At first glance, the passage offered to us today in John 12 can appear a bit disjointed, a collection of ideas from which we can pull out a few salient points to ponder. Some Greeks came to Philip to seek an appointment with Jesus, and when Philip and Andrew approached Jesus about it he seemed to go off on another track. This can leave us wondering if the Greeks ever got to see Jesus, because they didn’t seem to figure in Jesus’ follow-up response.
It’s common in the Gospel of John to find a setting, like a little scene or an event, prior to the proclamation of an important message about Jesus. The Greeks are part of such a scene. Who are they? They may not necessarily be Greek citizens, but they are possibly gentile converts to Judaism, who have come to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. No doubt they have heard about Jesus and they want to speak with him. These gentiles stand in contrast to the Jewish authorities who were rejecting Jesus.
However, their presence here has a deeper significance. Leading into this section the Gospel narrative relates that the crowds were going out to meet Jesus because he had raised Lazarus from the dead. The Pharisees, in their frustration, acknowledged that they were gaining nothing, because “the whole world has gone after him.” Now we understand that these ‘Greeks’ represent this whole world that is seeking after Jesus. When Jesus is told of their seeking him, his response is, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” There is here a sense of completeness and beginning. Jesus is fully aware that it was for this hour he came. This is the hour he must go through, just as the seed must go through a radical transformation to generate new life. This is the hour of an apparent shameful ending. This is the hour to glorify God’s name. This is the hour of lifting up when all people will be drawn to Jesus, and all people will be lifted. This is the hour when God’s selection of all humanity is manifested. This is the new Passover which is accomplished in the passing from death to glory. It is the Passover for all people, it is the new and universal covenant, in which all people are drawn to God through Jesus. This is the hour of completion of a phase in human understanding and the hour of beginning a new phase in knowing God’s universal love and care of all creation.
Jeremiah, in the 1st. reading, also speaks of a new covenant, a covenant in which God’s way is written in every human heart. There will be no need to teach it or learn it from someone else, for God has made a covenant in which all, from the least to the greatest, will know God who will forgive our evil doing and remember our sins no more. “But what of our teaching and preaching?” we might ask. The best of both are done by those who can lead a person to tap into the divine within and manifest it in the world.
In 1854, when the American government sent a proposal to Chief Seattle about purchasing land from the Native People he is reported to have begun his response thus: “How can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?” For millennia, we humans have carefully packaged and parceled God into religious systems and each group has offered its package as the true system. Shouldn’t the idea be strange to us? For we do not own God, nor can we grasp the divine that we can parcel and package it into a system. There is a new covenant written in every human heart, and we are called like Jesus to manifest it as God’s universal covenant with all.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP