Commentary by Fr Donagh O’Shea OP, www.goodnews.ie
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very 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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour. “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. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.”
There is no mention of Gethsemane in John’s gospel. John has Jesus striding in glory through his life and death: his miracles are not acts of compassion as in the other gospels, but signs of his glory (2:11). Yet in this reading Jesus says, “Now my soul is troubled.” Though there is no account in John’s gospel of his healing the possessed, we still see his compassion: later in the same gospel he says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (14:1); he is human and he is with us after all. This gospel has no account of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, but in its place there is an account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.
The Passion begins to loom early in this gospel. Jesus speaks of being “lifted up” (3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34), and John plays on the ambiguity of this phrase. Jesus will be lifted up in shame on the cross, but this same lifting up is a lifting up in glory. Strange paradox: his shame is his glory, his death is his resurrection.
The mystics are the ones who best appreciate this paradoxical level of our Faith. Johann Tauler, a disciple of Meister Eckhart, said, “Peace is what all people are striving for; they seek after it in every direction, in every occupation, and in all their ways of life. Oh if we could only shake ourselves free from this tendency, and learn to seek peace in tribulation. Only there is true peace born, peace which will last and really endure. To seek elsewhere is to go astray inevitably. You will always find that this is true. If only we could seek joy in sadness, peace in trouble, simplicity in multiplicity, comfort in bitterness! This is the way to become true witnesses to God.”
The peace that comes from avoiding trouble is mine only as long as I can avoid trouble, and “piecemeal peace is no peace.” I cannot avoid trouble forever. If all my efforts are directed to avoiding trouble, then even the thought of it is enough to deprive me of peace. I have to be able to find peace even in trouble. Only then is it unconditional peace. Tauler again: “Before His death, our Lord always promised His disciples peace, and also after His resurrection He promised them peace. Yet they never obtained peace externally. None the less, they found peace in tribulation and love in suffering. In death they found life; to be cross-examined, judged, and condemned was for them a joyous victory. These were true witnesses.”
Briefly, a note on ‘Eternal life’. It is badly translated as ‘everlasting life’. Eternal life means God’s kind of life, not human life stretched out in time to infinity. Nor is it a life that begins beyond the grave. “Whoever believes has eternal life,” said Jesus (John 6:47) – already has, not will have. In keeping with the other paradoxes of the faith: eternal life is here and now, in this world, in this mess. It will flower beyond the grave, but not if it has no roots here and now.