Gospel Reflections

5th Sunday of Lent

John 12:20-33

Sunday Gospel Reflection by Sister Maureen Lomax

Published: March 18, 2018


At the end of January, I moved to London.  Since I arrived here we have had bitterly cold weather, snow and ice. However, today is like Spring, and signs of new life and growth are beginning to show. Tips of green are peeping out of the soil in a few gardens as bulbs, having lain dormant underground for many months, begin a new cycle of life. What a wonder it is that small dry seeds and leafless trees are able to produce new leaves, flowers and fruits! Jesus used the image of seeds, growth and harvests in his teaching and his listeners would have understood the significance of the imagery of the wheat grain, as we do today.  But this is different! This time Jesus is the seed that dies and lives again.

Clement of Alexandria, an early Church father, called John’s Gospel the ‘spiritual Gospel’ in contrast to the Synoptics, which he called ‘human Gospels’. The central message is stated clearly and vividly:  

God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life’. (3:16)

This core message is re-affirmed in the accounts of the seven ‘Miracles/Signs’ and the related ‘I am’ sayings’: ‘the bread of life’ (6:35), ‘the light of the world’ (8:12),  ‘the gate for the sheep’ (10:7),   ‘the good shepherd’ (10:12), ‘the resurrection and the life’ (11:25), ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (14:6) and ‘the true vine’ (15:1). Only in this Gospel does Jesus use the Divine Name ‘I am who am’ (8:24,28; 13:19) and ‘I am’ (8:58) in reference to himself. This evangelist locates most of Jesus’s ministry around Jerusalem, theplace of Jesus’s death and resurrection and so has established Jesus’s Messianic credibility!

In this Sunday’s extract from John’s Gospel (12:20-30), Jesus has already entered Jerusalem (12:12-19) and it seems that ‘the Jews’, God’s chosen People, have rejected all the ‘Miracles/Signs’ that portray messiahship.  Jesus speaks only to his disciples Philip and Andrew (both Greek names), seeming to reject the approaches of the Greeks (representing non-Jews/Gentiles) who wish to see him and could become believers.

This moment is of great significance: ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’ (12:23) says Jesus to his close disciples. But for Philip and Andrew, knowing that the Jewish leaders are plotting against Jesus (11:45), there is conflict. How is Jesus to save his people, and give them eternal life? The climax of Jesus’s life and mission, his death and resurrection, is drawing near. Of this Jesus has is no doubt. But for others it is necessary to re-inforce the core message:

 ‘I tell you solemnly,unless a what grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; (12:24)

In the ‘dark soil’ of death, the seed (Jesus) will disappear and be replaced by new growth which is the ‘rich harvest‘  of eternal life for all. The paradox   of death bringing forth new life, seen in nature, would have been familiar to Jesus’s followers, but the extended paradox would not. The notion of ‘keeping’ and ‘losing’ of life is a hard saying which is offered to Jesus’s disciples. Holding on to this ‘world’ and its values, will not bring the ‘eternal life’ offered by Jesus to those who follow him:

 ‘If anyone serves me, he must follow me;wherever I am, my servant will be there too. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.’ (12:26)

His disciples, having followed Jesus so far, are faced with the possibility of their own suffering and death. How are they to be born again and live forever?

The short discourse ends with a ‘troubled’ Jesus who betrays fear as he questions if he should cry ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But no, this is the time, the ‘hour’ when Jesus will be glorified. For John the evangelist and the early faithful Christians, Jesus has already died (like the grain), lain in the ‘dark earth’ for three days and is risen (in glory). This Fourth Gospel is the reflected theology and faith of that time, which provides us with the inspiration and challenge to live an even more committed Christian life:

‘These (signs) are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life through his name’.(20:30-31)

 Reflection:

1)     Imagine or look at a dry seed. Do I sometimes feel ‘dry’ and ‘lifeless’?

2)     If you have time, plant a small seed and nurture it so that new life comes from it. Reflect on this miracle/sign.

3)     What is life-giving to me?

4)     Am I a ‘life-giver – or the opposite?

5)  How far am I able to ‘walk’ with Jesus on his jour

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