Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Text: John: 12. 20-23. ‘Seeing Jesus’
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Share together a situation whereby your lifestyle was challenged by someone or a group of people who were from a different background to your own (culture, religion, worldview, etc.) What changes to your lifestyle, if any, occurred as a result?
A Window on the Text
This conversation between Jesus, the disciples and some visitors to Jerusalem is described as taking place immediately after the ‘Triumphal Entry’ – at a time when the Pharisees are becoming increasingly disturbed by Jesus’ popularity with the ordinary people.
John 12 tells us a lot about how people should treat each other in the Christian community and the place of faith in our relationships. It doesn’t provide easy answers. How do we view evil and corrupt behaviour? Do we overlook it and go on being relativists? When poverty strikes and there is no work and no hope of work, where does justice lie? The conclusion is shocking, Jesus and only Jesus is at the centre of life’s content.
To John the arrival of the Greeks (representing the Gentile world – the outsider) is a pivotal moment. Now that Jesus’ significance is being recognised even beyond the frontiers of Judea, it becomes clearer still that trouble will follow. Jesus is not only struggling to explain the meaning of this to his disciples, he is struggling within himself to cope with the very human desire to avoid suffering and death.
Here are people desiring an interview with Jesus. They have traveled far and seek answers to some hard questions. No one is going to pin their life and future on one more community do-gooder or political revolutionary without asking what their words and actions amount to.
This is the only time in John’s Gospel that a voice from heaven is heard – there is no voice at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, no voice at the transfiguration scene on the mountaintop. Even here it is only those who have ears to hear that recognise it: to the rest it is merely a clap of thunder.
Neither is there a scene in the Gethsemane Garden in John’s Gospel, when Jesus prays that the cup of suffering might be taken away from him. This meeting with the Gentiles seems to precipitate a moment of doubt before Jesus sets his face towards the inevitability of crucifixion. His words to the disciples from here on until his arrest (apart from telling them that one of them will betray him) are of confidence and trust in his Father. In his final prayer he says that the glory given to his Father’s name here in front of the Greek visitors has now been given to the disciples, “that they may be one as we are one” (see John 17).
Responding as a community
- To what extent has familiarity with the story blunted us to the ‘foolishness’ of Jesus’ life and ministry which turns concepts such as embracing the outside, first & last, love & hate, keeping & losing, honour & servitude, judgement & glorification all upside down? Have we become dulled to the shocking and shameful disaster that Jesus’ death was to his followers?
- In what ways does your Christian community interact with ‘outsiders’? Who are they and how does that interaction take place? How might you help them to ‘see Jesus’ ? What gets in the way of that?
- What might the ‘cost of discipleship’ mean to 21st Century Christians?
- How can we help each other to find ways of explaining the meaning of the cross to enquirers about the meaning of Christianity?
- What helps us cope with the continuing presence of evil in the world when Jesus has said that “the prince of this world will be driven out”?
- Pray for help to see things differently – and to be able to recognise and act on significant opportunities to welcome outsiders and help them ‘see Jesus’.
- Say the Lord’s Prayer together slowly, adding “Hallowed be your name” after every line.
- You may find these prayers helpful at ‘Gethsemane moments’ of doubt and fear:
Jesus our brother, you followed the necessary path and were broken on our behalf.
May we neither cling to our pain where it is futile, nor refuse to embrace the cost when it is required of us: that in losing our selves for your sake, we may be brought to new life. (Janet Morley)
O Saviour Christ, in whose way of life lies the secret of all life, and the hopes of all the people, we pray for quiet courage to meet this hour. We did not choose to be born or to live in such an age; but let its problems challenge us, its discoveries exhilarate us, its injustice anger us, and its vigour renew us, for your kingdom’s sake. Amen. (from Bangladesh).
- And a practical prayer – plant something! See the reality of the seed that has to die in order to create a living and beautiful plant, herb, flower or vegetable.
- Traditionally Semitic usage favoured vivid contrasts – love/hate, destroy/preserve, heart/soul, shame/glory etc. Other examples are in Deut. 21:15; Matt. 6:24; Luke 14:26.
- Greeks and other Gentiles were often seen at Jewish Festivals such as Passover because they were attracted to Judaism by its monotheism and morality, but were repelled by its nationalism and the practice of circumcision. Philip was a Greek name, and perhaps his role was as translator in this conversation. Following this initial introduction they disappear from the scene, and we are never told what they wanted to talk to Jesus about, or what happened to them afterwards. Their rather incidental presence was adapted by John for theological purposes. Just once before in this Gospel their presence has been hinted at, but the possibility that Jesus might share the majesty of God with outsiders is found almost blasphemous (John 7:35).
- The symbolism of the seed or grain bringing new life was taken up in Mark’s Gospel. See especially Chapter 4, with its three parables of the Sower, the Growing Seed and the Mustard Seed. The Mustard Seed parable includes a reference to the new plant that becomes so large that all the birds of the air can perch in its shade – a reference to the infinite variety of people of all races, ethnicities, classes and genders that are welcome in the new economy. See also Ezekiel 17:23. For further exploration of this see Ched Myers, 1994, Who will Roll Away the Stone? Discipleship Queries for First World Christians, Orbis Books, Maryknoll NY.
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion