Isaiah 49:1-7 / Psalm 71:1-14 / 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 / John 12:20-36
This passage relays the end of Jesus’ public ministry in the Gospel of John and the beginning of the hour in which the Son of Man is to be glorified. This “hour” entails Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension in which the Johannine Jesus’ divine mission to glorify God will be completed. Jesus speaks about the significance of his impending death and appeals to crowds in public for the last time to take seriously his message. I hear Jesus speaking toward a reality counter to what we would expect, namely that our lives are not ends in and of themselves. Likewise, the judgment of this world is the judgment of a world which exists in and of itself. The salvific light which Jesus brings is one of assurance as to where we are going, not within the boundaries of our lives as we know them, but in our reality as created beings who are destined to remain with our Creator. Jesus’ messianic role is fulfilled in his revelation of our created natures, as one whose origin and destination remain the same. Jesus is not asking followers to take on the physical reality of martyrdom but is revealing that discipleship means putting to death the self which lives for itself alone. Self-denial does not equate to self-persecution; rather, it is a letting go of our attachment to self through the recognition that we are not our own. Jesus’ humanity shines forth as his hour has come and his soul is troubled, but he chooses to face his own death with the recognition that his very existence rests in his ability to glorify the one who sent him, and that kind of life cannot be extinguished by death. It is eternal.
If there is truth to these reflections, what does it mean in the context of our lives that our ends are determined with God? What does it mean for us to follow Jesus and walk with light in the midst of these dark times? To have faith in this reality is a gracious gift of freedom. We are freed to abandon our ties to the unfulfilling demands of self and world in recognition that our lives are determined by something unimaginably greater. It all sounds grand, but in practice it’s still quite terrifying. That is why it is encouraging to hear that Jesus’ own soul is troubled in the moment when his time for glorification has come. Even the Son of God could not escape the implications of the human condition, the caughtness between freedom and finitude which acts as the source of all human fear and creativity. Jesus’ experience assures us the path of light cannot be walked without our own soul-disturbances. Fear is not, on its own, the enemy of faith in God, but it must be confronted with the courageous belief in God’s faithfulness towards us revealed in the life of Christ.