Lent5: Fifth Sunday in Lent, The hour has come

In the other Gospels, Jesus’ cleansing the temple followed the entry. In John, however, this cleansing occurred much earlier in Jesus’ ministry (cf. ch. 2), so Jesus is not here depicted as teaching in the Temple, as in the other Gospels. Apparently his whereabouts are unknown, since Greeks who are in Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover and who are seeking Jesus will have to be led there by the disciples Phillip and Andrew. It is also evident that the main role these otherwise unknown Greeks are to fulfill is simply, as non-Jews, to ask to see Jesus, since there is no further report of them in this story. Foreigners seeking Jesus is the event that triggers these comments by Jesus on his fate, commentary that refer to the whole scene in Jerusalem at Passover rather than any direct word either to the Greeks or the disciples.

            This scene serves as a climax to John’s narrative so far in two ways.

First, gentiles coming to see Jesus brings to a climax the series of universalistic references in chapters 11 that have pointed to God’s intention to save all people, gentiles as well as Jews. The appearance of the Greeks now begins the fulfillment of those statements.  Second, Jesus had said he would lay down his life for his flock (10:11), and that other sheep not belonging to the fold would join his flock (10:16). Again it was now being fulfilled.

            There is also a third way this scene represents a climax of the narrative thus far, and that is with the statement of Jesus in v. 23 that “the hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified,” i.e. die on the cross and be raised by God three days later. That Jesus’ hour has come fulfills a number of earlier statements by Jesus that his hour (or his time) had not yet come (2:4; 7:6, 30; 8:20). More immediately, chapter 11 began with the announcement that the purpose of Lazarus’ raising was that the Son of man be glorified through it. The hour for this glorification has now come (v. 23).

            The parabolic reference to the seed of grain in v. 24 is again familiar from the many “seed parables” in the other Gospels, but this one is unique in its emphasis that only through death can fruit be borne. In that way it reinforces the point being made here, namely that the hour has come for Jesus’ redemptive passion. The saying immediately following, in v. 25, about losing and saving life is again familiar from the Synoptics, e.g. Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 17:33; Matthew 10:39. It further reinforces the overall theme of this passage. Semitic usage favors vivid contrast to express preferences. The language about “loving” or ”hating” one’s life (see Deut. 21:15; similar examples are found in Matt 6:24; Luke 14:26) expresses one’s attitude to one’s physical life in the world under its present evil conditions in contrast to a (better) preference for a life of faith following Jesus. In John, darkness, the world, and human glory are all different facets of the realm of evil now afflicting human beings, and preference for any one of them represents an unwillingness to love Jesus above all. Again, this saying is found immediately after Jesus predicts his death in the Synoptics (e.g. Mark 8:31, 34).

            Verse 27 resumes the theme of glorification found in v. 23. This scene is closely paralleled with the account in the other Gospels of Jesus’ anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his crucifixion (e.g. Mark 14:34-36). Since in John there is no scene of temptation after Jesus’ baptism, nor of Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, this account displays the true humanity of Jesus in John. Here as in the other Gospels, Jesus triumphs by submitting himself to his Father’s will (e.g. Mark 14:36; Matt 26:39). It is by this submission (v. 28) that the Father’s name will be glorified, i.e. by Jesus’ obedient death on the cross.

            The response to this plea comes in the form of a voice from heaven. Since the Gospel of John has neither an account of Jesus’ baptism by John nor of the Transfiguration, this is the first time that the voice of God coming from heaven is mentioned. The mention of thunder by the crowd in reaction reflects a similar reaction to God’s voice in the Old Testament (1 Sam 12:18), but it is not clear here whether it means thunder accompanied the voice, or whether the sound of the voice was mistaken for thunder. The alternate explanation — the voice of an angel — perhaps implies accompanying thunder. It is puzzling that Jesus tells the crowd (v. 30) that the voice has come for their sake, not his. Yet apparently no one in the crowd understood what the voiced said. While this implies Jesus knows he is acting in accordance with God’s will, it shows no indication the people understood it in that way.

The following reference to judgment (v. 31) may imply that the mere sound of the voice from heaven confirms the arrival of the time of judgment, and the defeat of the “ruler of this world” i.e. Satan. Satan’s defeat here is not so much a reference to Satan’s fall from heaven (e.g. Luke 10:18) as it is a reference to his loss of authority in this world. That defeat is shown when Jesus, through his death on the cross, includes all people in God’s redemptive plan (v. 32). Yet this has not yet happened. Perhaps we are to understand that Jesus’ death is the key victory in the battle against Satan, but that the final period of warfare is not yet over, even though Satan’s defeat is sure. It is that confidence that helps us face our Lenten world.

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