18 March 2018
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Lent 5B (RCL)
Throughout Lent this year, we have been reading instances of God’s covenant with God’s people, beginning with the covenant with Abraham. We arrive at Jeremiah’s vision of a new covenant, when restores the fortunes of the people. This one will be written on the heart. In Deuteronomy (chapter 6), Moses tells the people to write the words of the Shema (Hear, O Israel) on their doorposts, to wear them as frontlets, to teach them to their children and to speak of them both indoors and out. The new covenant will need no such instruction, as all will already know it.
The covenant written on stone, or on doorposts, made distinctions. It applied to those within the boundaries of the chosen people. Presumably, the covenant written on hearts, which will not need to be taught to others, will be inclusive. This was the radical prophetic vision as a response to Israel’s exile: Israel had misunderstood the purpose of their election. The prophets saw that God had intended the election of the people to be a blessing for the whole world, rather than to separate Israel off from the world.
The passage from John’s Gospel continues this radical opening of the covenant. John’s community has already suffered excommunication from the synagogue (chapter 9 – anyone who confesses the Christ is to be thrown out of the synagogue), and now faces a crisis of identity. Certain Greeks have come to worship at the festival and want to see Jesus. Andrew and Phillip approach Jesus with their request, and Jesus responds in a completely unexpected way: NOW the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. All through the Gospel, Jesus has been telling us that it is not yet his hour, but when the Greeks approach, the hour has come.
But, the grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die, in order to bear fruit. I think the Gospel writer is forcing the Johannine community to examine itself. Is it willing to die to its Jewish identity, in order to allow the Greeks to come in? The Greeks disappear from the story completely, so we get to end of the Gospel without an answer to that question. We are left to answer it for ourselves. Who are the Greeks of our day who want to see Jesus, and are we willing to fall into the ground and die in order to bear fruit?