Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Holy Week Through The Daily Lectionary

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 honour.
‘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 judgement 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. The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Messiah* remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ Jesus said to them, ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.
John 12:20-36
"After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them." Yet again, rather than answer a straightforward question with a simple "Yes" or "No" - Phillip and Andrew come and ask if some Greek Jews may see him - Jesus makes his way to an answer by the most circuitous route, taking the reader through a seed parable, a declaration of his own fear, the announcement of the Son of Man, and, finally, the use of an earlier "I Am" statement, "light", as a metaphor for himself.

Through all this, Jesus is pretty much beating in to the disciples' heads that he is about to die, and isn't exactly at peace with coming events. Yet, through it all, despite his own voiced fear, he recognizes the deeper need, the more important thing, the first thing to be sought: "Father, glorify your name." This is followed by an event similar to what occurred at his baptism, where the voice of God is heard as thunder, confirming Jesus in his person and work. Yet, it is not a voice of consolation and comfort; it is, rather, a confirmation that the Father has been, and will be, glorified.

In and through all this, we find little with which to console ourselves. As those who live on the other side of the events to come, we search for a word of reassurance, a scrap on which to hang our hopes that the coming Passion may prove victorious.

Instead, Jesus recaps his ministry, recalls his baptism, declares his Divine Personhood, counsels them to follow him - with the reminder that so doing involves hating one's life - and then goes off and hides from them. It is, in short, the whole Gospel message. Jesus is there, he's teaching, he's baptized, he declares the presence of the Son of Man, then he's gone.

How are we to follow in the light when the light is hidden from us? How are all our questions to be answered, when even the most simple one - can we see you? - results in this rather long, tangential exercise in plot recap? How do we make any sense, find any meaning or worth, in our lives when we are told we must hate our lives in order to be counted among the disciples?

The questions and mysteries pile up, as the reader struggles to understand what, precisely, is happening here. As the time of the Passion comes ever closer, as even Jesus declares in this passage, we are presented with a series of reminders that "seeing Jesus", "being with Jesus", is not something that is ours to ask. At least, it may well be ours to ask, but we have no idea what it is we are asking, who it is we are asking to see, or what it will cost us to see him.

The general consensus - barring the odd, evidence-free speculation of N. T. Wright that it is both the earliest and most faithful of the depictions of Jesus' ministry - is that the Fourth Gospel is both the latest of those included in the canon, and one written not for a specific Christian community, but rather for reasons of mission and catechesis. The line near the end, "These things are written so that you might believe", is often interpreted as showing the purpose of this particular Gospel, its role as instruction manual for new believers, or even unbelievers. There is much internal evidence to support this view of St. John's Gospel, and keeping that in mind, this passage raises the whole question of seeing God.

Divine presence, whether through ecstasy of some kind or merely possession an idol or token, was thought to be both relatively easy and comforting. We continue to act and think that way today, even about the God proclaimed in this passage to be a God who seeks God's glory rather than our comfort and peace. It is not for nothing that it is Greeks who request an audience with Jesus. It is these same Greeks - a general title for Gentiles in this time and place - who are the principal original readers of this Gospel; these same Greeks who form the core of believers of what is to become the Christian Church; these same Greeks who have been raised with a very different understanding of Divinity, Divine Presence, and the comfort and hope and reassurance Divinity gives to those who bask in the Divine Presence.

Jesus recaps his ministry, the most important of his teachings, the fundamental reality of his coming death for the sake of the one he calls Father, and admonishes them to follow in the light only to run and hide, denying them the light, to drive home the point that the God the world sees in and through Him, the Second Person in the flesh who calls the First Person Father, is not offering a message of peace and presence. This God whose presence we seek, in whom these Greeks so desperately wish to believe, is very different in every conceivable way from the gods to which they're used.

Seeking the presence of Jesus, seeking to see Jesus, to be with Jesus, leaves us without seeing Jesus. Ours is not a religious practice of seeing the God in whom we believe, finding comfort in and for our lives in the presence of this God. Our lot is not our own comfort, but the glory of the Father. That is the end of belief in God, the end of the journey of and with Jesus, the reason we are to hate our lives rather than find ourselves reconciled to and in and with our lives.

The comfort grows colder the closer we come to the Cross.

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