Fifth Sunday in Lent

John 12: 20-33

The hour has come ” said Jesus, ” for the Son of Man to be glorified ”

What a strange answer to give Philip and Andrew. All they’d asked was for Jesus to come and talk to some Greeks.

But this is the moment towards which the whole gospel has been moving. Near the beginning of the story, during a wedding feast at Cana, Jesus had said to his mother “My hour has not yet come.” 

Well, it has now.  The final demonstration of God’s love is about to take place. We’re very close to the death of Jesus, and the time has come for him to show men and women everywhere, both Jews and foreigners, like these Greeks, just how much God loves them.  

So, Jesus spoke about the sign of the cross. The sign of his being lifted up to die. And because God was in Christ, this is a sign which shows us exactly what God is like. Jesus literally threw his life away for the love of other people.

He loved people without conditions and without limits, and it was because of this that people everywhere began to love him and each other, in such a way that the authority and the power of the ruling groups was threatened.

People were beginning to see that God’s love didn’t need rules and regulations. Jesus taught that men and women didn’t need special rituals in order to be acceptable to God; and as he did this, the power of those who controlled the religious system was weakened. And they didn’t like it.

Jesus was showing us that God wasn’t an angry judge who wanted to trip us up and make us pay. He was showing us that God loves us despite the way we are. He was showing us how the unconditional love of God would always set people free from the kind of religion which tried to control them with fear. The kind of religion whose leaders were powerful because they believed they held the keys to the Kingdom of God. The kind of religion which still exists today, in many churches, both catholic and protestant.

We can see how this meant that Jesus had to die. The power of his love made him a real threat to those who felt they were the powerful ones. The only way in which they could retain control was to get rid of him.

And because God was in Christ, this is what the love of God for us all is like. A love which is unconditional and without limit.

But Jesus was taking a path which we must also follow. If the love of God begins to speak to us through the death of Jesus, then we too will be drawn into trying to live in such a way that we shall have to face our own crucifixion.

Loving other people means just that. Being prepared to accept that your love might be thrown right back into your face, sometimes with great anger and hatred. And sometimes this will be by another Christian. Even perhaps in your own church community.

Jesus compared his death to that of a grain of wheat. Unless the grain fell into the ground and died it would be useless. But the grain’s death would produce lots of fruit. So would the death of Jesus.

The Greeks, and all who came after them, would come to Jesus in the sense of being drawn by the powerful love of God into a new kind of life. Into living in a way which wouldn’t stop loving others, even when to continue would mean rejection and ridicule. And this is equivalent to a kind of death, isn’t it?

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to love someone, or to treat them with kindness and consideration only to have it thrown right back into your face.

Have you ever had your best efforts ridiculed, or mocked? Have you ever been betrayed by someone whom you’ve tried to help? Because if you have, then you can rejoice.

In the end, good people, those who try to follow Jesus, are always crucified. Evil always attacks goodness because it feels threatened. We can see this very clearly in the crucifixion of Jesus. And we can also see, that in his dying breath, Jesus prayed for those who hated him.

I know it’s hard, but we have to do the same. We shall fail in our own right, but inasmuch as Christ is in us, we shall succeed; and can you see how our failure will also be the success of Jesus?

Because although the world views the death of Jesus as a tragic failure, it was in fact a glorious triumph. A triumph of God’s self-giving love that looked death in the face and defeated it. A love which was stronger than evil and suffering and passed right through death to come back to be with those who loved God.

A love which was not just for Israel, but which was for the whole world. A world represented by those Greeks.

 A world which contains us, too.