] came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’” (v. 21)

John 12:20-36 Tuesday 27 March 2018

Psalm: Psalm 71:1-14


John’s Gospel is a remarkably constructed narrative, at times seeming like a tapestry with an intricately woven pattern of themes and ideas in which many episodes remind us of earlier stories or point us towards later ones. The account of the Greek pilgrims who request a meeting with Jesus has a number of echoes of John’s account of the call of the first disciples (John 1:35-51), who are identified as coming from Bethsaida (John 1:44). Andrew was one of the first to be called and went to find his brother, Simon; Philip was called the next day and went to invite Nathaniel to “come and see” (John 1:46).

Jesus’ response to the news of the waiting Greeks was to talk about his forthcoming death. The arrival of the non-Jewish seekers has precipitated the final events in the drama of the gospel, which Jesus expresses through a short parable about a grain of wheat being buried and dying to produce new life (verse 24). There is an ambiguity in what the writer is telling us about Jesus’ attitude. On the one hand, Jesus seems completely in control, confident in what is going to happen to him and its outcome (verses 25-26). On the other hand, Jesus says that he is troubled and wonders out loud if he ought to pray to be spared what lies ahead (verse 27).

The conclusion of Jesus’ prayer is that through him God will be glorified and this is echoed by the voice that is heard. The fourth Gospel can be very different from the other three and sometimes we can find elements that we meet in another context in Matthew, Mark, or Luke. John does not record a voice from heaven at Jesus’ Baptism; he has no account of the Transfiguration; Jesus does not pray to be spared his crucifixion in Gethsemane; but all those elements seem to be present in this account which immediately follows the entry into Jerusalem.

The way that the fourth evangelist seems to have reworked the stories to bring out their significance can leave us feeling that there are loose ends left untied, and so it is here. We don’t know if the Greeks did get to speak to Jesus because the focus has shifted and we are asked to look towards to the Crucifixion which is, in a manner characteristic of the fourth gospel, described as ‘a lifting up to draw all people’ (verse 32). At that moment Jesus will be seen by Jews and non-Jews (of whom these Greeks are representative) for who he really is.

To Ponder

  • “We wish to see Jesus.” Have you been asked to introduce someone to Jesus? What did you say or do?
  • In this passage we see Jesus both confident and troubled. When have you felt trepidation about something you needed to do? How did you pray about it?
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