This week’s gospel is John 12:20-33. It is fascinating both for the role it plays in John’s overall gospel and for its relationship to the synoptic (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tradition. 12:25 “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” is one of the very few times in the Gospel of John where Jesus says something that is almost identical to a saying recorded in the synoptics (Mark 8:34).
Curiously, a few verses later, Jesus seems to contradict directly the synoptic tradition. In v. 27, he says, “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.” In Gethsemane, Jesus prays that God will spare him what is coming (“Remove this cup from me” Mk 14:36). There is no scene set in Gethsemane in the Gospel of John. In John’s understanding of Jesus, he knows exactly what is happening to him, why it is happening, and has no fears or uncertainties about that. John’s Jesus is in charge of events, not a victim; Mark’s Jesus is very human, as we will see in the next week.
We often want to choose between one or the other portrayal. Some of us prefer a very human Jesus with whom we can connect, whose human suffering is not so different from our own pain and struggles. Others of us prefer the notion of a Jesus who stands above it all, powerful, divine. In fact, we needn’t choose. Our faith proclaims that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine.
John’s portrayal of Jesus offers us a great deal to ponder. I quoted 12: 32 in my sermon yesterday, and a portion of it appears in the title of this post. This idea, that Jesus welcomes and embraces all humanity on the cross is an evocative image of inclusive salvation. In a time when Christianity seems to be a profoundly divisive force in society and culture, the idea that Jesus Christ appeals to all, welcomes all, whatever their race, ethnicity (this is said in the presence of Greeks), and religion, is very appealing.