Sunday

18 March 2018

John 12:20-33 (Passion Sunday)

“…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (v. 24)

Psalm: Psalm 119:9-16


Background

Making sense of suffering and death is one of the great challenges for any religious tradition. And one particular death – that of Jesus of Nazareth – is at the heart of the Christian faith. Over the centuries, Christians have found a number of different ways to talk about how the death of Jesus on the cross makes a difference for human beings and their relationship with God. None of them, though, quite fit with the language of John’s Gospel. Here, contrary to all our instincts, the cross is more triumph than tragedy. In this short passage, we have some of John’s most important sayings, ones that express Jesus’ attitude towards the events that are unfolding.

The story of Greeks looking for Jesus may seem incongruous in this context, especially if we are anxious to get to the climax of the drama, but it helps to remind us that the transformation which comes from Jesus’ death and resurrection is potentially for the whole of humanity, it is not confined to Israel.

“The hour has come” (v. 23): Jesus, according to John’s Gospel, is no passive victim of the enemies who are ranged against him. His time of suffering and death may be troubling, agonising, even, but it happens within the purpose and will of God. This is as close as John’s Gospel gets to the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, so familiar to us from the other Gospels.

The key image is of a grain of wheat, which can only produce next year’s crop if it is given up to be planted in the earth and “dies”. Jesus’ journey is one of self-sacrifice, a giving of his own life so that life itself can flourish. To be a disciple of Jesus is to accept an invitation to share this journey with him. Although we naturally focus on what is lost when we give ourselves up, Jesus directs us to what is gained – the abundant life for which he came into the world (John 10:10).


To Ponder

  • How would you explain the significance of the death of Jesus to someone who asked you about it?
  • Think of people that you know, or have heard of, who have given up their lives so that life might flourish. What impact/influence do they have on you?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain. Between 2004 and 2017 he served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. Previously his ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.