16 February 2018John 12:27-36a
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (v. 32)
The Spirit lives to set us free (walk in the light)
Psalm: Psalm 50:1-15
The words of Jesus in this passage from John’s Gospel are spoken at the festival (the Passover) immediately after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (John 12:12-18). We pick up part way through a speech in which Jesus talks about the Son of Man being glorified, but in terms of a buried grain of wheat dying in order to be raised to new life (John 12:24). The passage is not straightforward as Jesus gives cryptic answers to all the questions asked of him.
Psalm 50 forms a helpful introduction to this passage; it ends with the idea of calling on God in the day of trouble (verse 15), forming a direct link with the words of Jesus in verse 27 “Now is my soul troubled”. At the start of Lent we are reminded that within the rhythm of our spirituality there are seasons of trouble, as there were for Jesus himself. The psalm also speaks of God’s manifestation from Zion as “a devouring fire” and “a mighty tempest”, as one who does not keep silence (Psalm 50:3) and we hear in these words echoes of the scenes which have been before us all week, scenes of mountain wildness, where God has been revealed in dramatic ways.
Here too, God answers Jesus in a voice which sounded to some like thunder (verse 28) (see Psalm 29:3 and Job 37:4 for examples of thunder as a manifestation of God’s voice). In this case, although it is a sound like thunder which is heard, some of the crowd identify the noise as the voice of an angel. Perhaps we tend to have a rather cosy image of angels singing in soprano voices whilst plucking harp strings; but an angel whose voice might be mistaken for thunder has a far more ominous, threatening and ultimately majestic note.
There is an element of such threat in the words of Jesus; he speaks of the judgement of this world, of the driving out of the ruler of this world (verse 31) and goes on to speak about his own death in terms of being “lifted up from the earth”. This reference seems to confuse rather than provide clarification for his hearers, who then go on to ask “Who is this Son of Man?” (v. 34). Again Jesus does not reply plainly, but answers in terms of darkness and light – the dualism which is a strong theme in John’s Gospel. Having declared that people should work while they have the light, it is interesting that the passage closes with Jesus himself hiding. Again we are in the realms of mystery and revelation.
- How might this reading lead you to Repentance and Renewal?
- How do you view angels? Have you seen angels? Or heard them?
- What do you make of Jesus hiding himself at the end of this passage? Does this chime with any part of your own Christian experience?