The lectionary gospel reading for the fifth Sunday in Lent in Year B is John 12.20–33, and here we are reading the text in a strange order! There are clear indications that this passage follows on, in terms of both contexts and themes, from the first part of John 12, which describes the so-called ‘triumphal entry’ into Jerusalem—but we don’t read about that until next week (either from Mark 11 or John 12)! And the passage itself is full of apparent non-sequiturs, and several theologically-dense aphorisms or proverbial sayings of Jesus—so we have our work cut out to immerse ourselves in the text!
Both the previous passage and this one are marked by the later ‘re-membering’ of these events from a time after Jesus’ resurrection, something we have seen repeatedly in previous passages in the Fourth gospel. The disciples did not understand the events around Palm Sunday at first, but only with benefit of hindsight and reading the scriptures again (John 12.16). And Jesus’ final saying in today’s passage only makes sense by looking back from the end of the story (‘what kind of death he was going to die’ John 12.33).
The intense conflict that Jesus is facing on a human level in Jerusalem is traced by this gospel back to the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11; this is why the crowd are so intensely interested in him, and why his opponents are (temporarily) despairing. But their ironic comment sets up the opening of our passage: ‘See, the whole world has gone after him’ (John 12.19). This is the ‘world’ that was made through him, but, on the whole, did not recognise him (John 1.10); the Pharisees represent ‘his own’ who did not receive him (John 1.11). (It is worth noting two things about language in passing. The first is that kosmos here means the world of humanity, not the whole created order; this is not the place to go for arguments about the environment. Secondly, this gospel at times paints with a broad brush: it seems that ‘the Pharisees’ are bitterly opposed to Jesus as a group, but this must mean ‘some Pharisees’ or ‘many Pharisees’ since we know that Nicodemus, a ‘ruler’ of the group (John 3.1) came to be a supporter of Jesus, and we know that other Pharisees also became disciples.)
Here is my video on the passage. For full details and references see the article on this posted previously.
You use the share button at the top right to copy the video link and pass it to others. To keep up with future videos as they are published, click on the subscribe button at the end of the video.