In this week’s Gospel passage we see a group of Gentiles approach Jesus through the two disciples who bore Greek names, Philip and Andrew. In the dramatic situation we may suppose them to be proselytes, but in the intention of the evangelist, they stand for the greater world at large. We could say that these Greeks are the vanguard of all mankind coming to Christ. The approach of the Greeks provides a setting for a discourse in which the note of the universality of Christ’s work is prominent. It is interesting to observe how, when Jesus speaks in this passage, he does not refer to Jews or Gentiles. Rather, in accordance with the larger union implied by the previous verses, he uses of himself an inclusive title, ‘Son of man’, and he refers to the process through which the Jew/Gentile union is to be accomplished – through glorification: ‘The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified’.
Three times in earlier chapters, the Gospel had stated that his hour had not yet come (2:4, 7:30, 8:20), but beginning with this text (12:23), the narrative goes on to state three times that his hour has in fact come (cf. also 13:1, 17:1). The thought of his approaching Passion now disturbed Jesus, for as he was true man, his humanity naturally shuddered at the thought of suffering and death. Christ permitted this fear to seize upon him and manifested it at this particular time, probably lest His disciples be tempted to say that it was easy for him, who was God, to exhort others to despise their life and endure suffering. Although it is clear that Jesus is in profound distress (‘now is my soul troubled’), he steadies himself and prays his way towards embracing his fate. Jesus turns to the Father in a prayer very similar to that of Gethsemane (cf. Mt 26:39; Mk 14:36; Lk 22:42). Death, Jesus teaches, is not the end for the believing Christian.
In the world of nature, the fate of the wheat grain shows that the path to fruitfulness, to life, is through death. The same principle applies to human life: it is by letting go of one form of life, life ‘in this world’, that we find everlasting life. In other words, by letting go of all that ties us to things of the earth, we can achieve a higher form of life. This process of dying and of coming to greater life is accomplished by serving Jesus – by following him, by being there with him, and by receiving honour from the Father. This exhortation to follow Christ in despising earthly passions for God’s sake is addressed to all his followers. To those who imitate him he gives the glorious promise, that where he is, there also shall his followers be. Jesus wants each of us to be of service to him. It is a mystery of God’s plans that he – who is all, who has all, and who needs nothing and nobody – should choose to need our help to ensure that his teaching and the salvation wrought by him reaches all men, Jews and Gentiles.