Lexegete™ | Year B | Mark
Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 29, 2009
Psalm 51:1-12 (10) or Psalm 119:9-16 (11)
Prayer of the Day
O God, with steadfast love you draw us to yourself, and in mercy you receive our prayers. Strengthen us to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, that through life and death we may live in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a | single grain;
but if it dies, it | bears much fruit. (John 12:24)
1. Context - John 12:20-33
The writer of John’s Gospel, by carefully utilizing significant bits of detail,
always drops major theological hints, via the context, into all of the discourses attributed to Jesus. It requires the reader of John 12:20-33 to look backward from the text to the beginning of chap. 12 where the evangelist begins to build the audience, create the scene, designate the time critical to understanding this discourse. The festival mentioned is the Feast of Passover, Israel’s annual remembrance of their most critical hour in history--God’s deliverance, liberation and salvation in the Exodus. This is no ordinary time in a daily routine, but a time of tedious preparation for asking the pivotal question of Pascha: “Why is this night different?” This time of preparation finds Jesus in the home of his closest friends--not exclusively with the Twelve--Martha serving, Lazarus at table with him and Mary anointing him for his burial, over the self-serving protestations of Judas, the keeper of the money-bag and soon-to-be betrayer. In the background the chief priests are plotting to kill both Jesus and Lazarus because their supporters are becoming believers in Jesus. Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem is accompanied by the great crowd and their cry for salvation (“Hosanna!”), the messianic symbol of donkey colt and the waving of the nationalistic symbol of palm branches--the equivalent of political placards. Along the sidelines the Pharisees are heard jealously muttering about how the whole world is going after Jesus.
The array of the privileged and the outcast is being tediously prepared for the reader. This is no ordinary moment in Jesus’ ministry. Events, people, time--the ingredients for effecting salvation are accumulating. The tension heightens as Greek proselytes incessantly pester Jesus’ Greek-named disciple from a fishing village in the Greek-dominated tetrarchy of Phillip to let them “see” Jesus. He joins forces with Jesus’ other Greek-named disciple from the same village, and together these two [who themselves are not in the inner circle of the Twelve, but who know all about being sought out to see and follow Jesus, and who brought others to “come and see” him too, Jn. 1:35-46] , provide the necessary ingredients for eliciting Jesus’ last public remarks before disappearing from public view, as unbelief prevails and fear cuts off confession (36b-43).
1b. Text: John 12:20-33
20 ησαν δὲ Ελληνές τινες ἐκ τῶν ἀναβαινόντων ἵνα προσκυνήσωσιν ἐν τῇ ἑορτῇ: 21οὗτοι οὖν προσῆλθον Φιλίππῳ τῷ ἀπὸ Βηθσαϊδὰ τῆς Γαλιλαίας, καὶ ἠρώτων αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Κύριε, θέλομεν τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἰδεῖν. 22ἔρχεται ὁ Φίλιππος καὶ λέγει τῷ Ἀνδρέᾳ: ἔρχεται Ἀνδρέας καὶ Φίλιππος καὶ λέγουσιν τῷ Ἰησοῦ. 23ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἀποκρίνεται αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ἐλήλυθεν ἡ ὥρα ἵνα δοξασθῇ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου. 24ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐὰν μὴ ὁ κόκκος τοῦ σίτου πεσὼν εἰς τὴν γῆν ἀποθάνῃ, αὐτὸς μόνος μένει: ἐὰν δὲ ἀποθάνῃ, πολὺν καρπὸν φέρει. 25ὁ φιλῶν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἀπολλύει αὐτήν, καὶ ὁ μισῶν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ τούτῳ εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον φυλάξει αὐτήν. 26ἐὰν ἐμοί τις διακονῇ, ἐμοὶ ἀκολουθείτω, καὶ ὅπου εἰμὶ ἐγὼ ἐκεῖ καὶ ὁ διάκονος ὁ ἐμὸς ἔσται: ἐάν τις ἐμοὶ διακονῇ τιμήσει αὐτὸν ὁ πατήρ. 27Νῦν ἡ ψυχή μου τετάρακται. καὶ τί εἴπω; Πάτερ, σῶσόν με ἐκ τῆς ὥρας ταύτης; ἀλλὰ διὰ τοῦτο ἦλθον εἰς τὴν ὥραν ταύτην. 28πάτερ, δόξασόν σου τὸ ὄνομα. ἦλθεν οὖν φωνὴ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, Καὶ ἐδόξασα καὶ πάλιν δοξάσω. 29ὁ οὖν ὄχλος ὁ ἑστὼς καὶ ἀκούσας ἔλεγεν βροντὴν γεγονέναι: ἄλλοι ἔλεγον, Ἄγγελος αὐτῷ λελάληκεν. 30ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν, Οὐ δι' ἐμὲ ἡ φωνὴ αὕτη γέγονεν ἀλλὰ δι' ὑμᾶς. 31νῦν κρίσις ἐστὶν τοῦ κόσμου τούτου, νῦν ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου ἐκβληθήσεται ἔξω: 32κἀγὼ ἐὰν ὑψωθῶ ἐκ τῆς γῆς, πάντας ἑλκύσω πρὸς ἐμαυτόν. 33τοῦτο δὲ ἔλεγεν σημαίνων ποίῳ θανάτῳ ἤμελλεν ἀποθνῄσκειν.
Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition
© 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;
The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition
© 1975, United Bible Societies, London
2. Analysis: John 12:20-33
V. 20 - Greeks - Hellein, not Hellenisteis (Greek-fearing Jews); possibly
proselytes who have converted to the Jewish faith or “god-fearers,”
Gentiles who have affiliated with the Jewish community through education
and worship. Their mentions follows immediately on the heels of the
Pharisees’ remark that all the world has gone after Jesus, and precipitates
Jesus’ declaration that a point of transition has been reached.
V. 21 - Bethsaida, “house of fishing” - the location of which is not
absolutely certain. Perhaps it is the fishing village on the N.E. shore of Lake
Galilee that lies on the margin between Herod Antipas’ Galilee and the
Tetrarchy of Phillip. It was the home of Peter, Andrew and Phillip.
V. 21 - SEE, eideo; lit. to see, perceive - but in Johannine thought; usually associated with believing in and knowing the earthly Jesus and has a sense
of revelation when linked with doksa, cf. John 1:35-46;6:30.
V. 23 - hora - hour; in the Fourth Gospel usage with the definite article or pronominal adjective indicates a special period in Jesus’ life. This is the first time Jesus says that his hour has come. Previously it was either not yet (2:4; 7:30; 8:20) or coming (4:21,23;5:25;28). With this pivotal moment identified, this pericope becomes the hinge of John’s Gospel and by implication the clue
to understanding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Vs. 23,28 - DOKSA - glorified - cf. “see” and significance of seeing and/or believing the earthly Jesus. In the 4th Gospel the doksa of God is clearly visible in Jesus’ life to all who will see by faith (1:14; 2:11;1 1:4,40; 12:38-43). Used in this pivotal discourse, the doksa is now embracing the cross.
V. 25 - phileo/miseo - love/hate ; apollumi/phylassoo - destroys/preserves;
five other forms of this saying are found in the Synoptics (Matt. 10:39;
16:25;Mk. 8:35; Lk. 9:24; 17:33; cf. Lk. 14:26). The strong contrasts
employed by the evangelist express the implied preference of the latter
option. Extreme caution should be exercised in interpreting this paradox
(or either of its companions that bracket it) so that self-denigration,
self-hatred and the various contributors to low self-esteem are not
identified as the preferred attitude.
Remember that Jesus’ audience at this point does not include those
privileged few who have realized a 20th Century autonomous selfhood, but
the excluded multitudes for whom massive suffering and dehumanization is
the oppressive reality. It is helpful to look the Mary/Judas incident of
vs. 3-08 for a fleshing-out of the marked contrasts of this paradox. Jesus
said Mary had kept her ointment for the day of his burial. Judas, whose
disloyalty will betray Jesus to his enemies and death, “keeps” the
money-bag and steals from it!
V. 27 - Tarassoo - troubled - this is John’s clue that the reader is getting
another view of the agony experienced in the Gethsemane tradition of the
Synoptics (Mk. 14:34-41). This pericope is obviously intended as a Passion
narrative and assigned to Lent 5 because of a no-longer-observed tradition
of calling this Passion Sunday.
V. 32,34 - hypsoo - lifted up - cf. 3:14; 8:28, where it is also used in
connection with “Son of Man”. The evangelist clearly wants to indicate
that it was a real, flesh-and-blood Jesus who was crucified. The double
meaning often associated here as “exaltation” should not be allowed to
become a glorification of death so much as a celebration of the gift of life
that it passed on when concrete actions put one’s life on the line for the
sake of radical love expressed in the face of evil and injustice. Jesus is
concerned that the grain of wheat not remain alone but bear the bountiful
fruit of relationship and servanthood (vs. 24, 26).
V. 32 - pantas elkoo - draw all (people) - cf. 6:44; the NRSV correctly
translates the male and female plural so that the inclusive nature of the
attraction to Jesus of all humankind is acknowledged. The Pharisees have
already admitted that they are powerless and that the “whole world is going
after him.” Here Jesus explains his attractiveness in the face of the
massive human suffering that is the reality of human history; yes, even the
“Son of Man’s”. Converted to seeing Jesus’ willingness to risk, even unto
death, opens others to seeing that only the power of radical love has
sufficient drawing power to enable it to live on in our world. There are no
ways around crucifixions, given the power of evil in the world.
But the attraction of love is not that it perpetuates crucifixions, but
brings them to an end in a world where they would go on and on. In the life,
death and resurrection of Jesus, we are drawn near to the God Jesus makes
visible--the God who has become a part of the struggle of life and against death.
3. Strategy: John 12:20-33
I. Passing on the Gift of Life
Thesis: None of us were born only do die, but we were meant to have the gift
of love, to know the power of love, and to pass it on.
Focusing Text - 12:24-26
1 - Are we to interpret Jesus’ death on the cross as the culmination of
a life lived in a headlong race toward Golgotha seeking suffering as an end
in itself that completes the human drama once and for all...? OR
2 - Is it more faithful to interpret the cross as the price Jesus paid
for refusing to abandon the radical activity of love––the expression of an
all-inclusive love; that welcomes servant–like Marthas, brought–from-the-
dead Lazaruses, extravagant Marys, rabble-rousing common folk who are
foolish enough to believe that God is still delivering them from captivity,
and religious outsiders who don’t measure up to all the rules...?
AND THEREFORE CONCLUDE THAT...
3 - Jesus’ sacrifice was for the cause of radical love. He accepted
sacrifice in order to pass on the gift of love. He expressed, embodies, shares
and celebrates the gift of life as his death calls us into the power of
personhood, passed on to us by others who have persisted as he did in
radical mutuality and reciprocity.
II - Lenten Doxology
Thesis - We are converted from despair to hope by faith in the ever-present
reality of God’s visibility in Jesus. Focusing Text - 12:23, 27-8.
1 - Sundays in Lent are not required to reflect the penitential nature of
the 40 days of the Lenten season. “Every Sunday is a little Easter.”
2 - The glorification of God in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection
rescues the cross from merely sentimental platitudes about it being
“an emblem of suffering and shame,” and instead awakens hope within us that all the powers of death and destruction can be radically broken.
3 - The hour has come for us as well--we who are separated by time and space from these initial events, and who also wish to see Jesus by faith. It is ours to know as well that God does not desire death, but honors new life, new possibilities, real efficacy.
4. References: John 12:20-33
Harrison, Beverly Wilding, “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love: Christian Ethics for Women and Other Strangers,” Feminist Theology, A Reader, ed. Ann Loades, SPCK, 1990, pp. 210-12.
Brown, Raymond E. The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible, Doubleday & Co., 1966.
Ruether, Rosemary. To Change the World. Crossroads, 1989, pp. 19-30.
5. Music Suggestions: John 12:20-33
Passing on the Gift of Life - “Now the Green Blade Riseth” &“What Wondrous love is this?”
Lenten Doxology - “All Glory, Laud and Honor”esp. v. 4 & “Sing with All the Saints in Glory”
Exegete - Linda K. Clark, United Methodist Church