This week, we return to the gospel of John (12:20-33). Any time you are dealing with the gospel of John, you have to be prepared to deal with a whole lot. Every passage in John is filled with great depth, history, philosophy, tradition, etc. Our passage this week is no different. On Sunday, we will focus on the bit about the seed and losing/keeping your life, as I think it bears the most explaining. However, there is another important piece worth mentioning.
The whole thing begins with a group of Greeks seeking out Jesus. They go to Philip (a disciple with a Greek name who comes from a city in the north that is more likely to be influenced by the Greco-Roman Culture) and ask him if they can see Jesus. This sets Jesus off into proclaiming that this is the “time for the Human One to be glorified.” What is that all about?
Keep in mind, John is a later gospel and has a more cosmopolitan influence. By the writing of John, it had become clear that this Jesus movement wasn’t just a Jewish thing, but a whole new thing. What is alluded to in this passage is that Jesus’ message is now reaching beyond the usual boundaries, and that is the indication that things are coming to a head. Now that Greeks are starting to show up, Jesus knows that the crucifixion and resurrection are just around the corner.
So what is it about Greeks showing up that signals the beginning of this final sequence before the crucifixion? This is a sure sign for John’s first readers that the way things used to be are coming to an end, and things are going to be different from here on out. Specifically, the message of this Jesus isn’t just limited to one tribe, one people, one small backwater land in the Roman empire. No, this message is for everyone.
Now we say that a whole lot, but do we actually believe it? In my experience, the answer is no. The answer we usually seem to give to this is that it is only good news for those who choose to follow Jesus. Usually, that comes with the caveat that this is only good news for those who follow Jesus just like we do, look like we do, dress like we do, live in the same socio-economic bracket that we do, embrace the same life-style that we do, speak the same language that we do, have the same shade of skin that we do…I could go on, but I bet you get my point by now.
The fact is, we like to place the scriptures in context when it doesn’t require too much of us—Jesus was talking to Greeks, he clearly didn’t mean the people that I don’t like when he said in this passage that he is going to gather all people to himself. He was just talking about those Greeks, right? He was just opening the door to the Greeks. He definitely wasn’t opening the door to __________________ (fill in the blank with whichever group that your news network encourages you to despise).
I think part of the lesson from this passage is that “All” means “All.” This is a good lesson in scriptural interpretation in that when Jesus reaches out to include someone, your task is not to include whoever Jesus specifically just included, but whoever you don’t want to include.
So ask yourself, who is it that I don’t want to be at the same table as me? Who is it that I think is unworthy, deplorable, evil, unclean, lazy, weird, different, etc.? That is probably who Jesus would be talking to in this passage. And if that thought doesn’t rock your boat a little, you aren’t trying hard enough—think harder about who you really don’t think is worthy of God’s grace. That is probably who you will be seated next to at the divine feast in the kingdom of heaven. See you Sunday!