1ST READING Jer 31: 31-34 // RESPONSORIAL PSALM 51 // 2ND READING Heb 5: 7-9 // GOSPEL READING Jn 12: 20-33
We want to reflect the following verses in the Gospel today: “Jesus said, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit’.”
hese words were spoken by Jesus after his cleansing of the Temple, and when the Greeks who wanted to see him was led by Philip and Andrew to Jesus. These words contained the greatest paradox of Jesus’ life and ours too as his followers. It is the paradox of the Cross and the Crown. Thus, we should reflect on these words.
THE SON OF MAN AND HIS GLORY
The Greeks: Looking for Truth about God in Jesus. The Greeks approached Philip and Andrew to see Jesus. They might be converts to Judaism and saw Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple (according to some to some NT scholars). They wanted to know the truth about God and about Jesus and understand his action in the Temple.
And Jesus told them these words in the verses that we have cited above – about the Son of Man whose hour to be glorified has come.
The Son of Man, who is He? Of course, most of the devout members of the Judaism, the religion of the Jews, knew about the “Son of Man” in the book of the prophet Daniel (7:13), the origin of this title, “Son of Man”.
The author of the book of prophet Daniel used to describe powerful kingdoms using symbols or images of cruel, savage and sadistic animals like - the Assyrians as a lion with eagle’s wings, the Babylonians as a bear with three ribs between its teeth, the Medes as a leopard with four wings and four heads, and the Persians a terrible beast with iron teeth and ten horns.
Furthermore, the most powerful one that defeats them all is the new kingdom, which is symbolized by a son of man. The Son of Man is gentle, humane and gracious. For the Jews, the Son of Man stood for the victorious world conqueror sent by God to establish his kingdom – the kingdom of Israel.
Thus, when Jesus was talking about the Son of Man, his listeners were breathlessly excited at the beginning. However, later Jesus turned their understanding upside-down. They were confused. It is because for Jesus the Son of Man was not the same as that of the Jews’. Jesus was talking of his death. The Son of Man for Jesus was the Suffering Servant of Yahweh in the book of the prophet Isaiah, who would suffer and die for God’s people.
Here lies the greatest paradox of life. His glorification is his crucifixion.
Jesus did not mean by the term “glorified” what the Jews understood by the same term. Jesus meant by “glorified” as “crucified”. He meant that the Son of Man must die like a seed falling to the ground that will sprout and grow, and bear much fruit.
The Greatest Paradox of Life. These words of Jesus teach us the greatest paradox in our life as Christians, following our Lord Jesus Christ. First, it is a paradox that says “only by death comes life” – like a seed that decays in the soil will sprout. It is in giving your life that you receive more life. It is in dying that we will have eternal life.
Second, it is a paradox that says “only by spending life that one will retain it.” One can only think of the many people who risk their own life for others, like the frontliners, health-workers, farmers, streets-cleaners, workers, fishermen and others, especially during this pandemic. Imagine, what will become of our world without them?
And finally, the third is related to the first and second, it is a paradox that says, “only by service that greatness can be attained.”
A story was told about two friends who were lost in the mountains one winter day. As they were hurrying down to the valley there was a heavy blizzard. Then they happened to pass by a man lying on the way, who was too weak and so cold to walk, the older friend wanted to help the very weak man but the younger friend said that they should not bother because the weak man would only slow them down, and it was already mid-afternoon. The weak man was dying, anyway. The older friend decided to stay still and tried to revive the very weak man, while the younger friend left him and continue to walk down the mountain. The older friend tried to massage the hands, feet and body of the weak man lying on the path. It took him almost an hour and the weak man gradually become stronger and the older friend took him and carry him on his back. The weak man slowly revived and the heat that their two bodies produced while walking, sustained them and made both of them even stronger. After two miles and half walking, they found a dead man’s body almost covered with snow, lying on their way. The body was already half frozen. When they examined it, it was the younger friend who left them behind hours ago… This story demonstrates the points of the great paradox of life mentioned above.
Jesus Christ has accomplished this great paradox of life. Through his death we have life. Therefore, his cross is his crown. His crucifixion is his glorification.
During this Season of Lent, we intensely participate in the mystery of his life, death and resurrection of Christ. We bear with him the cross, that with him we will also wear the crown, which is eternal life…
We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world. Amen.
William Barclay. The Gospel of John, Vol. 2 (UK: Saint Andrew Press, 2009), pp. 139 ff.