Tuesday, March 20, 2012

John 12:20-33

This passage occurs in the RCL Lent Season, Year B, most recently March of 2015.

Summary:
This pericope highlights the engagement and even confrontation between Jesus and the world.  It looks like this:
1)  world hungers for Jesus, meets him in community
2)  call to discipleship -- which is service
3)  call to suffering -- which is glory
4)  call to judgement -- which is resurrection
I think this does model how people actually encounter Jesus and the church.  People find a community that has something to do with Jesus, they hear about serving others, but finally they encounter Jesus Christ crucified.  This in turns sheds light on all other things, including evil, judgment and resurrection.  I hesitate to make some nice ordo salutis here, but I wonder if one could play around here with this passage and how people actually experience Jesus, especially for the first time.
I'd go further to say that this passage highlights three ways in which we are to act as the church:  worship, service and finally suffering.

αναβαινω vs. προσκυνεω ("go up" and "worship" 12:20):  John puts a little play on words here; a funny juxtaposition.  The word for "go up" means literally this "go" and "up"; the word for worship means "fall down at one's knees to kiss the ground."  They went up to kneel.  Worship involves getting out of bed, moving around and then finally being humble, even still, in the presence of God.

διακονος ("servant"; 12:26):  The word here for servant comes from table-waiter.  It will come into English with the whole slew of church related "diakon/deacon/diaconal" words.  Here Jesus says that if they want to see Jesus, they must see the servant, because he identifies himself not simply as but with the servant.  It is striking that in the next chapter Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.  This dialogue in chapter 12 offers us the suggestion that Jesus' washing of the feet was not simply an internal community action, but a reminder to the disciples of their posture in the world.

ψυχη ("soul" or "life";12:25; 27)  The word for life here is "psyche," which can also mean soul. It comes into English as psychology, etc.   The same word comes into play in verse 25 and 27, both when Jesus is talking about his disciples, but also himself.  (why the translators hide this, I'll never know...)  While he does not make the same crucifixion promise as he does in the synoptics, here he connects the cost of discipleship with his death on the cross. 

εκλω ("drag"; 12:32) The word for "draw" here means to forcibly draw, as in draw ships out to see; drag in oar in water, drag to court. It can mean draw as in attract, but it seems to have a more forceful image. This word will come back at the end when Peter casts out his nets at Jesus' command and he draws in the fish. Interestingly, Peter will also draw his sword in the Garden. Jesus will drag us up to him.  I guess here is the question:  Is this a word of universal salvation or universal judgment.  If you continue the argument to 12:48, you've got to wonder, does Jesus draw men up to judge them??

Grammar:  Greek subjunctive:  εαν
Greek has all sorts of subjunctive (ie, not 100 percent going to happen) possibilities, as most languages do.  The most "maybe yes, maybe no" form is simply: εαν, which we find repeatedly in this section.  This means things are really up in the air...in this case, our willingness to serve others as Christ served us.  What also seems up in the air is whether Jesus will come back.  But we know that to be true, so relax.

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