“The Glory of God”
John 12: 20-33
Lent V, Year B
March 29, 2009
“Jesus answered them, The hour has come for the Son of Man to be gloried. It is for this reason that I have come to this hour. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Definition #1 – a satisfying source of beauty and grace; and # 2, when used as a verb – to rejoice in triumph. These are both definitions of the word glory. The question I’d like us to consider this morning is – what’s glorious to us? What do we glory in?
The reason I ask is because I’ve come to believe that the human heart, above all else, wants to see glory. We long to see a satisfying source of beauty and grace. We want, above all else, to rejoice in a triumph that doesn’t fade away.
I think that’s why I loved Superman so much as a kid. Superman never failed. He’d always triumph in the end and, let’s be honest, we’d be offended if he ever failed. I mean, sure, he’d pretend to be weak and helpless, but as we all know – the vulnerability, the weakness, and the suffering of Clark Kent – that was just an act. Because underneath was a man of steel with a mission to help the week and the needy. And so I’d pretend to be Superman and yes, I wore tights and a cape under my clothes. Now fortunately, this behavior ended when I was seventeen years old – but my longing for glory did not. Because whether we’re seventeen or seventy-one, our heart longs to see a satisfying source of beauty and grace. We want to rejoice in a triumph that doesn’t fade away. Above all else, want to see glory.
Today’s reading from the Gospel of John is about seeing the glory of God. And so to help us understand today’s Gospel lesson, we have to go all the way back to the first chapter where John writes the following: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). In a very real sense, John’s Gospel is about the full revelation of the glory of God. And for John, the glory of God is about a specific moment in Jesus’ life. In fact, seven times Jesus has spoken about his “hour” that is yet to come – about a specific moment when the glory of God will be fully revealed – about a specific time when the one thing we wish to see will be visible to all and available to all.
Now traditionally, the glory of God – even in its limited and partial form – was only available to the people of Israel. But in today’s Gospel, some “Greeks” – a codeword for outsiders – get word that Jesus is the full revelation of the glory of God and they want to see it. And so they go to Phillip and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
Now, you’d think Jesus would be excited. But this isn’t the case at all, and I can’t help but think that these Greeks were offended at Jesus’ response. Because instead of saying “How exciting, bring them to me!” Jesus starts talking about his death on the cross. But Jesus does this, not because he wants to hide the glory of God, but because he wants to reveal it. In other words, Jesus tells Andrew and Phillip that the time has finally come for all people to see the glory of God – that the glory of God would soon be visible to all and available to all, even to the Greek outsiders. To quote Jesus one last time, “when I am lifted up from the earth, I’m going to draw all people to myself” – and of course Jesus is talking about the cross.
And so once again – what’s glorious to us? What do we glory in? After all, we all want to see glory, the human heart hungers for it – and so where are we looking? Because I know where we’re tempted to look – money, physical appeal, our intellect. After all, if we’re rich enough and attractive enough and smart enough we’ll be seen as people of beauty and grace, we’ll prove triumphant in the world’s competitive race to finish #1. And the truth is, a lot of us never grow up. We keep on pretending to be Superman – to look stronger and smarter and more spiritual and more successful than we really are. But if that’s the case, we’re looking for glory in the wrong place. So where’s the right place?
The cross. In Jesus’ death, we see the full revelation of the glory of God. In Jesus’ death, that which was hidden from the foundation of the world is now visible to all and available to all. Does the cross offend us? Or do we see the cross and rejoice in the strange triumph of God?
I have to say I really sympathize with one of the earliest Christian heresies – docetism – which taught that Jesus only pretended to be human. Apparently, a lot of people were offended by the notion that God himself would really experience vulnerability, weakness, and suffering. In other words, they thought it was an act – kind of like Clark Kent. But the scandal of the Christian Gospel is that for Jesus it wasn’t and that in the midst of Jesus’ vulnerability, weakness, and suffering we see the fullest revelation of the glory of God.
Jesus’ mission was to help the weak and the needy, but let us not mistake him for Superman. He didn’t triumph over his enemies as bullets bounced harmlessly off his chest. No – he triumphed by finishing dead last in our world’s competitive race. The whip of the soldiers drew real blood, the thorns pressed real flesh, the nails caused excruciating pain, and he died an actual death. Like a seed buried in the ground, the cross, on the surface, looked like tragedy. But as our journey to Good Friday continues, we’re reminded once again that Jesus’ cross is the triumph of God, the beauty of God, the grace of God, and the glory of god.
And so what’s glorious to us? What do we glory in? Our hearts cry out – our world cries out – with the Greeks in today’s Gospel: “We wish to see Jesus.” And a day is coming when we will. Jesus will draw all people to himself. With our own eyes we will look and see the full revelation of the glory of God. But the scars – they’re still going to be visible, and crown of glory – it’s still going to be made of thorns.
Each of us will see the beauty of God, the grace of God, and the triumph of God as we behold our Crucified God. The only question left to ask is – will we be offended?