Home Homilies Michael Whelan SM, PhD Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (22 March 2015)

Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (22 March 2015)

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. (John 12:20-33 – NRSV. This is the Gospel for Year B. The Gospel for Year A may be read instead – John 11:1-45 or John 11:3-7, 17,20-27, 33-45)

Introductory notes

“The Greeks” are almost certainly Gentiles – rather than Greek-speaking Jews. One scholar notes: “These Greeks were not necessarily from Greece: as elsewhere in the New Testament, the term refers to Gentiles who come from any part of the Greek-speaking world, possibly even a Greek city as near as the Decapolis. That they were God-fearing is intimated by John’s remark that they went up to worship at the Feast (sc. of Passover, 12:1). It is possible that they were proselytes, i.e. fully fledged converts to Judaism who would have been permitted to worship with Jews, but this cannot be inferred from the text, since other Gentiles who are said to have gone up to worship could not possibly be proselytes (e.g. the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8:27; cf. Jos., Bel. vi. 427). Like Cornelius (Acts 10) or the centurion who loved the Jews and built them a synagogue (Lk. 7:5), such Greeks admired much that they saw in Judaism without becoming official converts, and sometimes attended the great Jewish festivals in Jerusalem, where they were admitted to the court of the Gentiles. The Greek construction suggests that these Gentiles were drawn from those who regularly made such pilgrimages. Entrance to the inner courts was forbidden, on pain of death, to all Gentiles save proselytes. Warning notices were posted on the barrier (‘the dividing wall of hostility’, Eph. 2:14) that separated the inner courts from the court of the Gentiles. Not even the Roman Governor of Syria, Vitellius, dared ignore the prohibition or test its sanction when he attended the feast seven years later (March ad 37; cf. Jos., Ant. xviii. 122).” (D A Carson, The Gospel According to John, W.B. Eerdmans, 1991, 436.

The inquiring Gentiles stand in stark contrast the Pharisees – see John 9:35-41 where it is the cured blind man in a similar contrast with the Pharisees.

Both “Philip” and “Andrew” are Greek names.

This little moment is a signal of startling things yet to be revealed when Jesus “is lifted up”. The whole world will soon come to “see” Jesus as these Gentiles do – they are the first of many. And they come to Jesus via the disciples. The Fourth Servant Song of Isaiah (52:13-53-12) is present here. For example Isaiah 52:14-15: “Just as there were many who were astonished at him — so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals — so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.”

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”. Jesus makes this statement in the light of the request from “the world”, symbolized by “the Greeks”. He gives the very raison d’être of his being here: “Up to this point, the ‘hour’ has always been future (2:4; 4:21, 23; 7:30; 8:20), the ‘hour’ that is nothing less than the appointed time for Jesus’ death, resurrection and exaltation—in short, his glorification. Now, dramatically, the request of the Greeks changes the parameters: The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. From now until the passion the ‘hour’ is in immediate prospect (12:27; 13:1; 17:1). In the Synoptic Gospels, the ‘Son of Man’ title is most commonly used by Jesus either in connection with his sufferings or in connection with his coming in glory. Here the two are fused, not only because Jesus’ death (vv. 24, 32) is the first stage on his way to receiving glory (v. 16), i.e. on his way to returning to the glory he had with the Father before the world began (17:5), but also because Jesus’ death was itself the supreme manifestation of Jesus’ glory. It is not just that the shame of the cross is inevitably followed by the glory of the exaltation, but that the glory is already fully displayed in the shame.” (D A Carson, op cit, 437.)

The “glorification” here is very much part of Jesus total commitment to the will of the Father. Jesus does not seek his own glory: “Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks it and he is the judge. …. If I
glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, ‘He is our God,'” (John 8:50 & 54). Jesus seeks only to do what the Father wants: “And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him” (John 8:29).

The disciples of Jesus are called into this same way of being, passing over from death t life, through death to life: “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. …. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”


“For the Christian, the cross ought to be a distinctive mark of any theology of Christian discipleship”. (Dermot A Lane, Christ at the Centre: Selected Issues in Christolgy, Veritas Publications, 1991, 54.)

Before we go any further, let us address a line of thinking that has been very destructive in our Catholic tradition. It is the line of thinking that sees Jesus – his life, death, resurrection and teaching – in primarily moral terms. Thus Jesus was loving and kind etc …… you go out and be loving and kind etc. The most destructive expression of this moralism emerges when it comes to the cross. The cross is seen primarily as a moral example, evoking courage and the willingness to make whatever sacrifice is necessary for the sake of the teachings of Jesus.

The cross is not first and foremost a moral example but a divine revelation. “God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” (John 3:16)

The cross is “ground, power and norm of the Christian faith” as Hans Kung says. (Hans Kung, On Being a Christian, Doubleday, 1976, 410.)

The cross as “ground” is that on which our sense of identity and security depend. It is the non-negotiable bottom line, the starting point of all our living. Calvary is the place from which we see the world.

The cross as “power” is the source of our motivation and energy. The cross moves us to act or not act, it enables us to stand firm in the face of evil confident that, because of the cross evil can have no final victory. The cross replaces ego.

The cross as “norm of Christian faith” is lens through which we discern any situation, the measure we bring to our evaluations of success. The cross confronts us with unspeakable and incomprehensible love.

“The memory of the Christian is, above all, the memory of the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is that dangerous memory (Metz) which is most danger for all those who presume to make his memory their own. And that memory releases the theological knowledge that there is no innocent tradition, no innocent classic, no innocent reading. That memory releases the moral insistence that the memory of the suffering of the
oppressed – oppressed often by the Church which now claims them as its own – is the great Christian countermemory to all tales of triumph: both the social-evolutionary complacent narrative of modernity and the all too pure reading of the “tradition” by the neoconservatives. Is the Christian narrative Christendom or Christianity?

“Christianity is always a memory that turns as fiercely against itself as against other pretensions to triumph. The great prophetic negations of all triumphalism released by the memory of Jesus of Nazareth render unreal, on inner-Christian grounds, any appeals to narrative, memory, tradition, identity that partake of either innocence or triumph. To defend tradition is to defend that often disturbing and often self-judging prophetic memory. To become historically minded is to seize that memory for the present and to recall the past in that memory’s subversive light. … Any theology of retrieval that refuses to face that fact may end, despite its own clear and noble intentions, not defending the memory of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ and not truly remembering the God who both promises and judges, but remembering only a fom of Christianity dangerously
close to historical Christendom.” (David Tracy, On Naming the Present: God, Hermeneutics, and Church, Orbis/SPCK, 1994, 14-15.)