This week we continue our meditations on Jesus’s Passion predictions in the Gospel of John. Please read John 12:20-33 where Jesus says “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
THE TIME (Chronos):
Our lesson this week takes place immediately after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (John 12:12-19) on Palm Sunday where the exuberant crowds welcome their conquering Messiah. (Palm Sunday itself takes place immediately after the anointing at Bethany that we looked at last week.) This teaching is the first and only public teaching that Jesus has in Jerusalem in John’s gospel. The lesson occurs within the context of Jesus’ last public teaching of his earthly ministry. This is the final explicit saying about his death and resurrection that he will give. All of the other passion predictions that we have looked at, culminate in our statement this week.
THE TIME (Kairos):
The lesson also comes at the appropriate and appointed time. In the Good Shepherd discourse, Jesus speaks of calling sheep that are “not of this fold.” John 10:16. Our lesson opens this week with some Greeks going up to Jerusalem to worship. We are uncertain as to the identity of these Greeks. We do know that Greeks and Jews lived closely together in Galilee. We know that Greeks were religious curious and always looking for a better god to worship or a better to worship the God. We see this in Paul’s discussion on Mars Hill in Athens in Acts 17. In his Commentary on this verse, St. Cyril of Alexandria has an expansive sociological-historical examination of this phenomenon by Greeks.
These Greeks ask Philip if they could see Jesus. Philip tells Jesus that Greeks are looking for him. In response, Jesus says “The hour has come.” Now that non-Jews have sought him out, the appropriate time for his death has come. Jesus’s earthly ministry is at its completion and the only remaining task is his glorification on the Cross. Now is the right time.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” The statement itself is self-explanatory. A seed must die and be buried in order to germinate into a plant and produce fruit. Death necessarily precedes re-creation and re-birth. Therefore, Jesus must die so that he may be resurrected.
Within our passion predictions, Jesus often speaks of himself as something unique. He is the snake lifted up on the pole or he is the Good Shepherd. Here, however, Jesus positions himself as one of us. Throughout his ministry, Jesus has previously spoken about us as blades of wheat. See, Matthew 13, John 4:35. Wheat is not spoken of in isolation but only as part of a field to be harvested or sheaf to be winnowed. Within this statement, therefore, Jesus emphasizes his humanity that put on flesh and walked among us. In his death, he is to be like us.
But in his statement, he also emphasizes our obligation to follow him into his death. “He who loves his life loses it . . . and must follow me.” He became one of us so that we could become like him. Therefore, for us to be reborn, we too must die. Or as St. Paul says: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4.
1 CORINTHIANS 15:
To go deeper into the prediction, Jesus is also commenting on the nature of the resurrection. Simply compare a grain of wheat with a full stalk. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul has an extended discourse into the nature of the resurrection and particularly in verses 35-50. In addressing the nature of the resurrected body, Paul writes “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.” vv.36-37. The grain is different than the resulting plant. The body that dies, the ego that must surrender, and passions that must be defeated are but the seed. The seed is not the end but the beginning. The end goal and purpose of the seed is to die so that it might be raised into something greater (an acorn vs. an oak tree). Or as Paul puts it: What is sown is perishable, in dishonor, in weakness, and physical and what is raised in its stead is imperishable, in glory, in power. and spiritual. vv. 42-44.
In this discussion, Paul’s whole point is that Jesus is the first fruits of this resurrection. v.20. Just as he died, bore fruit, and becomes transformed, so will we. Therefore, as we read Jesus’s statement this statement, think through how Paul applied this passion prediction of Jesus to his audience.
THE (UN)TROUBLED SOUL:
In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane that “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Matt. 26:39. In John’s gospel, however, Jesus’ soul is troubled (v.27) and yet Jesus readily rejects asking God to save him from this hour. Rather, Jesus displays a bold confidence that he must die as he has foretold.
In interpreting this verse St. Cyril says:
See I pray you in these words again how the human nature was easily affected by trouble and easily brought over to fear, whereas on the other hand the Divine and ineffable Power is in all respects inflexible and dauntless and intent on the courage which alone is befitting to It. For the mention of death which had been introduced into the discourse begins to alarm Jesus, but the Power of the Godhead straightway subdues the suffering thus excited and, in a moment, transforms into incomparable boldness that which had been conquered by fear.
Jesus’s final passion prediction ends with the voice from heaven thundering “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” v.28. The voice tells us that the crucifixion is not a sign of defeat but of honor and praise. The cross is, as Jesus comments in the next verse, the judgment against the world and the ruler of the world. What will play out during Jesus’s arrest, trials, and passion is not Jesus versus the Jewish leaders or the Roman empire, but the apocalyptic battle between light and the darkness. v.35.
This Wednesday, Messiah is holding an evening prayer service in the chapel. This week’s celebration is the Annunciation.
As is our tradition, for Eastertide, we will be reading through a more contemplative work. The book this year is Fr. Stephen Freeman’s book Everywhere Present – Christianity in a One-storey Universe. The theme of the book is to make us more aware of God’s living and active presence in our lives in the here and now.
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, *
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.
For kingship belongs to the Lord; *
he rules over the nations.
To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; *
all who go down to the dust fall before him.
My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him; *
they shall be known as the Lord’s forever.
They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn *Psalm 22:26-30
the saving deeds that he has done.