Sermon 5th Sunday of Lent. 21st March 2021
Jer 31:31-34. Ps 119:9-16. Heb 5:5-14. John12:20-33
Our Gospel reading today follows on from Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It may seem that the readings are a little out of order. But what these passages remind us of, is the fact that the disciples did not appreciate the significance of what was happening until after Jesus resurrected. The disciples needed time to reflect back on all that occurred during Jesus ministry. But even before this, there are, in our passage today, some remnants left over from Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead.
And so it is from here we will begin. Our gospel reading can be divided into three distinct parts. The first is the Greeks approaching the disciples wishing to see Jesus. The second is Jesus response to the disciples by way of a number of sayings to signify his impending death and finally, there is the ‘voice from heaven’. Each ‘episode’ connects us to the full reality of what the disciples are trying to grasp from Jesus.
The Greeks who approach the disciples have one thing in mind saying, ‘We wish to see Jesus’. (John 12:20). And it is little wonder, these unknown Greeks have come to the Festival. It was known that there were among the Jews, Greeks who followed the Jewish faith without converting as proselytes. They are gentile worshippers. But they have heard about what Jesus has done. In Chapter 11 of John, Jesus went to Mary and Martha because his friend Lazarus had died. Jesus wept at the thought of his friend no longer with them, but he raised Lazarus from the dead so that those present would believe and also to signify his own impending death and resurrection.
‘We want to see Jesus’. This is the opposite of what the Pharisees wanted. The Pharisees want to kill Jesus and on hearing that Jesus had raised Lazarus wanted him killed too. However, it is the very next day that Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey with people calling out, Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. The same group of people who had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead are here at the gates of Jerusalem calling out Hosanna to Jesus. The Pharisees are now desperate saying to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing, Look the whole world has gone after Jesus’. (John 12:19).
What the Greeks want is the ‘see Jesus’. And yet there is something elusive about this. You and I would want to ‘see’ Jesus. Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus tells Thomas blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. These Greeks are yet to understand the connection between seeing and believing.
Jesus hears the disciples request for the Greeks to ‘see him’ but answers them by way of a number of short sayings and we arrive at the second portion of our gospel reading. Jesus says to the disciples, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’.(John 12:23) And here we see the connection between Jesus raising Lazarus and Jesus referring to his death and resurrection. Again, the disciples had a hard time connecting what Jesus was saying to them. Jesus attempts to do this continuing, ‘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’ (John 12:24). A grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die in order to bring new life. And here we arrive at the message for us today as it was for the disciples. ‘Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world, will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves Jesus must follow, and where he is, there his servant also will be (John12:25-26). The crux of following Jesus and our spiritual growth are centred on this truth. Living and dying, not in the literal sense but in giving ourselves to God, our lives are no longer our own but are surrendered to God. We of course will attempt to take back control, but the call to follow Jesus is a choice to let go and allow the spirit of God to form and mould our lives anew.
In the third and final section of our Gospel reading, Jesus begins to talk about what he will face. ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I (Jesus) say, ‘Father save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour’. Jesus now faces the reality of the sole purpose of his earthly mission, to give his life for us. And what is the reply? A voice from heaven. God the Father speaks directly to Jesus within the hearing of those gathered, ‘I have glorified it and I will glorify it again’. God is affirming that Jesus is the one who is glorified and the one who will be glorified. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again! Jesus speaking of his impending death says to the crowd, ‘When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself’(John 12:32). The crowd do not realise what Jesus is saying. Do we? Do we also stand and gaze in disbelief that Jesus told the crowd that this was a part of God’s plan, that the ‘light of the world would remain a little longer’. He encourages those listening to believe in the light while Jesus is still with them. And many of them did not believe.
There are three lines from our Gospel that give us pause to consider.
The first is the call of the Greeks saying ‘We want to see Jesus’. The second, ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains, but if it dies it bears much fruit.’ And the final one, ‘believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light’. Jesus knew the people wanted more than anything to see him, yet he encouraged them to believe with all their hearts and minds rather than just to see with human eyes. To realise the way to life is through giving of oneself to God and that as you and I believe in Jesus who is light of the world, we become children of THE light, the children of God. Today God calls us to give our lives anew as we continue our Lenten Journey. Next week as we celebrate Palm Sunday, may we remember that Jesus calls us to follow, to believe and give our lives afresh.
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.