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FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT (18th March 2018)

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 12:20-33

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 honor. “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.



Today’s Gospel selection (John 12:20-33) seems at first glance to be a number of golden sayings of Jesus that appear without a common theme. My initial impression was that Jesus, aware of his impending passion and death was speaking randomly and it was the memory of this agony that is evoked here. At a deeper level however there appears a thread of unity binding these utterances. It focuses on that grain of wheat that he weaves into a brief parable that knits his thoughts together. What happens within that grain symbol, he shares with us.
John the Evangelist presents the end of Jesus’ ministry within the framework of a week that begins ‘six days before Passover’. There were some Greeks among those who had come up to worship at the feast. They came to Philip who spoke Greek and asked him, ‘Sir, we would like to see Jesus’. These Greeks were sympathetic to Judaism, but fell short of integration. They want to ‘see’ Jesus. The perfect model of the believer is the disciple who having entered the empty tomb on Easter Day, ‘saw and believed’ (John 20:8) – the request of these God-fearing Greeks is one of faith. Asking Philip to see Jesus suggests that access to faith is gradual – to see Jesus one must be led to him by an apostle. Nothing is said about how Jesus received their request and what became of them. The narrative comes to an abrupt end.
The Greek’s access to Jesus is connected to the ’hour’ of Jesus and reveals that that hour has now come. The hour that Jesus recalls so often in the Gospel of John is that of the glorification of the ‘Son of Man’. It is the hour of his Passover – passion, death, resurrection, and ascension, for which Jesus had come, for which he longs, though fearing it – it’s the hour when Jesus will draw all human beings to himself. Then at that hour, everyone will see Jesus lifted up on the cross and looking upon him, obtain eternal salvation.
Then comes a little parable. The grain of wheat fallen to earth designates Jesus, who by his death becomes the standing tree from which everyone can receive the fruit of life. From the death of one is gained the salvation of a multitude. This same image can be taken to mean the tree of the cross on which the Lord was lifted up and which gives fruit in abundance to feed all people. It is from the light of the cross, planted at the centre of the earth that Jesus draws all people to himself. It is at this hour that Jesus becomes king of the universe. In order to share in the glorification of Christ, disciples must follow Jesus by showing a determination similar to his – must go to the point of losing their lives ‘in this world’, to ‘preserve it for eternal life’.
Jesus does not hesitate. He does not want his Father to deliver him from this hour, since it is for this hour that he has come. He simply says, ‘Father, glorify your name’. His passion glorifies the Father because it forcefully reveals the power of his love that saves the whole of humankind. Grain of wheat fallen into the earth, he has risen, tree of life laden with fruit. Lifted up on the cross, he is forever the sign and source of salvation for all those who look to him with faith and follow him into the glory God reserves for them. He is the head of the people of the new and eternal covenant in his blood poured out for all as atonement for the sins of all.

Kevin Lyon
Archdeacon of Glendalough


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