by Rev. Joe Varner
Read John 12:20-33
During Lent, we are always mindful of the end: the cross and the tomb. The Gospels bear witness to this central focus in Jesus’ life. It is there at the cross where God through Christ will accomplish the purpose for which God sent the Son. So as Jesus moves deliberately closer to the joy beyond the cross, we seek to travel in our own lives with the same kind of focus.
Jesus had caused one of those inconvenient uproars in Bethany when he brought his dear friend, Lazarus, back to life. The religious leaders of the day were feeling the tension rising as word about Jesus kept buzzing in their ears. Their observation in verse 19 says something about their jealousy towards Jesus, “You see you can do nothing, the whole world has gone after him!”
The crowd seemed to have become intoxicated by the hopes they began dreaming. They had been witnesses to the resuscitation of Lazarus. No wonder their dreams for who Jesus could be and what Jesus might accomplish must have run wild.
Here we find a few foreigners in town for the festivities. Jesus had ridden into the city on the back of a young donkey and the children cried out, “Hosanna!” What’s puzzling to me about their very short role in the plot is they knew who to ask about the one named Jesus that they kept hearing about. John’s Gospel doesn’t say how they knew to ask Philip, it simply states that they asked him. Philip asked Andrew, then both men went and told Jesus about these out-of-towners.
Jesus goes into what seems like a disjointed teaching about his impending death. Not seemingly timely when you have “the whole world” knocking on your door. Reading this passage, I ask myself, “Jesus, why go on talking about how you are going to die when your disciples want to introduce you to these folks who aren’t from here?” But buried in his talk about grains falling to the ground and the anguish of the cross that he willingly takes upon himself is a direct address to you and me. Jesus said, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.”
There’s something painfully difficult about following Jesus. When we are honest when people ask us about our faith, we will admit that it is not easy having the Son of God who willingly dies on a cross to be our Lord. To pretend that it’s always easy to confess that Jesus is Lord and to follow as his servants is to pretend that the cross doesn’t really matter. When Jesus is lifted up, and when the whole world is drawn to seek understanding about the significance of his life, death, and resurrection, they will turn to the ones whose lives most closely resemble his own to find the answers they seek. Will they know to come to us, as they knew to ask Philip? How will they know who to ask about Jesus if we aren’t headed for the cross ourselves?
Joe is the Associate Pastor at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Midlothian, Virginia.