to see that Jesus is the Christ. As far as they are concerned, there can be only two possible explanations: either God specifically hardened the hearts/ closed the eyes and ears of the disbelievers, or they have intentionally, maliciously, chosen not to see the truth. Regardless, those others are headed down the wrong path.
No, YOU are Wrong!
Meanwhile, the Jews who are continuing to faithfully worship the Lord God as they have always done consider these “Christ-followers” to be a bunch of disruptive troublemakers. There can only be two possible explanations for their behavior: either God has hardened their hearts/ closed their eyes and ears to the teachings of Moses and the prophets, or they have intentionally, maliciously, chosen to depart from the truth. Regardless, they are headed down the wrong path.
For the sake of the faith community and the souls of those confused enthusiasts, many rabbis and religious elders decided that a line must be drawn. These new notions, this claim that the messiah of God had come, was condemned and crucified, died and was buried — and rose from the dead! — wasn’t consistent with the Scriptures. These characters would have to decide: either they were Jews, in which case they were welcome in the synagogues, or they were something else — and had to take themselves and their permutated faith elsewhere.
Of course that went over like the proverbial lead balloon with the Johannine community. Confused and angry that others did not see as they did, they retaliated against those who excluded them by referring to them as sanctimonious jerks: “those Jews.”
And so what began as a family quarrel became institutionalized enmity; each side suspicious and fearful of the other, each more concerned with being right than being kind; neither realizing the toxic nature of the seeds they were sowing.
They knew so much, and yet understood so little. They were so wise and yet so foolish.
Both sides knew God as gracious and merciful, patient and forgiving, and abounding in steadfast love. But they stood apart from one another. This division, this unyielding separation, is the abiding tragedy, continuing sorrow — and sometimes cause of wickedness — embedded within the beginnings of our Christian faith.
And so they could not believe, because, as Isaiah also said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so that they might not look with their eyes, and understand with their heart and turn — for then I would heal them.” ~ John 12:39–40
It’s alarmingly easy — even for those who “know the Lord” — to attribute blindness to others, and fall into a ditch themselves (Mt 15:14, c.f., Mt 7:4).
It’s So Obvious
It’s all about Easter, man. Easter. That’s all you gotta know.
~ Gospel of John (attributed 😉)
As far as John and his community are concerned, once you know about Easter (really know), you can see why all that happened, happened. It’s obvious; it’s perfectly logical. You understand why Jesus had to do what he did, why he spoke as he did, why he endured what he did: why he was crucified, died, and was buried. It wasn’t pointless suffering and needless dying, but a necessary prelude to the Extraordinary Demonstration of God’s absolute, unequivocal, abundant and unrestrained love for us.
For God so loved the world…
It’s the Gospel passage we all know — well, it’s the passage we recognize. Perhaps we should stand back and consider: do we know it as passionately, fully, and completely as the Johannine community did? Do we hold it as an article of faith — as the article of our faith — that God loves us?
“I have glorified and I will glorify again.”
Some people heard thunder, others heard an angel speak; some people saw an empty tomb, others saw the Risen Lord; some ran away in fear and sorrow, others came together, professing God’s love for us.
The Lord Christ wasn’t sent to condemn the world, but to transform it; he wasn’t sent to die, but to give life. The crucifixion wasn’t the most important thing; the Resurrection is what defines the Gospel: God’s love is so luminous, so transforming, so glorious, that all else — whatever we have done or left undone — is dim and inconsequential by comparison.
We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.
~ 1 John 4:15-16
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Suggested Spiritual Exercise
Is it utterly obvious that God loves you? Do you believe it, fully and completely? Or is there a sneaking, shadowy doubt? Do you love gently and generously — others as well as yourself? Do you live as if the Truth is true?