The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified

20 Mar, 2024

By The Rev’d Andrew Coyle

Season: The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34 | Hebrews 5:5-10 | John 12:20-33

Today is the 5th Sunday in Lent and as we draw closer to our commemoration of Jesus’ passion – his arrest and trial and crucifixion – we have reached the point in the narrative where voices have begun clamouring for Jesus’ death.

And one of those voices is actually Jesus’ own.

In today’s Gospel reading he says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”

And in the language of John’s gospel, this “glorification” refers to Jesus’ death.

So it seems that Jesus sees his own death as imminent and as we consider the passage as a whole it also seems clear that Jesus views his death as necessary.

And he is not the only one who takes this view.

Our gospel reading this morning comes a chapter after Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead. And it is that act more than any other sign that Jesus has performed so far that prompts the authorities to take action.

There is a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the Temple hierarchy.

“What are we to do?”, they say. “This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation”.

They are concerned that Jesus’ popularity will spill over into insurrection and become the focus of a nationalist movement that will bring all the might of Rome down upon them.

And this is probably a valid concern.

It is also likely, however, that the Temple authorities are concerned about their own loss of power within the religious and political system.[1]

They have power and they want to keep it. So, in this, theirs is the voice of self-interest. 

And what follows is the voice of political expediency.

Caiaphas, the high priest, has no patience for any of this handwringing, but offers instead some hard-headed political pragmatism:  “You know nothing at all!”, he says. “You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed”. 

And those words are Jesus’ death sentence.

He is to be the sacrifice that maintains the status quo, the sacrifice that keeps everything in its place, the sacrifice that averts any disturbance to the current order of things. 

But, whereas Caiaphas and the council are all about nipping Jesus in the bud, shutting him down and damping down the fires of insurrection and subversion, Jesus has something very different in mind. 

He says, “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”.

For Jesus, his death will bring something different.

Far from shutting things down and “putting a lid on it”, his death will be the start of something new, something that has the power to bust things wide open and bring about the possibility of a new way of being in the world. 

And how does this work?

Well, Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

And, as I said before, in the language of John’s gospel, this “glorification” refers to Jesus’ death. But it also refers to his resurrection and ascension.

Jesus’ glorification is all of a package: death, resurrection and ascension

And his reference to the grain of wheat dying in order to bear much fruit is a reference to all of this.

Jesus’ death bears much fruit because what follows is his resurrection.

And the resurrection as an event subverts everything we know about death and about, well,…everything! 

The resurrection tells us that there is another power at work in the world and in our lives, another power that is not bound by the rules of the game as we know it, a power that is not constrained by all the inevitabilities that we take for granted: the inevitability that death is the end, the inevitability that the powerful will always triumph, the inevitability that the only way to respond to violence is with more violence, the inevitability that compassion and justice must always give way to political pragmatism, the inevitability that this, whatever this situation of despair and grief is, is the end.

Jesus death and resurrection challenge all these things and plant in their place seeds of life and hope and the promise of a future beyond all the things that for us seem to promise only an end to everything.  

Jesus’ death also bears much fruit because through his resurrection a community is formed, a community of people who have begun to trust in the power of his resurrection, a community of people who can bear witness to the reality that God’s love and God’s power transcend death and the threat of death. 

We humans do terrible things to one another and to the earth. We subject each other to all manner of abuse and torture and exploitation. We pollute our environment and waste its resources. We are capable of frightening brutality, and the crucifixion of Jesus is not even the worst that we can devise for one another. 

But what the resurrection shows us is that in the midst of all that fear and violence, death and the threat of death do not have the last word. Those things cannot define us, or confine us, or control us.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus goes on to say, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself”.

Here the cross, upon which Jesus is lifted up, is transformed from a cruel instrument of torture and prolonged death into a gateway to new life and reconciliation. 

Through the cross, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we see the limits of the power of this world where all is self-interest and expediency, and we experience instead the limitless power and promise of God’s love. 

[1] Gail R. O’Day, “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections”  in NIB 9 (Leander E. Keck et al. (eds.); Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), 697.

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