I’ll begin with a passage from St. Thomas Aquinas, concerning John 12:24, the introductory verse to the third section of the chapter: “…we use a grain of wheat either for bread or as a seed….(Jesus) says ‘dies,’ not because it loses its strength, but because it is then changed into something else. What you sow does not come to life unless it dies (I Cor.15:36). Now just as the word of God, so far as it is clothed in a sound that can be heard, is a seed planted in a person’s soul to produce the fruit of good works–The seed is the word of God (Luke 8:11)–so the Word of God, clothed in flesh, is a seed sent into the world to bring forth a great harvest; thus it is also compared to a grain of mustard seed in Matthew 13:31.” Also, Jesus “compares himself to a grain of wheat, because the reason he came was to refresh and nourish our spirits, which is principally done by bread made from wheat…bread to strengthen man’s heart (Psalm 104:15); The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh (John 6:51).”
Remember earlier (John 11:16) the disciple Thomas, whether from an attitude of dark irony or sudden, momentary courage, saying to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him,” as Jesus was turning his face towards Judaea again. Here was another “presage”: a prediction and word of truth, the depths of which the disciples could not have been aware, then. But Jesus, in John 12, is beginning to expound with greater urgency this reality of genuine discipleship which leads inevitably to a great harvest, especially throughout the Gentile world.
Jesus himself, being sinless, could not die of anything related to human sin taking its toll on the mind and body; so, instead, he had to die from some violence coming from outside of his person which would (only with his assent) forcefully take his life–a plague, an accident, a disaster, or murder. He could have been assumed into heaven, of course, but he told us that he came into the world in order to lay down his life “as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28); “He humbled himself and became obedient unto death” (Philippians 2:8).
As his followers, although being subject to the ravages caused by inherited sin and various death-oriented choices, the substantial healing that will have taken place through the cleansing and empowering acts of Christ’s Holy Spirit in his true disciples would place those disciples in a similar state to that of their Lord, but only because they will have, over time, learned to die to the many strong human tendencies which had kept them bound and unable to bear the fruit our God would have them bring forth in this life on earth.
It seems to me that Jesus’ teaching about the importance of a potential follower becoming “like a child” (Matthew 18:2-4) is closely related to this teaching in John12:24 about the necessity of allowing the seed to fall to the ground and die. Romano Guardini in his outstanding book, The Lord, comments upon “Unless You Become As Little Children” (Ch.8, Part 4): The child meets reality as it is, with simple acceptance. Therefore in his presence things can move freely; he permits them to be themselves….In the child’s attitude toward life lies his humility: as Jesus says, he does not count himself for much. He does not drag his small ego into the foreground; his consciousness brims with objects, people, events–not himself. Thus his world is dominated by reality…The child, accustomed to dealing directly with things as they are, is surprised and confused by the hardness and narrowness he confronts in his elders…Because the child is natural, open, without intentions or fear of failing to assert itself, it is receptive to the great, revolutionary ideas in Christ’s teaching of the Kingdom. The same teaching is met with reserve by the maturer listener. His cleverness condemns it as impossible; his caution warns him of the consequences; his self-esteem is soon up in arms; his hard grasp cannot let go…he prefers not to understand. Fear has made his eyes blind, his ears deaf, his heart dull; as Jesus would say, he is over-mature. This also gives us further insight into the “heart trouble” of Jesus’ betrayer and enemies in John 12, no?
The following are suggestions, some from the Ignatius Study Guide (ISG), for a good heart-study of the remainder of John12, if you can give yourself an hour or so of solitude with the Scriptures:
– Verse 26b, “…if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him,” is something to ponder in light of verse 43
– Verse 28, “a voice…” Three times the Father speaks to Jesus, here, at his Baptism (Matthew 3:17), and at his Transfiguration (Matt.17:5). These announcements were made audible for the sake of his followers (12:30) (ISG)
– Verse 32, “When I am lifted up…” See the important passage in Isaiah, chapter 52:13 through 53:12
– Verses 35 and 36, “While you have the light…” Compare these verses to verses 45 and 46
– Verse 36, “sons of light” See Ephesians 5:8-13 and I Thess. 5:4-8
– Verse 40, “He has blinded…” This refers to Isaiah 6:10. Isaiah’s mission to Israel in the eighth century B.C. parallels Jesus’ mission to Israel in the first century A.D. Both confront a rebellious generation whose unbelief calls down the covenant judgment of the Lord; and, in both cases, God responds to unbelief by blinding and hardening the rebels, making them unresponsive to the warnings of the Prophets. (ISG)
– Verse 41, “saw His glory…” The theophany (vision of the Lord’s glory) of Isaiah 6 was in fact a Christophany (vision of the glorified Messiah). See also CCC 712-13. (ISG)
– Verses 44-50, Well, it couldn’t be clearer than this, could it?
I hope to see many of you Wednesday morning, June 5, on the interisland ferry for what I am sure will be a rewarding discussion of John 11 and 12. I am posting this week’s blog a little earlier than usual because Brian and I will be with our two little grandchildren this entire weekend! Hooray! JC