John watched Jesus, as Jesus watched the milling throngs of people making there way through the streets of Jerusalem. Makeshift stalls with vendors of every kind had been hastily erected in plazas, on street corners, and even along the boulevards where buildings were not already crowded up to the street.
Though many pilgrims recognized Jesus and his Twelve, and had hailed him as Messiah with joyful hosannas and happy song, today they were busily purchasing yearling lambs and the other necessities for their Passover meals. There were special dishes—John’s mouth watered at the thought of his mother’s ground sesames and honey—that had to be prepared well ahead, and there were still travelers arriving. The sense of excitement swirled all around him.
But Jesus seemed absorbed, distant, as though he were listening to a voice no one else could hear. His eyes roved across the market square, where they had stopped for a midday meal. John could hear Farsi, Urdu, Masry, Amharic, of course the usual Latin and Greek, and other languages he could not quite place. Philip had walked over to a favorite kiosk nearer to the temple, piled high with stuffed grape leaves, kalamata olives, and the retsina wine he loved so well. John’s mouth watered for a different reason, as he remembered the time he had taken a sip from Philip’s wineskin. Philip’s grandmother had grown up in Greece, and still sealed their wine amphorae with resin. Pah!
John now saw Philip making his way towards them with a purposeful stride, draw the burly Andrew aside, and speak earnestly as he looked up at the taller man. Andrew gave a short nod, then pulled Philip behind him as he headed to the Master.
“Rabbi!” John watched Jesus’ eyes slowly come into focus as he turned his head towards Andrew.
“Rabbi, Philip says there are some Greeks come to see you.”
Jesus studied Philip’s face for a long moment, then drew in a breath and said, “The hour has come in order that the Son of Humanity was glorified.” He waved his arm for them to follow him as he walked towards John and the rest of the Twelve.
Once they were gathered, Philip anxiously looking over his shoulder from time to time, to see if the Greeks were still there, while Jesus drew their attention to the table near them piled high with every kind of loaf. Barley, wheat, fine wheat, some with rosemary, others with pine nuts, aromatic, and fresh from the outdoor oven. Were they to eat, now?
John breathed in the warm, yeasty scent of the bread, and once again his mouth was watering. How simple life is, he thought. We eat, we work, we sleep. And we never tire of fresh bread on a hungry stomach, or fresh water on a hot day.
Jesus was stooping and picking up a tiny speck from the cobble stones. He placed it in his palm then held it out for them to see. They all pushed in together, perplexed that they were staring at a rather crushed and dusty kernel of wheat.
“What do you see?” the Lord asked.
They looked back at him, not knowing what to say. Finally, Philip spoke.
“We see a seed, sir.”
Jesus looked with such affection at his disciples, everyone felt the warmth. “Yes. One kernel of wheat. Almost missed, here at our feet. And so it should remain, a single seed.”
Now he was walking towards a small copse of trees, planted near a grand edifice, a rich man’s home. Once there, he pushed aside the grasses around the trunk of a lovely balsam, until he had come down to the dirt, where he dug a small hole, holding a handful of dirt in one hand and the small kernel between thumb and finger in the other.
“This kernel has a great destiny,” he said softly. “Amen, amen, I say to you, it will remain as it is, just a seed, unless it fall into the earth and die.” He knelt to drop the seed into the small hole he had made, and placed the dirt upon it, gently tamping it down like a child being tucked into bed.
“Now having died,” he said, as he raised himself to his feet, and brushed the dirt from his hand, “It will arise from its dark tomb, and will bear much fruit.” Jesus continued to contemplate the small mound, once again with a far off look, as though he had forgotten they were there with him. As his rabbinim they were to imitate him in all things, so they too gazed pensively at where the seed had been buried.
At last Jesus looked up, and seeing their concern and questioning looks to each other, he smiled, though his jaw clenched, and his expression was resolute.
“The one who is fond of his life,” and Jesus paused to look each one of his Twelve in the eye, lingering the longest on Judas, the son of Iscariot, “destroys it, loses it.” Only John noticed the faint blush that reddened Judas’ cheeks. He would remember it often, later.
“And the one who disregards his life in this world,” here Jesus pointed to the spot where he had laid the kernel of wheat in the ground, “In comparison to something greater, will preserve life itself in eternity.”
Jesus’ voice had grown with intensity and power. The wind had picked up, and was pushing the grasses over, rustling the tree leaves, causing swirls of dust to rise from the path. John could feel the hairs on his arms and neck rise.
“Whoever would serve me,” and again, Jesus looked at each one in a meaningful and penetrating manner, “Must follow me, so that where I am, then there will be my servant.” Each man nodded, many hurt that Jesus would say these things when they had already given so much of themselves to the Master.
Now their rabbi’s face softened. “And whoever serves me,” he held one hand to his chest and raised the other skyward, “The Father will honor them.”
The Gospel of John, unlike the Synoptic Gospels, does not contain Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane. Instead, it is here, in the streets of Jerusalem that John remembered Jesus expressing something of how deep the cost would be for him, to face the cross.
“Now my soul is disquieted, agitated like a roiling pot of water, and what should I say? Father, save me from the injury and suffering of this hour? But rather, on behalf of this I came into this hour.
“Father, glorify your name.”
Now a voice came out of the heavens, “Then I glorified, and again I will glorify.”John 12:27-28
John remembered the crowd, startled, looking around, exclaiming into the clear blue sky, “It was thunder!” and others shaking their heads saying no, that was definitely the voice of an angel.
The disciples’ attention, however, was rivetted on Jesus, who told them the Father had spoken for their benefit, knowing what lay ahead for them.
A crowd was gathering, and the wind was continuing to rise around them. It seemed other voices dimmed as Jesus’ voice grew, holding forth the words of a prophet, spoken by the very voice of Almighty God.
1) “Now is judgement of this world” Jesus cried out.
God the Son would absorb the full extent of God’s grief and wrath over sin, as wave after wave of judgment poured over, through, and into him. He alone had the power to both fully take into himself all that had gone wrong on earth and at the same time pour out from himself cleansing, healing, restoration, rebirth, and shalom.
2) “Now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” Satan, that ancient Serpent, would be entirely overthrown. The cross may have looked like a victory for evil, but it was not, it was a colossal, irretrievable loss to the powers of darkness. The cross would open the way for whoever wanted to walk out of darkness and move into God’s light.
3) “Even so, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to myself.” All people, regardless of their cultural or religious background.
Later, John would understand what Jesus had meant.