Today's lectionary reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33
Passage selected for reflection: John 12:20-33 (MSG)
20-21 There were some Greeks in town who had come up to worship at the Feast. They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee: “Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?”
22-23 Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip together told Jesus. Jesus answered, “Time’s up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
24-25 “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life, just as it is, destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.
26 “If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.
27-28 “Right now I am shaken. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’”
A voice came out of the sky: “I have glorified it, and I’ll glorify it again.”
29 The listening crowd said, “Thunder!”
Others said, “An angel spoke to him!”
A pivot. A hard right turn. A change of course.
This part of John's writing about Jesus seems to abruptly shift directions. In the chapter before, Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey and allows himself to be lauded with "blessed is the one who comes in God's name! He is the King of Israel!" Before that, Jesus shares a meal at the home of his friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha. While there, Mary surprises the gathered guests by anointing Jesus' feet with expensive aromatic oils--most likely in gratitude for bringing her brother back to life months earlier. Jesus doesn't seem taken by it, allowing her to continue even when practical protests arise about better use of the money spent on the oils. He seems to encourage people proclaiming and demonstrating that he is in fact someone significant, powerful and sent by God.
But then he pivots in this part of the story. The Greek men want to meet him, possibly because they have influence or could be benefactors. Maybe they are devout men of God and he has inspired them. No matter their motivation, though. Jesus simply says, "No. There isn't time left for these kinds of encounters."
I can only imagine the look Philip and Andrew gave Jesus. "Why would our friend who has welcomed children, women, the poor, the Samaritan, the tax collector, and so many sick and ill, now deny these men? Why is he no longer welcoming these interactions?
Jesus seems to intuit their bewilderment and explains with what seems like an unrelated string of metaphors. He shares that a seed must die so it can sprout to life and flourish, then maybe responds to the Greek men’s motives and tells all listening to serve him by following. Next, he shares a moment of vulnerability about feeling unsettled and concerned about what’s coming--even the thought of asking God to get him out of it--but resolving instead to trust that this plan will put his Father’s glory on full display. Lastly, when the voice of God speaks from beyond the sky like thunder, Jesus again foreshadows climactic events beginning to unfold and declares that the bootlegging ruler of this world is going to get the boot off his temporary throne as Jesus gathers people all around to follow him.
Now if it were me standing there with Philip and Andrew, I’d say my bewilderment just multiplied. What is he talking about? What does a grain of wheat have to do with serving Jesus? And wait, you are distressed? About what? What do you mean God’s glory? What aren’t you telling us? And what was that sound? God said what? Go on about Satan and his rule. Does this mean the evil Romans will be out of here? How will you be lifted up from the earth? What does that actually mean?
All the questions. Yet in their heart of hearts a bigger story was likely coming into view and kept refocusing through the trauma of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, then his stunning return to them. It was a picture of salvation where the seed of Jesus’ God-infused humanity had been dead to the world and sprung to a new flourishing life like a tidal wave of God’s love and power. And when they finally saw him with God’s glory unmistakably upon him, they understood the reason for the sudden pivot during the Passover. Yes, he would live and be lifted up, but not before the heaviness of leaving them behind. He would win the cosmic battle in the end but must turn and walk through the darkness in order for his beloved humanity to change course too.
Take a few moments and find yourself in this story. Who might you be and what are you doing? What is your response to what Jesus says? Now consider yourself a week later. How would you make sense of what you heard and the events you witnessed? What would your pivot be? How would you change course? Now consider the many pivots you have been required to make in the last year. Where do you see Jesus being lifted up so that you can follow him where he is going?
Jesus, Son of God, the one who pivoted toward the darkness so that we could change course: help us to make sense of all the seemingly unrelated moments or hard to understand losses. They don’t all need to be connected, but if we are willing, each of them can point to your full glory on display in our lives. Amen.
About the Author
Rev. Denise McKinney is a Church Planter/Lead Pastor in Tulsa, OK at thewelltulsa.org, married to Gary and mom of Lanie and Garrison. She wrote the YS book, Mile Markers: A Path for Nurturing Adolescent Faith. You can find more of her writing and speaking at denisemckinney.com.