Some Greeks who had come up to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.
“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours. Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.
UNLESS A GRAIN OF WHEAT FALLS TO THE GROUND AND DIES… Towards the end of her life, when my mother could no longer quite move around due to failing eyesight and weak knees, there were times when she intimated that she wished the Lord would already call her “home.” There was no hint of fear or anxiety on her part about the prospect of her coming face to face with the Lord. At more than 80 years old, she felt she had lived to the full and was ready.
For most of us, however, the prospect of death certainly evokes fear and dread. As much as possible we want to postpone it indefinitely.
In the Gospel, Jesus senses that the “hour” of his end is coming near. Being in Jerusalem and having to face his enemies, he must realize the moment is coming. Surprisingly, Jesus confesses that his heart is troubled, implying that he is afraid and anxious of the possibility—perhaps because he foresees he will die a violent death. However, he also declares bravely that he will not ask the Father to save him from the “hour,” for he says he has come precisely to face the “hour.”
Realizing, perhaps, that his disciples need to understand and be strong before his impending suffering and death, Jesus declares to them, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (v 24). Jesus understands that while it is not to be sought for, death is something necessary every one of us has to go through if we are to experience a fuller life. The agricultural imagery illustrates very well how “much fruit” or a “greater harvest” can be reaped only if the seed falls to the ground and dies. We cannot keep the seed and bear fruit at the same time. This is the law of nature; this is the law of life.
In this vein, the dying he is about to face Jesus sees also as his glorification and the Father’s. In the eyes of the Jews, especially of his enemies, his death will mean his defeat and their victory, but for Jesus and the Father, it will mark Jesus’ vindication and glorification and the defeat of evil forces. As the first chapter of John foresees, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).
Many of our saints and heroes go through the same experiences. In their struggle against evil forces—for heroes are always opposed by villains—the “hour” of giving it all will come. But they have been prepared enough inwardly, spiritually, to face the formidable enemy, and they give up their lives willingly for God. Running away from (the call of) the “hour” is no option; it is the decision of the fainthearted. And the fainthearted end up barren.