In our passage for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, John 12:20-33, Jesus tells us that the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. This is our last Sunday reading prior to Holy Week. This passage sets the stage for the Holy Week, and for the confrontation with the Temple authorities. Chronologically, we are a little ahead of ourselves, as Jesus has already entered Jerusalem on a donkey (Jn 12:1-10).
Foreigners Come to Pay a Visit to Jesus
According to John, some Greek-speaking pilgrims have come to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple during the Holy Week. With the insertion of this verse, the author of John’s Gospel tells us very concisely that the fame of Jesus has spread well beyond the borders of Judea. The text seems to indicate that the foreigners, too, are Jewish, but not all scholars agree. They may be dignitaries from Asia Minor: perhaps Ephesus, Antioch, or another city in Asia Minor. They ask Philip and Andrew for an introduction to Jesus.
Did the foreign pilgrims approach Philip and Andrew because, among the twelve, they spoke Greek? As a second language, that would not be surprising. Eusebius does tell us that Andrew later preached the Gospel in Greek-speaking territory. He evangelized Asia Minor and the Black Sea region. Today, this area encompasses Greece, Turkey, and Romania. He may have even reached Scythia, the northern shore of the Black Sea (what is now the Ukraine and Russia). Andrew is also regarded as the founder of the church in Constantinople, in 38 C.E. Given that we know that Andrew aggressively evangelized Asia Minor, we should not be surprised that pilgrims from this area may have asked the Apostle potentially conversant in Greek for an introduction to Jesus.
Jesus tells Andrew and his guests that whoever loves his life loses it. And then, for the third time in John’s Gospel, Jesus says he will be lifted up from the earth, a reference both to the cross and his ascension into heaven. John makes clear what Jesus means, saying in verse 33 that the reference to being “lifted up” tells us the kind of death he would die.
“The Hour Has Come”
These words spoken by Jesus signal a thematic transition in John’s Gospel. In chapters 1 through 11, John weaves the seven miracles, that suggest that Jesus is the Messiah, into the first half of his Gospel. Some scholars refer to the first half of John’s Gospel (chapters 1 to 11) as the Book of Signs, referring to the seven miracles. In the Book of Signs, Jesus tells us, or John narrates, that his hour has not yet come (Jn 2:4; 7:30; 8:20) three times. Jesus tells us another four times that the hour is coming, while at John 12:23, in this passage, Jesus tells us that the hour has come.
Now the story transitions to the Holy Week in Jerusalem, including a very long discourse by Jesus at the Last Supper. The second half of John’s Gospel (chapters 12 to 22) is known of the Book of Glory. It is known as the Book of Glory because the “hour” when Jesus will be “glorified” is now immanent. Does Jesus explain in this passage what he means when he says the hour has come? Yes. He tells us that if a grain of what dies, that it produces much fruit. Later, Jesus says, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself. Jesus predicts his own death and resurrection. When he says, I will draw everyone to myself, he is stating that, by reconciling the world to himself (for example, Col 1:20), he will save the world (Jn 12:47).
Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast
came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee,
and asked him, “Sir, we would like 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.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
Whoever loves his life loses it,
and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there also will my servant be.
The Father will honor whoever serves me.
“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?
‘Father, save me from this hour?’
But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.
Father, glorify your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven,
“I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”
The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder;
but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”
Jesus answered and said,
“This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.
Now is the time of judgment on this world;
now the ruler of this world will be driven out.
And when I am lifted up from the earth,
I will draw everyone to myself.”
He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.