Sunday, 18 March 2018

Lent Week 5 Sunday B

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ps 50/51; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

This passage takes us back to the very beginning of John’s Gospel. Philip is there and Andrew. There is the desire to see Jesus. There is a reference to the hour which has now come, there is a reference to Jesus being lifted up, and there is a reference to glory. All of these things we find in the opening pages of John’s gospel.

‘Lifted up’ is a theme that recurs in the gospel. When Philip brings Nathanael to meet Jesus at the beginning, Jesus says to him that he will see even more wonderful things, he will see the Son of Man, heaven opened and the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.  In chapter 3 Jesus told Nicodemus that the Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. And here now in chapter 12, Jesus says that he is to be lifted up, and will draw all to himself indicating now by this reference the way in which he was to die.

The hour had not yet come when Mary asked Jesus to work a sign at the marriage feast of Cana, at the beginning of Chapter 2 of John’s gospel. We are told twice again, in chapter 7 and in chapter 8, that the hour had not yet come. But now with the request of these Greeks to see Jesus, suddenly this seems to be the catalyst. The hour has come, Jesus says, for the Son of Man to be glorified, an hour which it is difficult to embrace but which he must embrace because this is the reason why he has come into the world, to come to this hour.

This is the hour of his glory but it is also the hour of the glory of the Father. These can never be separated, the glory of the Son and the glory of the Father.  The Father’s name is to be glorified as the Son of Man is glorified. ‘I have glorified it and I will glorify it again’, the voice says from heaven. Already he has glorified his name. When? In the old testament, in all that God had done in preparing his people for this hour. And again in the new testament, in what has been done through Jesus. Or perhaps it refers to all that Jesus has already done, the signs which he has already worked, through which the Father’s name has been glorified. And the great sign which is yet to come, the sign of his death, the climax of this revelation of the glory of God.

We are then given a rich, concentrated summary of the teaching of Jesus. ‘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 keep it for eternal life.’ ‘Whoever serves me must follow me and where I am my servant will be also and the Father will honour.’

The seed about which he had spoken in the parables, which sown in the earth bears fruit, the word of teaching, the word of wisdom, is now to become him, he himself, Jesus, sown in the earth, to become the fruit-bearing one, the bread of life which is his teaching is to be complemented, to be supplemented, by the living bread which he is to become, the word sown in the earth, the word who is to bring life, eternal life to the world.

This rich concentrated summary continues because it seems as if here in this short passage we find echoes of the baptism of Jesus, of the transfiguration of Jesus, of the agony in the garden, none of which is recounted in any detail by John and yet all of them here in this one short moment, the heart of these moments in the life of Jesus is here, where he is revealed as the servant, the chosen one, the beloved, the only son from the Father, the one who is to give life from the Father.

The one who saves his life loses it, the one who loses his life in service and in love keeps it for the eternal life. This teaching is given flesh in the way followed by Jesus, our saviour and our champion. He is the one who loses his life in service and in love, he is the one who keeps that life for eternal life, the one who becomes the source for us of eternal life.

So in this moment, this turning point in the gospel, we are given a glimpse beforehand of our champion ‘lifted up’, the warrior God come to engage the powers of evil and of death. And the hour of that engagement has arrived. The one in whose dying the world is judged. The one in whose dying the ruler of this world is driven out. The one in whose dying God’s glory is revealed. The one whose dying bears much fruit drawing all, men and women, to himself and so to the Father.

You can listen to this homily being preached here

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