We’re at the end of the Lenten period. Today’s Gospel passage is meant to help us focus our vision in preparation for our spiritual journey through the liturgies of Holy Week.
“Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we would like to see Jesus.’” It seems these Greeks were converts to Judaism who came to worship at the temple during the Passover. They had heard about Jesus either in their own country, or after they had made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It seems that Philip didn’t know how to respond to them. So he went to Andrew to tell him about the request. Then, both of them brought the request to Jesus.
The Gospel writer, however, doesn’t tell us what happened with these Greeks. He leaves their request up in the air. They wanted “to see” Jesus. But what Jesus has to say will let everyone, Jews and Greeks alike, see who he is! So John jumps directly to that all-important message: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
Philip and Andrew, and anyone else who was present, must have felt their heart skip a beat. How they, and numberless generations before them, longed to hear those words. To feel the impact of his statement, we need to understand the term “The Son of Man.” Let’s go to the vision of the four beasts in Daniel 7: 1-14.
In a vision Daniel saw four beasts. The first was a lion with eagle’s wings. It was transformed into a being with two legs and a human mind. The second was a bear with three tusks between its teeth. A command was given to it: “Up, devour much flesh.” The third was like a leopard, but it had four wings on its back and four heads. The fourth beast was the most terrifying to Daniel. It had ten horns, plus a horn with the eyes of a man and a mouth that “spoke eloquently.” It had iron teeth with which it “devoured and crushed, and what was left it trampled with its feet.” These beasts represent the great world powers of the time, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes and the Persians. They had swept through the Middle East crushing their enemies and subjugating them with horrendous savagery and cruelty.
It shouldn’t be difficult for us to relate to this prophecy. The 20th century was the most sadistic and cruel time the world has ever known. It is estimated that more than 150,000,000 men women and children were tortured and slaughtered in that century. Sadly, the beasts continue to ravage the earth through wars, declared and undeclared, in prisons and gulags, refugee camps and immigration detention centers. The beasts still 2 devour with teeth of steel. The beasts still have human faces and speak eloquently. But, in spite of all the suffering, people of good faith continue to hope, just as Daniel did.
The prophecy continues. “I saw one like a son of man coming on the clouds of glory…He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.” One day, the great beasts will be conquered. Not by a stronger and more sadistic beast, but by a man of flesh and blood, a Son of Man.
When Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” the disciples would have immediately thought of Daniel’s prophecy. Jesus was announcing that he was the Messiah, the Son of Man, who would conquer the beasts and establish the reign of universal peace. Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy!
But they didn’t have much time to revel in his announcement. Jesus immediately added, “Unless the grain of wheat fall to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” The disciples must have been terribly confused and disillusioned. Jesus had just announced that he was the hoped-for Son of Man. Then, in his next sentence, he spoke of the necessity of dying. And his next sentence spoke not only about himself but his followers also. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me.” Whatever hopes they had about Jesus’ kingdom crumpled with these words. Jesus could read their faces. He saw their disillusionment. He saw their weakness. So he opened his heart to them.
“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” John doesn’t give us an account of Jesus’ agony in the garden as the other gospel writers do. He connects it with this moment when Jesus revealed himself as the Son of Man. He will not come as Israel’s military hero. He will walk his victory procession alone, abandoned by his disciples, and his victory march will lead him to the cross. Jesus continued.
“Father, glorify your name.” Was this a plea for affirmation? Was Jesus reaching out for comfort as his hour approached? No. This is a tremendous yes to what will come! Jesus is rock solid in his determination to carry out the will of his Father. He doesn’t fear for himself. He fears for his followers. They need to be strengthened.
“Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it and will glorify it again.’” His Father responded, and everyone heard it. “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours. Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”
The battle against the beasts is about to begin. The battle ground will be the cross.