Audio transcript available at https://youtu.be/r6l54-s5k68.
Lent 5B 15
We are reading John’s gospel in a very strange order- which would be a problem if what we wanted was the story of Jesus’ life, but instead week by week we are learning things about the bigger picture of John and his ideas about who and what Jesus is. The passage we read today comes immediately after what we will next week celebrate as the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem or Palm Sunday. Everyone has gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the great festival of Passover, and we have talked about that over the last weeks, though of course in John’s account this is a different year so not the same Passover as in chapter 2. Not long before the Passover Festival Jesus performs his greatest sign of power, which is the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and the crowd is watching him and waiting expectantly and the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders are also watching him waiting for a moment when they can have legitimate grounds for getting rid of this man who is threatening everything they hold dear.
In the great crowds of people who have come up to the Passover are some Greeks. They are very probably what were called God–fearers, Gentiles who followed the Jewish religion, while all the time being second-class citizens. Unless you were circumcised, on the eighth day, as Paul says about himself, you couldn’t really enter into the covenant relationship and be one of the chosen people. The Greeks were hangers on and could never be part of the in-group. Do you know how that feels- that longing to belong and knowledge that because of some accident of birth, or upbringing, perhaps because of the way you look, or because of the way you sound, you will never be “in”? These people had obviously heard about Jesus, the great Jewish healer and teacher and they wanted to see him. I think they wanted, really, to be presented to him. So Philip goes to Andrew and together they go and tell Jesus. Now why are these two disciples named? Well, they are two of the very first disciples called in John’s gospel, and not only is this passage repeating their names it is also repeating the formula. Jesus says to those first disciples, “Come and See” and then they say to each other “Come and see”. This is the call to discipleship, for John- to come, and to see who and what Jesus is. And that is still the call to discipleship, we have to come to Jesus. And when we are in the presence of Jesus then we can see. Philip and Andrew had been on this journey of discipleship with Jesus for three years and now suddenly the formula is repeated and we have a whole new ballgame. Because these Greeks who want be disciples represent the other, they are Gentiles.
Right back, before Jesus came the prophets, particularly Isaiah, called Israel to be a holy nation and a light to the Gentiles, and here it is happening. And that is why Jesus makes this strange response to the news that Greeks have come seeking him, “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,”. In other words he has now arrived at the end point. And he continues, “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.” the two things don’t immediately seem to be connected do they? But the connection is the discipleship. Jesus has called both Jews and Gentiles and they have come to him, they have seen and they are ready to go out and take the news of the Kingdom of God to the world. Now while Jesus remains alive on earth, he is the locus of God’s glory as we saw in the temple narrative, but once he dies the seed will be scattered- disciples will be found all around the world and the Glory of God, dwelling in the body of Christ, that is the church, you and me, will bear much fruit. From the single grain, that is Jesus of Nazareth, 2.2 billion Christians, at this present moment, will come. But only because there were and are disciples. Philip and Andrew, the God-fearing Greeks, Peter and Paul, Augustine, Patrick, Luther and Cranmer, Martin Luther King, +Desmond Tutu, you and me, we are all linked in this servant relationship that keeps the light alive in the world. “Whoever serves me, the Father will honour,” Jesus goes on to say. And this is why at this moment God’s Glory blazes forth.
And God confirms this in a voice like thunder, for our sakes, as Jesus says. We need to know, every now and then that we are on the right track, don’t we? We all have those moments of doubt and it is the voice of God, speaking within us that restores us to our right mind and assures us of the glory, present in our lives and the greater glory to come.
Jesus then says that when he is “lifted up” he will draw all people to himself. And the “lifted up” is a kind of double entendre, because it indicates both the means of his death, that is lifted up and nailed to a cross, and his glorification, which is his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension, two things which really seem mutually exclusive. But that is, as St Paul says, the scandal of the cross, that in the humiliating death, kept for the worst criminals as a message to all those around, the glory of God is revealed. We human beings are always drawn to the degradation of others, it is programmed into us, that to feel as if all is right with the world we need to see someone else sacrificed as a scapegoat. Girard says that it is only with this death, this death where the victim forgives us, that we can be free of it.
And Jesus does draw all people to himself- last week we read those words, “God so loves the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life”. It is a universal offer, to Jews and to Greeks, to those who are in and those who are out, we are all chosen, we are all loved, we can all participate in the Glory of God.
This is an amazing sequence of events. God creates us, by speaking the word, but we human beings choose to live in darkness. So God comes to dwell with us, by living as the word made flesh, shining the light into the darkness of our existence, but again we choose darkness, we choose to perform the founding murder, like Cain and Abel all over again, and crucify the Word of God, but in that supreme act of darkness, something is transformed by the victim’s willingness to die, the victim’s forgiveness of the horror that we perpetrate, and in that death is somehow transformed into life, life that is total inclusiveness, we are included in the relationship of God, the perichoretic dance of the trinity.
And we are called, as disciples to continue the dance.
Sing “the Lord of the Dance”