The Grain Must Fall and Die
Lent 5 Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. John 12: 20 — 33
In the closing hours of our Lord’s ministry, He focusses very clearly on His divinely appointed mission. It is only by His death that the barrier between Jew and Gentile can be removed, and eternal life be brought to all mankind. That is why His thoughts are on His death; He must die to bring His divine life to all who would receive it. (R. Cox).
Jesus chose to explain the paradox of His giving life — His LIFE — through His death, by using an example from nature.
“A grain of wheat, though containing in itself the germ of life, remains alone, and does not really live unless it falls to the earth. Then the life germs burst forth, and the single grain in its own death, gives life to blade, stalk, and ear of corn.
Its death then was the true life, for it released the inner power which the husk before held captive; and this life power multiplying itself in successive grains clothes the whole field with a harvest of much fruit.” (C. J. Ellicott)
Some Reflections On The Text
Part 1 Setting the scene
Now there were some Greeks among those who had come
up to worship at the feast.
This incident occurred early in the last week of Jesus’ ministry. It is interesting that these people of Gentile origin want to meet Jesus, unlike the Jewish authorities who want to see the end of Him. They were probably converts to Judaism, which is why they had come up to Jerusalem. Nevertheless, St. John is using them to contrast with the narrow-mindedness of the born and bred Jewish senior authorities.
They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and
asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”
Perhaps they approached Phillip because of his Greek name. It is interesting to note this would have taken place in the Court of Gentiles which Jesus had “cleansed” at the beginning of his ministry (2 to 3 years earlier).
Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went
and told Jesus.
The intention of the Greeks is obvious: they wanted to meet and talk with Jesus, who was not present.
Part 2 Solemn Proclamations
Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of
Man to be glorified.
The response of Jesus may seem a little strange and unexpected, but his mind is on His mission. When Jesus says, “The hour has come”, He is referring to His death and exaltation. In other words, it will soon happen: the true glory of the Son of Man will be revealed and His listeners will soon see more than they could have imagined.
This verse is a solemn proclamation by our Lord that the time has arrived for the Son of Man to demonstrate what “true glory” really is. It will include the whole process of His Passion, Death, Resurrection and even His Ascension into heaven, as it points towards His Heavenly Glory as prophesied by Daniel (Chapter 7).
To be glorified, therefore, for Jesus, is not just to focus on receiving praise, but rather on revealing the true nature of the Son of and His power to give life. (Newman and Nida).
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to
the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it
dies, it produces much fruit.
Then follows a powerful analogy from nature. In a beautiful way, Jesus begins to explain the mystery of His atoning death. If we think it strange that He must die in order to bring life, let us remember that this paradox already exists in nature. A grain of wheat left to itself will produce nothing; only when it appears to have died and has been buried does it bring forth fruit, in far greater abundance than itself.
This, then, is the principle our Lord has adopted in His life, and is about to put into practice.
Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life
in this world will preserve it for eternal life.
Our Lord now spells out how this principle will be outworked in the life of His disciples.
Jesus goes on, in verse 25, to make what it seems a most difficult (almost unreasonable) demand. This sentence can be a real challenge to us.
First we should understand that the contrast between love and hate is a Semitic manner of speaking. Here, to “hate” means to consider something as less desirable than what is “loved”. In other words, to “love it less”. To love one’s own life could be taken to mean: to live just for one’s self.
By way of contrast, to hate one’s own life could be expressed: living for others.
So Jesus is contrasting the person who selfishly keeps holding onto their own life with the one who courageously lets go of it — who is not preoccupied with serving their own interests, or hanging onto their own way of life. Clearly Jesus warns that selfishness ends in self-destruction.
Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there
also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves
So the principle of sacrifice (which is the explanation of Jesus’ own life) also holds for anyone who will count themselves a true follower of our Lord. Jesus is being clear and very open: He is on his way to death and the route His servant must follow is also that of death. The honour that the Father shows to the believer is a reward for their faithful service to Jesus. This means that a special relationship has been established between the Father and the believer in a way similar to that which exists between the Father and the Son.
In some respects, this is the climax of this section in St. John, and affirms the dignity and honour of being a disciple of the Son of Man and the Son of God. A disciple of Jesus Christ denies self not just for ultimate “self-realisation”, or even for other people. Rather, it must be, in the first instance, for the Lord Jesus.
Part 3 Jesus faces death, and closes His ministry.
“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me
from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this
In Verse 27 we see Jesus quoting Psalm phrases. The words “my heart is troubled” come from Ps 42: 6 or Ps 6: 3. The phrase “save me” comes from Ps 6: 4.
Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven,
“I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”
In Hebrew custom, our Lord calls on His Father to reveal Himself in the exercise of His power and love in a way which will draw honour and thanksgiving to Him. (M. Pollin, S. J.)
When Jesus says “glorify your name” He might also have said, “reveal how glorious you are” or “show people how wonderful you are”.
In reply, the Father means that He has already revealed Himself in the works and signs of Jesus, also meaning that these all point to a greater glory yet to come. The disciples will witness this in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Verses 29 and 30
The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others
said, “An angel has spoken to him.”
Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come for my
sake but for yours.
Verse 29 shows there were three reactions to the heavenly voice. Some heard a noise like thunder, which shows they were not well attuned to receive a revelation. Others distinguished some kind of a communication but thought of nothing higher than the angels.
Jesus alone recognised the voice as being for the sake of the hearers.
Verses 31 to 33
Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of
this world will be driven out.
And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone
He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.
With these words, our Lord brings His comments to an end. He hints strongly that many people from all cultures will be drawn to Him, and points to how He would soon die. With that final statement, He draws His public ministry to a close.
We close our offering with “Advice From a Great Preacher” (on next page).
Advice From A Great Preacher
(We must) begin with the cross of Christ, and in that cross we shall at first find
And so, too, as regards this world, with all his enjoyments, yet disappointments.
They alone enjoy it, who at first abstained from it. They alone can truly feast,
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“Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature”
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so, remain
The Grain Must Fall and Die
Lent 5 Year B St. John 12: 20 — 33
1. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in
Most of us have had it explained that Jesus is here talking in the Hebrew
We need to remember that this is a promise from the Lord’s own mouth.
2. “Whoever serves me must follow me and where I am, there
Just as Jesus serves the Father, and has a special relationship with Him,
3. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone
These words are a very dramatic way to close off three years of intense
In our world, success comes, so we are told, through self-development
But that is false religion — certainly false Christianity. If we are drawn
John 12: 20 ― 33
Lent 5 Year B
20 11 Now there were some Greeks 12 among those
21 13 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida
22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and
23 14 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for
24 15 Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of
25 Whoever loves his life 16 loses it, and whoever
26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where
27 “I am troubled 17 now. Yet what should I say?
28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came
29 The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder;
30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not
31 Now is the time of judgment on this world; now
32 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will
33 He said this indicating the kind of death he
11 [20-36[ This announcement of glorification by death is an illustration of “the whole world” (19) going after him.
12  Greeks: not used here in a nationalistic sense. These are probably Gentile proselytes to Judaism; cf ⇒ John 7:35.
13 [21-22] Philip . . . Andrew: the approach is made through disciples who have distinctly Greek names, suggesting that access to Jesus was mediated to the Greek world through his disciples. Philip and Andrew were from Bethsaida (⇒ John 1:44); Galileans were mostly bilingual. See: here seems to mean “have an interview with.”
14  Jesus’ response suggests that only after the crucifixion could the gospel encompass both Jew and Gentile.
15  This verse implies that through his death Jesus will be accessible to all. It remains just a grain of wheat: this saying is found in the synoptic triple and double traditions (⇒ Mark 8:35; ⇒ Matthew 16:25; ⇒ Luke 9:24; ⇒ Matthew 10:39; ⇒ Luke 17:33). John adds the phrases (⇒ John 12:25) in this world and for eternal life.
16  His life: the Greek word psyche refers to a person’s natural life. It does not mean “soul,” for Hebrew anthropology did not postulate body/soul dualism in the way that is familiar to us.
17  I am troubled: perhaps an allusion to the Gethsemane agony scene of the synoptics.
18  Ruler of this world: Satan.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised