Reading: John 12:20-36
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 judgment 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.
The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”
Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.
Reflection: One of the lovely things in the gospels is the way that some things Jesus said were remembered in different ways. They were obviously so important to his followers that those differing memories passed into the soul of the Jesus community and shaped how they lived and what they taught.
As the sayings of Jesus and the stories about him were assembled in the gospels after he died, slight differences in context and in wording come through to us. Perhaps Jesus used a variety of ‘inflections’ of some of his favourite teachings, so it is his rhetorical creativity that we see in these varied texts, not the different memories of those who heard and treasured his words.
Whatever its origins, it is clear that the saying “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it”, is close to the heart of Jesus’ preaching in Mark (Mark 8.35 – look at the context).
In John’s gospel, a slightly different form appears: Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12.25). Here it is joined with the wonderful insight that a grain of wheat must fall into the earth and die before it can live again in next year’s crop. For John’s telling of the Jesus story, it is abundantly clear that this saying is also close to the heart of the gospel and is even attested by a voice from heaven like thunder (John 12.28).
Now whether Jesus taught this saying with the contrasts save/lose – lose/save (as in Mark) or love/lose – hate/keep (as in John) or whether he used both forms, this saying points to two great truths that Jesus undoubtedly taught. The first is that this Holy Week caper was not just a matter for Jesus: we too are called to follow. It is not only the Master who will experience loss and suffering, and even lose life itself. We his servants and followers will experience this mystery too.
The second truth is the paradox that this faithful following does not in fact lead to death, but to life! Here on the Tuesday of Holy Week with the lingering fragrance of yesterday’s ointment anointing Jesus for death, a new note is struck. With the smell of death still in our noses, we are also given the feel of seed-wheat in our hands – and the hint that not all death is final and hopeless, but can lead on to new fields, fresh crops, abundant harvests.