We begin with a chapter told only in the Gospel of John, and certainly it is an interesting one. Why? Well, first and foremost, it involves Greeks (and not Jews) seeking out Jesus Christ. This rarely happens as Jesus’s ministry was only ever in Israel.
There are two things we can take from this. First, that these Greeks are proselytes to the Jewish religion and, second, that that the are seekers of wisdom (as most if not all Greeks were at this point in time)—and they are seeking this wisdom from Jesus Christ.
And what is the truth they’re getting as they seek wisdom?
At first look—utter and complete confusion.
In the correct translation, if we are to get back to the Greek, a son of man is glorified. Not the Son of Man, with title and pomp and circumstance included. These are Jesus’s words. They’re a bit confusing. If you’re a Greek proselyte seeking a “teacher” named Jesus, you wouldn’t expect a man you’ve never met to say, “a son of man is going to be glorified,” but then again, what would you expect? The pageantry might, after all, have been appreciated. We’ll never know as John does not record their reaction.
Jesus, quite obviously, is speaking about himself when he speaks of “a son of man”.—as he often does refer to himself in third person. But it is how he is talking about himself that interests us today. This is wrapped up in Biblical precedent that could take more than just a blog post to unpack. It is enough to know that he is referring to himself, that his audience knows this, and that his speech continues. So, let us move on.
Jesus next does what he does best (in my opinion)—he talks in riddles. A grain of wheat must die for it to live—he is certainly talking about his own death upon the cross, about our own spiritual deaths and eternal lives through our salvations through the cross.
Same with his next image—those who love their earthly life lose it. Those who hate their earthly life, gain eternal life.
More riddles layered upon riddles upon riddles.
Whoever serves Christ must follow Christ, and where Christ is (i.e. heaven), there the servant will also be. Whoever serves me (i.e. Jesus), the Father (God the Father) will honor.
These small sayings are so easy to get tripped up on, but just shift a few words, clarify a few terms, and they all make beautiful, wonderful sense.
These are the wisdoms the Greeks come searching for when they ask Philip (Philip, mind you, is a Greek name) to introduce him to Jesus.
Moving Forward from the Riddles
Here is the part where we as believers in Jesus might face a disconnect. Why? Because we often forget that Jesus was only human. Jesus—as human—wants to avoid the cross. And why wouldn’t he? It means humiliation and pain. It means an earthly death. It means crucifixion.
Take a moment and think of crucifixion. It was a form of state execution, and a painful one at that. I often compare it to the electric chair. It had just as much pain involved (remember that the early electric chair often went horribly wrong and was incredibly painful). It had just as much social stigma. Everyone, also, came to watch (much like a hanging or a burning).
Who—in their right minds—wouldn’t want to avoid death on a cross?
It doesn’t make Jesus any less divine, any less the son of God. It just makes him more human, more relatable to us as fellow human beings.
But in the End
To quote a song I used to listen to in high school, “But in the end it doesn’t even matter” (“In the End,” Linkin Park). Of course, these are wildly different circumstances than the song.
Jesus, for all of his humanity, loves humanity—and for all of his love of his humanity, he will die on the cross, as he came to do. To go back to the text, a voice appears like thunder (we can rightly assume it is the Lord God’s), and the world order has been returned as we know it.
Jesus will be lifted up from the earth (if we remember, this is the Ascension), and he will draw people to himself (this is our salvation).
What we Should Take From This
- Jesus talks in riddles. We have seen this again and again. He never comes out and directly says what he means, but with some careful shifting of words, some careful redefinitions, and we can see Jesus’s true intent.
- Jesus is only human. We don’t often think of Jesus this way except at Christmas, but it is not something we should forgot. Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine. As such, he has human fears and human concerns and human reservations.
- Jesus came to die for our sins and he will never turn away from his obligations. He loves us unconditionally, and we should never doubt that love.
What does Jesus ask in return? Well, it’s quite simple really. All he wants is your love. Have you give it to him already? Have you offered him your heart? Have you taken that step already? Is your heart humble and open to him this Lent?