11 April 2017

John 12:20-36

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (v. 24)

Psalm: Psalm 71


Today is Tuesday, the third day of Holy Week. This part of John's Gospel recorded the events of the last days of Jesus' ministry. Even though the disciples did not especially want to listen and did not understand, John's account in these passages had Jesus preparing them for his death. It is as if he wanted to give the disciples tools to interpret the events that would come. Meanwhile, the political pressure to silence Jesus was growing.

Part of Jesus' appeal to people was his earthy, everyday language. Talking about his death and resurrection, he used examples from the natural world and analogies that everyone could understand. So instead of speaking of concepts with technical names, he made a simple analogy: to grow, a grain of wheat must be buried in the ground, and split open. It must be lost entirely for it to grow into a sheaf of wheat, bearing in its turn many more grains. Would we grieve the loss of the single grain of wheat? Perhaps. Yet the point of the grain is make more grains. It is its essence, its natural purpose and best life.

Jesus' disciples would grieve his death deeply. Even as they began to experience the joy of his resurrection, they missed his presence and wished for the return of their friend. It is unnatural not to grieve the passing of someone we love, with whom we have shared experiences, purpose, and friendship. And yet, our lives too are grains of wheat to fall in their own time, Jesus taught. Not before time, and not to no purpose. Embracing this simple idea was Jesus' definition of eternal life, expressed in verse 25: "… those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life".

Jesus used common sense in his teaching: keep walking while you have the light, because it is fading (verse 35). Alongside his confused disciples this week, while the light fades towards Good Friday and his death, we study his words and still try to understand.

To Ponder

  • If you have a belief in eternal life, what part does that play in grief at the death of a loved one?
  • Do you think Jesus knew and understood in advance what was going to happen to him? Why? What difference do you think this made?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jennifer Smith

Revd Dr Jennifer Smith is a Methodist minister, and superintendent of the Ealing Trinity Circuit in the London District. Though resident in the UK since 1993, she is a US citizen and continues to observe US political and religious culture with interest.