278. The Hour Has Come (John 12:20-33)
“In Christ and through Christ God has revealed himself fully to mankind and has definitively drawn close to it…” - Pope John Paul II
John 12:20-33: Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. These approached Philip, who came from Bethsaida in Galilee, and put this request to him, ‘Sir, we should like to see Jesus’. Philip went to tell Andrew, and Andrew and Philip together went to tell Jesus. Jesus replied to them: ‘Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest. Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life. If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him. Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say: Father, save me from this hour? But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name!’ A voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ People standing by, who heard this, said it was a clap of thunder; others said, ‘It was an angel speaking to him’. Jesus answered, ‘It was not for my sake that this voice came, but for yours. Now sentence is being passed on this world; now the prince of this world is to be overthrown. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself.’ By these words he indicated the kind of death he would die.
Christ the Lord We are on the verge of Christ’s passion. Jesus knows exactly what is going to happen to him. “His hour” has arrived. He will suffer ignominy, public humiliation, abandonment by his closest companions, betrayal at the hand of an intimate friend, rejection by the very people he came to save, supreme and drawn-out physical torture, even a kind of separation from his Father – and then he will die. By announcing this to his disciples beforehand, he demonstrates to them that he suffers it willingly for the sake of the Father’s glory and the eternal Kingdom. Thus, Christ’s passion signifies the unbreakable strength of his divine love, the ultimate freedom shown forth by obeying God’s will under the most trying circumstances. It is the reversal of Adam’s tragic weakness that led him to give in to temptation and disobey God’s wise commands. Now the “passing sentence on this world,” now, through the unshakable love and trust that he will demonstrate by his obedience unto death on a cross, “the prince of this world [the devil] is to be overthrown.” We are on the verge of the climax of human history.
So that the crowds will grasp meaning of this pivotal moment in human history, the Father himself audibly affirms what the Son is going to do. Jesus was speaking to the people, but he must have looked up as he addressed his Father. His listeners had been focused on Jesus throughout his impassioned speech, and suddenly, as he lifts his gaze and utters his prayer to the Father, they hear a voice from heaven respond! It must have been a shock – exhilarating to those who had already come to believe in Jesus and disconcerting to those who doubted him. Jesus Christ is the champion of the human race, the savior of mankind, the everlasting Lord; he knows it; the Father knows it; how deeply do we know it?
Christ the Teacher During his public ministry, Jesus laid down the condition for being his disciple: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me” (Lk 9:23). Now, as his Passion draws near, he forcibly reiterates this same condition: “Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.”
To be a Christian is to be where Christ is (“If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too”), and Christ is always pouring out his life for others on the cross, giving himself for the good of others through self-forgetful love. St Paul learned this lesson well: “…the only knowledge I claimed to have was about Jesus, and only about him as the crucified Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Love is self-giving: “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And Jesus calls us to love: “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Therefore, our lives must bear the sign of the cross – of self-giving, of self-sacrifice. When we decide to follow Christ, we should expect crosses, we should expect difficulties, and we should expect persecution: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too” (John 15:20). Christ’s is the “narrow gate and the hard road” that leads to life (Matthew 7:14), and Christian joy is deep and strong because it sinks its roots into the rich soil of sacrifice, suffering, and sorrow. There is no greater lesson than that of Christ’s cross, and there is no better time to learn it than now.
Christ the Friend The Greek visitors (non-Jews who were sympathizers with Judaism) wanted to see Jesus. When Jesus hears this, he responds with a long explanation of “his hour.” It seems that he denies their request. But his last statement shows that he will grant it: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”
By his crucifixion, he reveals himself to everyone (the Greek visitors included). Christ wants everyone to find him, to see him, to learn to know and love him; and so he allows himself to be crucified, he exposes his heart for all to see – a heart blazing with so much love that it is willing to die for our sake, to suffer unspeakable pain in order to reopen for us the gates of heaven. The crucifix is the great revelation of the heart of God; if we want to “see Christ,” to see and know God, we have only to raise our eyes to behold him dying on the cross in order to give us true life. There Christ is most attractive to us – and we should always remember that we are no less attractive to him when we bend under the weight of our own cross and weakness.
Christ in My Life Christianity seems so strange, Lord. You saved us from sin by taking sin upon yourself. You conquered evil by absorbing in yourself all the venom that evil could spit out. You ended the tragic meaninglessness of human suffering not by eliminating it, but by turning it into a way to exercise the virtues that reunite our souls to God, faith, hope, and love. Help me to understand this mystery, Lord…
All your saints loved and embraced their crosses. Why do I still resist mine? What is it that makes me carry my crosses reluctantly and halfheartedly? I know that if you gave me a choice, I would probably choose a path without crosses. But you who did have a choice chose the way of the cross. Lord Jesus, purge my heart of the selfishness that clings so desperately to me. I want to live; I want to love as you love…
I take my crucifix in my hands again, Lord, right now. There you are. Agonizing. Your life slowly, excruciatingly ebbing away – only because you love me. You have told your saints, and your Church teaches, that if I had been the only sinner in the universe, you would have suffered all of that just for me, just so I wouldn’t have to suffer it, just so I could hope with assurance to enjoy the Father’s embrace…
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