By Jane Williams
A Reading from the Gospel of John 12:27-36
27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say — ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”
After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all describe Jesus wrestling with the necessity of his death, and submitting his will again to the Father’s (Matt. 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). John’s version of this is calmer, stronger; showing less of the natural human fear of the terrible death that is to come, and more of the unity between Father and Son as the hour approaches. Jesus acknowledges that his “soul is troubled” by what must come, but moves swiftly to reject fear and concentrate on the Father. In the synoptic gospels, this “agony in the garden” is very much a solitary experience. Despite the heightened tension of the evening — or perhaps because of it? — Jesus’ disciples sleep peacefully while Jesus is in turmoil. In some manuscripts of Luke’s Gospel, angels come and minister to Jesus, once he has made his choice, but here in John’s Gospel, Father and Son converse: there is no break in their communion, as Jesus moves towards the inevitable crucifixion.
In the theology of John’s Gospel, the crucifixion is the moment of “glory,” the moment in which the unity between Father and Son becomes fully visible, and so the moment in which the saving presence of God blazes out. John 1:14 says that “we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son”; here in John 12:32, Jesus makes it clear that this moment of identification is the cross, when, “lifted up from the earth,” Jesus draws all people to himself.
John’s perspective is both vital and hard. Vital, because it rules out any of the semi-heretical accounts of the atonement that separate Father and Son; hard because we do not want to see the blazing, glorious power of God’s love in the crucifixion that we inflict upon Jesus.
Dr. Jane Williams is McDonald Professor in Christian Theology at St Mellitus College. She is also an editor, a sought-after public speaker, and is involved in promoting theological education in the Anglican Communion. She is the author of a number of books, including The Art of Advent (SPCK, 2018).
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Barrackpore (Church of North India)
Holy Comforter Episcopal Church, Tallahassee, Fla.