Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus. But Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor."
- John 12:20-26
Yesterday, we read that a great many Jews from Jerusalem knew that Jesus was in Bethany; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many went away and believed in Jesus. The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: "Hosanna! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! The King of Israel!" Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written: "Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt." His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him. Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, "You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!"
Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus. But Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified." These Greeks are Gentiles who believed in the God of Abraham and have come to Jerusalem to participate in the Passover feast. They are Greek-speakers, foreigners who speak what was at that time the international language (and which would become the language of the New Testament -- even at Jesus' time, the Senptuagint translation of the Jewish Holy Scriptures had been made in Alexandria and so even the Old Testament was studied in Greek). My study bible says that as they are still called Greeks shows that they were not yet full proselytes or converts to Judaism. In this period, it was not unusual in the Hellenistic world for Greeks to become Jews and Jews to become Greeks, as such identity was based on sets of values rather than purely ethnic lineage. My study bible says that since Jesus had taught His disciples not to go to the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5; 15:24), the disciples approach Him before bringing these inquirers. To be glorified refers to Christ's death on the Cross. My study bible says that Jesus' obscure response indicates two things: "(1) the answer these Greeks are seeking will not be found in words, but in the Cross; and (2) the Cross will be the event that opens all manner of grace to the Gentiles."
"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor." Here, my study bible suggests that the image of the grain of wheat dying in order to bear fruit signifies that Christ's death will give life to the world. In many Orthodox churches, my study bible reminds us, boiled wheat that is both sweetened and spiced is served at memorial services for the departed faithful to affirm God's promise that those who have died in Christ will rise again to life. In the Armenian Apostolic Church, verse 24 ("Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain") is read at all memorial services.
Jesus is given a sign Himself, it seems, in today's reading. From His response to the notification from Philip and Andrew that there are Greeks (Greek-speakers who are becoming Jews) who have heard about Him and wish to see Him, we infer that this is a sign to Jesus. His fame is now going beyond Israel, beyond the boundaries of "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" and is reaching out into the world. From this it seems that He understands clearly that His hour is near, or the time in which He will be glorified. How can we understand the Cross as glorification? For those of us brought up on images of great worldly success, how can we at this time understand what it is to be a success in the eyes of God? Can we understand Christ when He teaches that the Cross will be His hour of glory? Or that because already Greek-speakers, people from other countries and territories, have heard of Him, it is time for the hour of His glorification? He makes this very explicit when He speaks of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground, and thereby will raise up and produce much grain. Adding the next two lines is very important for our understanding: "He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." He is affirming once again the power of sacrifice for the life that God gives, for the Kingdom, which is where the Father is leading Him. It is a great teaching that comes as the final "event" of His saving mission. He will give His life for the sheep, and by doing so He will be glorified. But this message is not just about the Crucifixion, it's a message for all of us: "If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor." He makes it very clear: if we are to serve Him, we follow Him, and in so doing we, too, will be honored by the Father. The message of sacrifice is implicit here, but I think we have to take it properly. Whatever happens in Jesus' life and ministry, it is all from the direction of the Father. It is all done in love. Nothing here is a whim brought on by the desire to be a martyr on Jesus' part; it is the outcome of His following the will of the Father, His teaching in truth, and a fearless way of living life for something, for love, for this mission of salvation. If we miss that motivation, then we miss everything, it seems to me. Sacrifice in and of itself is not the point here. The point here is service. What do we serve? Any form of sacrifice that is made as a sort of "feel good" or "pat on the back" effort isn't getting the point here, and it's not a nihilistic sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice. I think that would be missing the point. Jesus teaches us that He is life itself; that He is the resurrection and the life, as He has said to Martha. But our lives are meant to be for something. The gift of life which we are given holds all kinds of potentials for the glory of God, if we but choose to live it that way. It is in this spirit, I believe, that Jesus teaches us, "He who loves His life will lose it, and He who hates His life in this world will keep it for eternal life." That is because there are things we live for, there are things and possibilities included in our lives that we are capable of serving and working for if we but look past a selfish sense of this gift, of what our lives are for. That is the meaning of His words. If we serve Him, therefore, we will be on the road with Him -- we "follow Him." And in so doing, we too will be honored by His Father. It is an important point to fathom, because Jesus glorifies His life by His choices, and chooses the honor of God the Father in all He does, including going to the Cross. The Cross will thereby become the symbol of a life that is more than life as we understand it, but a life that doesn't die, that extends to resurrection: that is, a resurrection that is always with us, ever-present, and working in our own lives in this world to always glorify God through us as well. Jesus does not go to the Cross for the purpose of sacrifice, He goes to the Cross for the purpose of true life, that we may have life abundantly, something more than just "life in this world" as we understand it. He goes to the Cross for love of the sheep, for the salvation of all who will be drawn to that Cross and what it means and stands for. If we follow Him, then we, too, are to understand that our lives are for so much more than what a worldly perspective offers, and that we may glorify God and shine the illumination of God out into the world. Let us come to understand what these things mean, what the beauty is He's offering us, as well as His joy and peace and grace. Then we will understand what the sacrifice is for. We will know the pearl of great price. Sacrifice is made as an investment in something, a trust, in faith -- for life.