Upon receiving a sign of His approaching Passion, Jesus saw that the hour of His glorification had come.
The Liturgy selects this Sunday’s Gospel as a preparation for the Passion of Our Saviour. As the Death of Jesus ap proaches, the first rays of His subsequent glorificationbegin to shine forth. “Per crucem ad lucem!” — through the Cross, He will attain the brilliance of triumph.
Let us analyse the narrative of St. John the Evangelist.
Some Greeks want to meet Jesus
“Some Greeks who had come 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” (Jn 12: 20-22).
According to many commentators, this episode is related to the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. Everything suggests that Our Lord was still with the disciples in the Court of the Gentiles, as it was called.
The group that approached Philip was comprised of Greek Gentiles, rather than Jews coming from Greece. Nevertheless, they were proselytes, or at least strongly inclined toward the Hebrew religion, insomuch that they went up to the Temple to adore the true God.
The presence of Greeks with Our Lord indicates the impending conversion of the Gentiles. They will be invited to join the Messianic triumph of Christ, becoming part of His flock. The context of St. John’s Gospel conveys that their desire to meet the Divine Master was not just prompted by curiosity. It is probable that they had heard reports of Jesus’ marvellous deeds, and echoes of His divine doctrine. Filled with admiration, they were anxious to meet Him, and perhaps ask Him the questions that frequently arise among new converts. Possibly, they had already had contact with the Apostles. Philip, as the Evangelist pointedly mentions, was from Bethsaida, a place where the Greeks were numerous. Therefore, they felt more at ease speaking with him.
Hearing their request, Philip did not reject it. This is yet another indicator that he was acquainted with them and considered them worthy to approach the Lord. But he found himself in a quandary, for he had witnessed the Master’s unfavourable reactions toward Gentiles—such as in the episode with the Canaanite woman. She, by her humble insistence, had succeeded in having the Lord grant her request: “Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly” (Mt 15:28). It may have been out of apprehension as to the outcome, then, that the young Apostle thought it best to seek Andrew’s support. Accordingly, the two went together to Jesus to present the request of the Greeks.
Were they received by the Master? If so, what topics were covered? St. John does not tell us, for his Gospel normally skims the concrete facts to focus on their moral substance.
The sign awaited by Our Lord
“Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’” (Jn 12: 23).
Over the course of the Gospel, Our Lord’s human nature is frequently emphasized, while, on other occasions, His divinity stands out. In this episode, He reacts as Man to this request of the Greeks, which strongly impressed Him. Why? Because He had been awaiting a clear sign that His hour had come. The approach of these Gentiles, as St. Augustine comments,1 was this sign, for it indicated that peoples of all nations would come to believe in Him after His Passion and Resurrection. Therefore, it signalled the universal character of His preaching and mission, and the coming of the time in which He would be glorified.
Accordingly, the omen of glorification is blended with that of the fearsome torments He would have to undergo: “‘And when I am lifted up from the earth’ – He would say some time later – ‘I will draw everyone to Myself.’ He said this indicating the kind of death He would die.” Jesus alludes to His Death, always highlighting the triumph and glorification it would entail. Let us seek a deeper understanding of this point.
The hour of His glorification approaches
We know that humility is an elevated virtue, whose practice the Divine Master imposed upon all: “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 14:11). In the Magnificat, Our Lady intoned the words: “He has shown strength with His arm, He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree” (Lk 1:51-52).
We know that humility is an elevated virtue, whose prac tice the Divine Master imposed upon all: “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 14:11). In the Magnificat, Our Lady intoned the words: “He has shown strength with His arm, He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree” (Lk 1:51-52).
Condemnation of the proud is found from virtually the beginning to the end of Sacred Scripture, in the same decisive language as in these two passages.
But in this instance Our Redeemer affirms: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” On a previous occasion, Jesus had said: “Yet I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks it and He will be the judge” (Jn 8:50). And closer to the Passion: “When Jesus had spoken these words, He lifted up His eyes to Heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son that the Son may glorify Thee […]. And now, Father, glorify Thou Me in Thy own presence with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was made” (Jn 17:1,5).
How can this apparent contradiction be explained?
In fact, apart from vainglory, there does exist a true glory. Thus, Jesus did not seek His own glory, but neither did He neglect to affirm the supreme excellence of His divine nature and to manifest it to others, whenever circumstances demanded it. There exist, then, an exaltation and a glory that are good. How can they be distinguished from vainglory? With his acclaimed clarity, St. Thomas Aquinas treats of this problem in the Summa Theologiæ.
Glory and vainglory
The Angelic Doctor begins by asking if the desire for glory is a sin. To answer, he recalls that, according to St. Augustine, “to be glorified is the same as to be clarified.” And he continues: “Now clarity and comeliness imply a certain display: wherefore the word glory properly denotes the display of something as regards its seeming comely in the sight of men […]. Since, however, that which is clear simply can be seen by many, and by those who are far away, it follows that the word glory properly denotes that somebody’s good is known and approved by many.”
Having defined the meaning of glory, he affirms: “Now it is not a sin to know and approve one’s own good.” Likewise “it is not a sin to be willing to approve one’s own good works: for it is written (Mt 5:16): ‘Let your light shine before men.’ Hence the desire for glory does not, of itself, denote a sin.”
On the opposite side of the scale, St. Thomas explains that the appetite for vainglory is a vice and occurs in three circumstances: when one seeks glory in something non-existent or unworthy of glory; when the people from whom one seeks glory have unreliable judgement; and when the desire for glory is not in line with its proper end, which is God’s honour or the salvation of one’s neighbour.
In the sequence of his reasoning, St. Thomas affirms: “In like manner a man may rightly seek his own glory for the good of others, according to Matthew 5:16, ‘That they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Who is in Heaven.’” The glory we can receive from God is not vain, and it is promised as a reward for good works.
It is legitimate to desire one’s own glory
The result is that one may desire praise—the saint continues—“as being useful for something, either in order that God may be glorified by men, or that men may become better by reason of the good they know to be in another man, or in order that man, knowing by the testimony of others’ praise the good which is in him, may himself strive to persevere therein and to become better.”
Therefore, vainglory and true glory are diametrically opposed, and the latter is virtuous as long as its intent is God’s praise, the good of others, and one’s own sanctification.
St. Thomas concludes his analysis by discussing the need for each person to vigilantly guard his own good name, declaring: “it is praiseworthy that a man should ‘take care of his good name,’ and that he should ‘provide good things in the sight of God and men’: but not that he should take an empty pleasure in human praise.”
In view of this, to strive for one’s personal honour is an obligation. The Book of Sirach exhorts us: “Have regard for your name, since it will remain for you longer than a thousand great stores of gold. The days of a good life are numbered, but a good name endures for ever” (41:12-13). The Book of Proverbs speaks in the same vein: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favour is better than silver or gold” (22:1). And St. Paul counsels: “Take thought for what is noble in the sight of all” (Rom 12:17).
Let us now consider the strikingly beautiful words of Jesus, spoken in answer to the request of those Greeks. “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.” (Jn 12: 24).
Like the grain of wheat, He must die, and by death on the Cross. In face of this supreme sacrifice, the frailty of the human nature assumed by the Word of God is perceptible. His declarations seem to aim at confirming His decision, although it has already been made.“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 honour whoever serves Me.” (Jo 12, 25-26).
Whoever gives in to the practice of vice and sin loves his life in this world, St. John Chrysostom explains. It is in resisting the passions that he preserves it for eternal life.
“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. 28a Father, glorify Your name” (Jn 12:27-28).
Our Lord’s soliloquy continues, becoming increasingly personal, sublime and poignant. His words are interspersed with silent, meditative pauses. The Redeemer shudders at the sight of the Cross, and His perturbation, St. John Chrysostom further comments, shows us how entirely He, while being the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, had assumed human nature.
The paradox of simultaneous and contrary sentiments in one and the same Person is an ineffable mystery that eludes our intelligence: while His divine nature was permanently filled with joy, His human nature would cause Him to sweat blood in Gethsemane. However, possessed of a noble heart, He reacted, at times, to the torments, and then once again returned to entire peace, as the famous exegete Louis Claude Fillion comments in his celebrated work on the life of the Saviour.
The Father’s voice is heard
“Father, glorify Your name.” With His Death, Jesus first sought the glory of the Father, Who heard His prayer: “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’” (Jn 12: 28-30).
This was one of the three occasions in which the Father publicly manifested Himself, according to the Gospel—the other two being the Baptism of the Lord and His Transfiguration—, always with the effect of glorifying the Son. Here He addresses all men, announcing the triumph of the Word Incarnate, and giving Jesus the opportunity to contemplate, with the light of divine knowledge, the fruits of His Passion: “‘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.” (Jn 12: 31-33).
Here, “judgment on this world” designates—as St. Augustine comments—how the power of the devil over the redeemed will be broken by Jesus. And Fillion adds: “The Saviour contemplated His future victory over all His enemies as something already consummated. He sees the perverse world, that powerful adversary of His, already judged and condemned; He sees the ‘prince of this world,’ that is, satan—as He calls him, after the manner of His compatriots—expelled from the greater part of his domains, due to the conversion of the Gentiles. […] [Jesus] now forgets the humiliations and sufferings of the Crucifixion, so as to only think of its happy consequences.”
Today’s Gospel brings us two beautiful and important lessons: First, for the glory of God, we should not only accept the sacrifice of our own life, but also flee from vainglory. Secondly, we should, if need be, seek true glory for the good of others and ourselves.
“Christianus alter Christus — The Christian is another Christ.” It is our duty to be other Christs in what pertains to the ultimate end for which we were created and redeemed: “ad maiorem Dei gloriam,” for the greater glory of God, as expressed in the motto chosen by St. Ignatius of Loyola for his Company of Jesus. ◊