found wrangling this reading from John, the last reading for this season of Lent like trying to get an octopus into a string bag!

It begins with a convoluted story about Greeks (maybe Jewish converts, maybe Greek-speaking Jews) seeking Jesus, which leads, quite abruptly it seems, into Jesus speaking about his death, and speaking about it in ambiguous terms, similar to last week with the ‘snake on the pole’; as “being lifted up from the earth” (verse 32) meaning both his crucifixion (verse 33, “He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.”) and his glorification (verse 23, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”) What does all this mean? There seem to be arms and legs and threads going everywhere!

But what I have discovered, doing the reading and reflecting, is that the two parts of the passage are strongly connected – interconnected. Yes, Jesus is speaking about his death. He speaks about it in positive, generative, life-giving terms, in ways that sound strange to us. But he does so – he is able to do so – because the arrival of the Greeks is a sign for him that his mission is accomplished.

Thinking about Jesus recognising that the hour had come – the hour of his suffering and death, but also when the Son of Man would be glorified, I was reminded of the story of Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch watchmaker, concentration camp survivor and Christian speaker, author of The Hiding Place, that I read first in comic book form (did anyone else read this Spire Christian comics?) and then later the book.

There she speaks about her first awareness of death, as a child, and how she was terrified at the thought of losing her parents, and how her father comforted her:

“Corrie, when you and I go to Amsterdam when do I give you your ticket?”
I sniffed a few times, considering this. “Why, just before we get on the train.”
“Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need – just in time.”

Here in these verses Jesus comes to terms with his approaching death. Interestingly here, the writer of John takes material the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) use in the Garden of Gethsemane and reworks it as Jesus’ final public discourse. There is less agonising here. Yes, Jesus still expresses distress at the thought of death, “Now my soul is troubled”, but rather than saying, “Father if it is possible. Remove this cup from me…”  he is resolute. “Should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”

Again, the writer of John reworks material from the synoptics – from Jesus’ baptism – with the voice coming from heaven. But here, the voice does not say, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Here Jesus knows exactly who he is and why he has come. Instead, we are told the voice is for the crowd’s benefit (and for our own as listeners) confirming that in Jesus’ death, as in his life, God’s name is glorified, for Jesus and God are one.

It is this hope – that “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” – that is, for Jesus, the ticket he needs just as he boards the train, the strength he needs to face his death, for glorification means that this one death results in life multiplied.

Jesus uses a simple agricultural image to describe this. It is like a grain of wheat that must fall into the earth and die in order to bear much fruit.

You might know that this verse was a great comfort to Archbishop Oscar Romero, a prelate in the Catholic church in El Salvador, when his life was threatened, and his words have reverberated ever more strongly since his assassination that if he should die his spirit would rise up among the poor of El Salvador.

God’s glory is not found in the world’s definition of a single, isolated life, but in life that is shared. It is not found in the world’s definition of life that is carefully preserved, but life that dies in order that more life might flourish. God’s glory is found in life lived for others.

This is the life Jesus lived and died in – life that is lived for others. As John 1 says, “we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

And, for Jesus, the arrival of the Greeks (verse 20) wishing to see him, to see him and know him, was a sign that his life lived for others had accomplished its purpose, that in his death “all people would be drawn to him”.

I was reminded of another story from Corrie ten Boom reading this. During the war her family hid Jews, obtained ration cards for them and helped them to escape, as well as assisting the Dutch resistance. But eventually they were discovered, their home was raided, and Corrie and her sister Betsie and their father, Casper, were arrested. At the time of the raid, however, there were six people hiding in their home, and while they waited in prison for sentencing, they agonised over the fate of these people hiding in their home.

But one day Corrie received a letter from her married sister, Nollie, and noticed the writing on the envelope seemed oddly slanted, pointing towards the stamp in the top right corner. She peeled back the stamp and found the words, “All the watches in your cabinet are safe.” It was a message that gave her comfort – comfort that sustained her at the death of her father, only 10 days after his arrest, and during her and Betsie’s time in Ravensbrück concentration camp. Altogether they are said to have saved the lives of 800 people.

Throughout this whole section in John, we hear references to the same purpose and motivation for Jesus – that people might come to God and be safe in God’s love and mercy, that all people, the Greeks are a foretaste of this, might come to God and be safe in God’s love and mercy.

Ironically this is found in the words of Caiphas the high priest. John 11:50: “It is better…to have one man die for all the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” The writer of John interprets this as meaning that Jesus was dying, verse 52, “not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God.” It is also in the critique of the Pharisees; John 12:19: “Look, the world has gone after him!”

And it is the fulfillment also of the ancient prophecies that in the day of the Lord all nations – all peoples – will be drawn to the temple. As our reading from Isaiah indicates it is foreigners, people considered outside God’s covenant with God’s people, and people whose sexuality was deeply suspect to the Jewish people – all these are invited to gather in God’s house and within God’s walls. All these are considered God’s dispersed people. All these are claimed by God. All these are offered hope and mercy and abundant life. Isaiah 56:5: “I will give them…a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.”

This is why Jesus is willing to die. This is why Jesus views his death as glorification. Because his concern is that all people, all who God watches over will be safe in God’s house.

And where is God’s house? Where do the Greeks come to see God? Is it in the temple? No, it is in Jesus. It is in the life lived for others; the life that dies so that others may live. Verse 32: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

Where do we go to find God? Where are we safe in God’s love and the mercy? Where do we find a life that is bigger and greater and grander than the world’s definition of a small, single, isolated life? Where do we find life lived for others?

Is it in a building – even buildings as beautiful as this one? Is it in religious traditions and church structures? Is it in living a nice, quiet, good life?

Or do we find God – do we find this love and this life – this life lived for others – in Jesus? Are we prepared to come and say, “We want to see Jesus.”