The fifth kind is the worship of contrition and confession. As sinners we worship God, and prostrate ourselves before Him, needing His forgiveness, as it becomes servants. This happens in three ways. A man may be sorry out of love, or lest he should lose God's benefits, or for fear of chastisement. The first is prompted by goodness and desire for God himself, and the condition of a son: the second is interested, the third is slavish. — John of Damascus
It is time for a transition in the Gospel of John. We are done with the miracles. We are done with holding the crowd spellbound. We are done arguing with the authorities. Three years seem to have elapsed between the cleaning of the temple, the wedding in Cana, and the visit of Nicodemus. Three years and the cold words of John 1:11 are still true: His own did not receive him, his own do not honor him. That which was made through him still does not recognize him.
Honor will never come. That is only somewhat true. From the world there will be nothing. True honor will come but it will come from God. Father will glorify the Holy name by what will be accomplished in the Son by the Spirit. God will be glorified and by that the Son of Man will be glorified. The Son gives honor to Father, the Father glorifies the Son, and the Spirit testifies to it, and those who are of water and Spirit somehow understand this mystery.
The world, a dismissive term in John, will give honor and glory by its own counsel. The world will see that the honor it gives is being judged as dust. True honor is to give life, not to take it. (12:24) True honor is given by the Father in heaven who honors Jesus by Resurrection because this Jesus has given his life as a resume for many. He is the Passover Lamb who gave his blood to signal the angel of eternal death: “do not enter here.” He is the passover lamb, no bone broken, whose body will give the new Israel strength to make the journey out of bondage in a world of hardened hearts. Those who want to truly leave Egypt rejoice. Those who like the fleshpots of Egypt are revolted. (6:56-58)
Death and Jesus have met. They met at the tomb of Lazarus. It did not go well for death that day. Once the mystique of death is dispelled, once the veil is pulled back and it is seen that there is no end if God wishes otherwise, little is left. The Greeks: Did they hear this and realize what was loose in the world? Is that why they wish for Jesus? We know no more of them than that they showed up and wanted to see Jesus. At their arrival Jesus proclaims that the time has come. Are they intellectually curious? Or is this a genuine longing to believe?
The Lazarus story hangs heavy over this text still as it is mere verses away from it. It asks difficult questions: Believers die just as the most vile of those who live for this world only. What is this eternal life good for? Jesus says that it is like wheat. It does not die when it is buried in the ground. It does not remain there. It bears much fruit and in doing so, it gives life. It is not too much to suppose that at the grain’s death it is most alive. Those who die — let us not even talk of martyrs here — those who change life so radically that their old self is “dead” but are alive in the Lord and in service to the Lord are the most alive precisely when they are in the process of giving up their life because that that moment they are embracing the will of the Father and they are leaving the world behind. Eternal life is a present reality.
In other words, Eternal life gives life. One of the modern questions in the Ignatian Examen of Conscience asks: “When have I been on the side of life today and when have I given life to another?” Most of us will struggle with this question if we are honest. It is not so much that we are on the side of death. That would be obvious to anyone and 99.9% of us would avoid it on a normal day. No, the problem is that we are not actively on the side of life. It is not so much that we hide from the light as the world in the scheme of John would, but that we do not shine it or actively seek it. Those who advocate to seek again the fleshpots of Egypt are not held back or discouraged by those who offer no opinion. They are instead opposed by those who would have freedom and who settle for no less.
This life by water and Spirit is lively and active participation. It is not a simple drift-along. St Thomas can say: “Let us go with him that we may at least die with him,” (Jn 11:16) but he merely goes along. Jesus is going to be active. Something will happen when he arrives.
And though he is the Lamb led to the slaughter, he does not merely go to die. No, in John he is going with purpose and resolve. (Jn 12:27) He will, as he did in the case of Lazarus, go to be on the side of eternal life and he will draw many to himself and to that life doing so. This grain does fall into the ground with the expressed purpose to give fruit. Those who follow him, will they fall into the ground able to say: “This life of mine that I now hand back has given life?” It is an aspiration worthy of the Lord.