John 12:20-30

5th Sunday of Lent, year B.

I have, perhaps unsurprisingly, quite a number of disparate and disconnected thoughts about this text … and I haven’t really had the mental energy to draw them together into anything even vaguely coherent… although to be fair, perhaps that’s appropriate because this text does also feel a bit like a collection of not entirely connected parts (yes, I’m sure there are John scholars who would disagree).

So anyway, for what they’re worth, here are some of my thoughts:

  • The beginning of the text is about “some Greeks” … wanting to see Jesus. It feels to me like there is probably something here about the breadth of who is attracted to the gospel. But perhaps there is something else too … something about the routes and journeys we take towards an understanding of God. These Greek were already in Jerusalem for Passover to worship at the festival so were likely already following Judaism rather than the traditional Greek Gods. And now they are showing interest in seeing Jesus. I think there is a suggestion that this is no sudden conversion moment or leap of faith, this is part of a journey of exploring faith and deepening understanding of God. Perhaps the desire to see Jesus is often / always part of a journey, and that the routes, direct and circuitous we take to get there are valid. And then my other thinking about this bit is that the disciple they choose to approach is Philip (and he involves Andrew). Of the disciples these are the two who have Greek names. These Greeks who are taking a risk to step outside their comfort zone in their journey of faith nonetheless seem to do so via the route that feels the most familiar / safest / most accessible.
  • We do not know whether they get to see Jesus. We are told Philip and Andrew take the request but we don’t know whether the Greeks are with them at the time or ushered in afterwards. We don’t know whether the theological treatise which follows is addressed to them (pretty heavy for your first encounter if it is!) or is mainly to Philip and Andrew (maybe not the answer they were expecting to the seemingly simple request of hey, Jesus, can these guys meet you)
  • The image of the seed dying to multiply is well used … but seeds which fall to the ground don’t actually die. Well not the ones that germinate and produce more seeds anyway: the ones that die don’t do that. They might be dormant, and awaiting the right external conditions, but they’re not lifeless, not dead. That’s the whole point. Just to clarify I’m not questioning whether Jesus actually died at the crucifixion. And I’m not questioning how the gospel writers might have understood the science of seeds: I can well believe that at the time, it was thought that seeds did in fact die and come back to life. But that’s not how we understand the science any more and I wonder whether our modern day understanding of seeds: what they contain, and how the interplay between the seed itself and the environment around it works might help inform our own understanding of this image, if not for the death and resurrection of Jesus, then in other ways as an image of what it means for us to lose our life to gain it.
  • I know there’s a risk in mixing up what the different gospels might be trying to say, but inevitable, texts we read in one bring to mind texts we have read elsewhere, and this is a classic for that. Jesus saying his soul is troubled and shall I ask to be saved from this hour instantly makes me think of the garden of gethsemane; and then with its “voice from heaven” there is a connection in my mind to the transfiguration and baptism. Who knows whether John, who may have been familiar with the other gospels, is deliberately making all of these connections. The voice from heaven thing interests me: on both of the other occasions and in all three other gospels where we hear this “voice” the words spoken are remarkable similar, but this voice says something entirely different,, and, at least to my mind, less easily comprehensible: not the actual words but what they are meant to mean.

And incomprehensibility feels like it is probably a good place to end!


  • 1) What parts of the text strike / interest / confuse you?
  • 2) What are the steps that led (and continue to lead) you to want to “see Jesus”, and what steps might help other people to want to do the same?
  • 3) How has familiarity / a sense of the known / safety helped your own journey of faith … and how can we create ways of helping others on their journey through that which is familiar to them even if it isn’t to us?
  • 4) Do you find seeds a helpful image for understanding your faith? What does the image of a seed dying (or of a seed not dying) contribute?
  • 5) What roles do “voices from heaven” play in the gospel and in your own faith?