Tuesday in Holy Week: John 12:20-36

Sadao Watanabe, "Jesus preaching", 1994
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 honor. 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. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, "We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?" Jesus said to them, "The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light." After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

Recently, I've been reading the book Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel by Rowan Williams. The first section of this book is entitled, "The Judgment of Judgment: Easter in Jerusalem."

Here, Williams describes the complex relationships between victims and oppressors, coming to the conclusion that Jesus, as "pure victim," has through his death and resurrection not only reversed the victim-oppressor relationship, but has transcended it. It is an image of resurrection based on a particular variety of reconciliation in which "the Lord who judges is the Lord who saves; the Lord who vindicates his oppressed witnesses also comes, in their words and hands, to save their opressors - who are his as well" (Williams, 4-5). Williams describes the resurrection "as an invitation to recognize one's victim as one's hope. The crucified is God's chosen: it is with the victim, the condemned, that God identifies, and it is in the company of the victim, so to speak, that God is to be found" (5).

Williams makes a point of reminding us that at various points in life, we are all oppressors, and we are all victims; sometimes we are both oppressor and victim simultaneously. It is in this recognition that we can encounter true forgiveness:
the authentic word of forgiveness, newness and resurrection is audible when we acknowledge ourselves as oppressors and 'return' to our victims in the sense of learning who and where they are. It is the process in which memory becomes my memory, the memory of a self with a story of responsibility. And to remember in this way is to have restored to me part of the self that I have diminished. (14)Today's reading from John speaks to the particular paradox of glory in suffering; it is a paradox that recognizes humility, service, and even suffering as being the elements which, in the end, become glory for the faithful one. This is not to say that God prescribes suffering for the sake of glory; but it does say that through the cross, God identifies with the suffering of the world and of God's people.
John shows us many sides of Jesus: Jesus as glorious Son of Man, Jesus as judge, Jesus as victim, Jesus as victor, Jesus as human and fearing death, Jesus as divine and desiring to draw all people to himself in love. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus transcends the powers of oppression, fear, and death that mar our human life. The resurrection brings us assurance that God intends to “bring men and women out of the slavery and deprivation of violence and mutual exclusion into a new creation, whose ‘law’ is Christ” (21). And we, who follow Jesus and live as people of faith, become part of a "penitent and a hopeful community...whose concern, in living under Christ's 'law,' is to stand against oppression, exclusion and violence, to stand for the kind of human relation - and human-divine relation - which transcends the oppressor-oppressed bond" (21).

We do not have a God who seeks to judge us in wrath, will us to suffer, or use divine power to oppress us. We have a God who sent Christ, the "pure victim," to communicate to us the depth of divine love and grace. We have a God who, through the cross, breaks all bonds, even the bonds of sin and death, in order that we might transcend the bonds of this world and be eternally reconciled to God and to one another.

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