John 12: 20–33
Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover feast say to Philip, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Jesus responds, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He then says that in order to produce much fruit, a grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die; and only the person who “hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” Those who follow him, Jesus promises, will be where he is, and the Father will honor them.
Jesus, realizing that his “hour” will involve suffering and death, is troubled; yet, he entrusts his life to the Father. Through giving himself to his Father’s will, the world will be judged, and the ruler of this world will be driven out. Jesus then reveals the purpose of the “hour” he is about to enter: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”
The incident of the Greeks asking to see Jesus marks a turning point in the fourth gospel. Before, as at the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus had always said that his “hour” had not yet come. Now through the symbolic presence of the Greeks, Jesus will be able to draw everyone to himself—Gentiles as well as Jews, people today as well as people of the first century. We, too, would like to see Jesus.
One of the most elusive concepts in the entire bible is “glory.” John uses the term to refer to the divine presence manifesting itself in the world, and also to the recognition of that supreme presence by a faithful person. In the hour that has come upon him, how will the Father’s presence manifest itself to Jesus, and how will he honor that divine presence? It is clear from many incidents in the fourth gospel that Jesus loved and enjoyed his human life. He took part in a wedding feast at Cana. At the death of his friend Lazarus, Jesus was moved with the deepest emotions (anger or indignation as well as sorrow). He wept, so much did he love his friend. Now that his “hour” has come, Jesus is troubled at the prospect of losing his life. The Letter to the Hebrews states: “In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death….” (Hebrews 5: 7).
Because human life is so precious, perhaps the deepest human instinct is for its survival. We seek power and possessions to secure it. We seek pleasures to enjoy it. We seek honors to assure ourselves of its worth. Jesus, too, faced the temptation to make the preservation of his own life his supreme value. In prayer, however, he recognized the presence of the Father’s eternal life dwelling in him, and he committed himself to his Father’s will even if it meant he would die. In this the Father glorifies his name by showing us in Jesus that divine life and love overcome death, not only in his beloved Son but in every human being who follows Jesus.
When Jesus dies on the cross, it appears to be the “hour” when the “ruler of this world” has triumphed once and for all. However, the reality is that Jesus is lifted up not to end his life on the cross, but is lifted up to eternal life in the Father. The good news that John’s gospel proclaims is that now Jesus draws everyone to himself. The Greeks and all who now “see” Jesus and follow him in faith will be where he is, with God.
The crucial “hour” when one must choose either to love one’s life in this world above everything else, or to love one’s life in God, of course, will come in the particular circumstances of one’s own world. There are immediate implications of that decision. To define one’s ultimate meaning in relation to any reality but God is to live in a state of anxiety because that finite reality, however precious, may pass away at any moment. On the other hand, to define one’s meaning in relation to life in God brings peace beyond understanding. Even though, like Christ, we may experience the deepest emotions at the death of a loved one, or be troubled at the prospect of our own death, the final word is peace. “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16: 33).
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.