20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
"Now my soul is troubled"
There is a scene in the courts of London with which we have become sadly familiar. I refer to young men and women who have been convicted of looting during the riots last August. A surprising number belonged to comfortably off families but got carried away. The psychology of crowds can be very strong, and younger adults are particularly vulnerable to the heady excitement of the mob.
As we read the gospel today (John 12.20-33) we have to visualize the crowd in the background. Many people have been awestruck by the sight of Lazarus emerging from the tomb, called back to life by Jesus. Many, we are told, began to believe that Jesus was the Christ. Crowds welcomed him into Jerusalem with hosannas and branches, as we will remember next Sunday. It is the beginning of the end. He knows that the authorities will be frightened by his popularity and will act against him. This is why he speaks such sombre words, about his hour having come, about his soul being troubled, about longing to be saved from this hour. Jesus knows that crowds are fickle, that they can turn in an instant, sweeping people along with them. Those who cheered his entry could just as easily bay for his blood.
Getting swept along by the crowd has great dangers, not just in terms of stealing but also in terms of being unable to think for ourselves. To go with the shifting fashionable opinions of the day – all of us have known that. In fact, in our age of mass media it is easier than ever to get caught up in the tide of popular opinion.
It is a question of focus. Where do we look? What do we see, that inspires or attracts us? What draws us out of ourselves? The looters were attracted by consumer goods. In this they were faithful to much of the spirit of our age. Our world seems one vast system which stimulates our appetites into wanting goods sourced from China. Where are the ideals which inspire our society? What values do we hold high as a nation, what are the ties that bind in our community life? The crowd of rioters wants flat-screen televisions and laptops. Beyond that, they see nothing.
Christians know these temptations too and struggle as much as anyone else. But they know that there is another way of life. Looking at our world we begin to understand Jesus’ words today, ‘Anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life.’ To be uneasy with shallow satisfactions, to ask if there is more to life, this kind of movement in ourselves is the beginning of spiritual wisdom. And to help us there is another focus for our eyes, something to ponder in our hearts. It is the image of Christ on the cross. The Jesus who says of himself in today’s gospel the mysterious words, ‘When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself.’ He draws them not because of passing pleasures, but because they sense in him the paradoxes of fulfilment. If you give, you will receive. If you look for God, God will reach out to you. To be a greater person, rein yourself in and make room for others. And yes, when suffering or disappointment come your way, touch the wounds of Christ. He walked this way before you, he knows from the inside what it is like. As our reading from Hebrews tells us today, although he was the Son of God, he was schooled in suffering. These are the paradoxical, and fulfilling truths of our faith. Remembering all this, we pray quietly in our homes and go to church to receive the bread of life.
These values of belonging, of communion, of lifting our gaze from the present moment to an eternal horizon, give us our focus. We stand under the cross, seeking to live what is spoken of in Jeremiah 31.31-34. The cross asks us to have values written deep in our hearts, renewed again and again by the nourishing life of God who is over all, through all and in all. We live not in dull obedience to an external law but by the grace of God.
Fr Terry Tastard is Parish Priest at St Mary's in Finchley East, north London, UK. Fr Terry's latest book: Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing and is available on Amazon.