Fifth Sunday in Lent

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Gospel: John 12:20-33

A reading from the Gospel of John.
Glory to you, O Lord.

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, 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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.

Now let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and Redeemer


There are many familiar themes in this week’s Gospel passage: losing one’s life in order to gain it, following Jesus, Jesus speaking about his impending death, and the way that his salvation work expands to all the nations. At the start of Lent, we heard the Father boom down with a message from heaven, but this time we know for sure that others hear it—even if they mistake it for thunder.

This passage, though, more than any of the others gives us more insight into Jesus’s own thoughts and feelings about his calling to the cross. In the other passages, he’s been looking to his followers, trying to help them be prepared and to understand. And even though he’s still speaking with them here, he’s sharing in a more personal way than we have heard him do thus far.

As we listen in as Jesus shares both his thoughts and his feelings about what he is knows is to come, it is a stark and somber reminder that what Christ did was not easy or simple; it took great commitment and care.


Let’s take a look at our texts for this weekend and see how people are being vulnerable. As the Kingdom of Judah was entering its last days before destruction and exile at the hands of the Babylonians, Jeremiah the prophet is overcome by God’s emotions at the senselessness of the tragedy and longing for something better. You can hear God’s nostalgia and deep hurt at betrayal while describing “the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt: my covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them …”

God took marginalized and enslaved people by the hand to bring them to Godself at Sinai, and there cut a covenant so they would be God’s people and the Lord would be their god. Make no mistake, God’s dreams for the people have been crushed, and God feels that hurt and betrayal.

But God doesn’t give up hope. Instead, God promises to write a new covenant on the hearts of Israel and Judah. No longer carved on stones, this law will be in the hearts of the people so they no longer even need to teach one another. This is, after all, a God who longs for intimacy with God’s people.

Our psalmist knows of the redemptive power of God’s love. In pleading for forgiveness for his heinous sins, King David begins not with confession but with theology. David “took” Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah. David had become what he was raised up to replace: a wicked king who used his power to further his own desires.

David has no excuse, so he threw himself entirely on the mercy of God. He begged: “Be gracious to me, God, according to your faithfulness; according to the greatness of your compassion, wipe out my wrongdoings. God’s character and emotion are central here. David’s actions won’t save the king from his own evil. Instead, God’s compassion for God’s friend is David’s only hope.

We see God’s rich emotional life in the person of Jesus as well. The author of Hebrews describes how Jesus offered up prayers and pleas with loud crying and tears. Jesus was emotional with his Father in prayer, knowing that God’s emotions, divine compassion and grace that leads to forgiveness all respond to human prayers and petitions. If you think about it, this is why we pray petitions for prayers of intercession, asking God for help, healing or protection. We hope that God will respond in love to the requests of God’s children.

Jesus openly modeled the full range of emotions with God in the Gospel reading from John. In responding to a request to see Jesus, the Messiah revealed what he was feeling: “My soul has become troubled; and what am I to say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

Jesus experienced deep pain of the soul and dread of the mockery, torture and execution he was about to face. He didn’t pretend that everything was OK with him or that reliance on God somehow prevents fear, anxiety or apprehension. Those who would turn “do not fear” or “do not be anxious” into a commandment instead of reassurances must think that Jesus sinned here and in the Garden of Gethsemane when he begged God to find some way to spare him from the horror to befall him in a few hours. But instead of sinning, I think Jesus is demonstrating the very best of what it means to be human (and divine)—allowing emotions to deepen the relationship between God and humans.


If you’ve been to therapy or been part of an emotional maturity growth process, you might be familiar with the question, “What’s stirred up for you?” It’s a question that’s asked in order to help you name inner feelings about a particular situation and work towards the thoughts and ideas that lie behind them. “Stirred up” is exactly the definition of the word Jesus uses to describe his soul (our translation says, “Now my soul is troubled.”)

What has gotten Jesus stirred up? Reflecting on the necessity of death. Jesus likens it to a grain of wheat being sown, buried in a grave of soil and compost, where what it is as a kernel is transformed into new life, an entire plant with many stems and many more kernels or berries (much fruit!). Through “dying” it produces life.

At first, Jesus reflects on what this physical reminder can help his followers understand about what it means to love their life enough to lose it. If a disciple truly loves their life enough to follow Jesus, then they too have realized that they need to separate their life from its connection to the things of this world and fall into line by following Jesus.

And as Jesus reflects on this lesson, he thinks also about himself. 

More than any other, his was a life lived from the best kind of love, rejecting the shackles of this world, and always looking to set people free for eternity. Through his ministry he has already done so much to bring honor to God, but he knows there is even more glorious work to do and that it will require even greater sacrifice. And it troubles him. It stirs up a lot of feelings for him. It is not that Jesus loves himself too much, or that he hates himself in a degrading and sinful manner.

What is perfect love? 

  • A love that leads to transformative change and blessing for many people. 
  • A love that breaks the ties that bind people in captivity and away from God. 
  • A love that has no sin in it at all. 
  • A love that gives itself for the greater good, a love that serves all that is true about God.

What is perfect hate? 

  • A hate that leads to transformative change and blessing for many people. 
  • A hate that breaks the ties that bind people in captivity and away from God. 
  • A hate that has no sin in it at all. 
  • A hate that takes from itself for the greater good, a hate that serves all that is true about God.

These higher callings for love and hate are not an easy road. There is only one who can manage: Jesus himself. In a humbling reminder to us, Jesus says that he is stirred up, distressed even while determined, to be doing this for our sakes; it is why he came to earth. And because he is distressed even while determined, he calls upon the loving Trinity for support, letting his disciples hear him call out to the Father, who responds with words of encouragement that Jesus is doing what they have set out together to do.

Though it seems that the crowd didn’t quite catch the words spoken from heaven, Jesus tells them (and us) that this voice has come for their benefit. Perhaps he also means that he publicly shared the difficulty of his inmost troubles for their benefit as well. Because in that moment Jesus models how the “ruler of this world will be driven out”: by honestly seeking the glory and support of God in the midst of trials here in earth, and by willingly let the necessary things die in order to experience new, abundant life.


John’s Jesus declares himself and is introduced with various metaphors: Lamb of God (1:29, 36), the bread of life (6:35), the light of the world (8:12), the door (10:7), the good shepherd (10:11, 14), the resurrection and the life (11:25), the way, the truth, and the life (14:6), and the true vine (15:1). Among the various choices he could have said in helping the Greeks “see” him, Jesus chooses to describe himself as the Son of Man whose hour (or death and resurrection) comes with a grain. Here, we could simplistically assume that this is just a metaphor of what is to come. Another way of reading this passage is to take the plant narrative provided by John seriously. That is, we could read this passage by learning from plants, particularly the plant life cycle.

Now, I’m not a gardener. But I do like touching the soil, seeing and smelling the plants, and eating the fruits of their love teach me every time to be receptive to the presence of the plant life. Over my years I have also learned about the importance of accepting decay or death. As human beings, we are sometimes fearful of our own death because, as a Christian, we have one life to live with a clear expiration in sight. And yet, plants teach us that decay/death is not the end. They grow their leaves during spring, blossom their flowers during summer, lay down their leaves during the fall, and accept the slumber during winter. Then they rise again as the spring season awakens.

Plants teach us about resurrection. Like many other communities during the first century CE, John’s community probably reflected upon the theological through the lens of the plants because many of them lived in crop communities. For example, to lose one’s life is like a grain falling down on the earth, dying, sprouting into life, and bearing much fruit (verse 25).

The plants probably helped them understand that decay in Christ leads to everlasting life. Death in this life is not the end. As plants germinate after a period of dormancy, having faith in the Son of Man is having faith in God who is the vine grower. Abiding in God will lead to life that bears eternal fruit. Jesus promises that those who hear and believe in his word shall not remain in the darkness. The spring of eternal life will come because Jesus is the light of the world.

Losing one’s life for the gospel is not a call for meaningless sacrifice or abuse. It is a reminder to “come and see” from God’s creation that resurrection is plant-like. We live and die in Christ because we believe in Christ’s promise of renewed life. This renewed life recognizes the joys and pains of the olden days, the deaths that we have had in the past, while believing that we will see the rays of divine light and the joys of the blessed rain in our lives.