John 12:20-36 (NRSV)
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish 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. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say– `Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”
You know things are going to get worse before they get better when Jesus says his soul is troubled.
This whole passage as a very somber feel to it, one you don’t get too often in scripture. It feels like, even though there was a crowd, this whole scene would have been very quiet. Like, Jesus would be muted, somewhat. He sees clearly what’s going to happen, knows it must happen –“it is the reason that I have come to this hour”– but it doesn’t alleviate his soul. Knowing that it has to happen doesn’t do much comforting, even for Jesus. Even when the “voice from heaven” speaks, it’s not for Jesus’s benefit.
The messiah, when doing what messiahs do, has to do it alone. And it’s not going to be easy. If it was easy, it wouldn’t take a messiah to do it. If we could do it on our own, we wouldn’t need Jesus.
As you know, I watch a lot of movies.
If the passion narrative was a movie, this would be the point where, to quote Bad Boys, “S@#! just got real.” It’s a common point in any narrative, actually. The climax is about to happen, and there isn’t anything that can stop it. It’s what is often referred to the “calm before the storm.” It’s a trope so common, you see it in almost every major action movie. For instance, in the Return of the King, you have this muted, calm scene in which Gandalf and Pippin look over the future battlefield at the gathering clouds in the distance, literally bracing themselves for the battle ahead.
In Star Wars, you have the famous scene before the attack on the Death Star, in which the impossible odds of success are discussed in calmly deterministic terms, knowing full well most if not all of these rebels may not make it out alive.
Even in Inception, we have the scene where they’re already in the target’s dreams, and they realized that he militarized his subconscious to the point where there are gunmen everywhere and trains appear in the middle of the street.
What I’m trying to get at is that this is not that it’s a common plot point, but the fact that even Jesus was freaked out. I’ll admit, that makes me feel a little better. At the same time, I echo Augustine’s sentiment on this point:
But now, this same Lord, whose words had transported me from the weakness that was mine to the strength that was his– I now hear him saying, “How is my soul troubled.” What does this mean? How can you ask my soul to follow you when I see your own in such turmoil? How can I endure when even a strength as great as yours feels it is a heavy burden? What kind of foundation am I left with when the Rock is giving way?
However, even in this moment of apprehension, Jesus remains our source of strength. Because Christ had the courage and the desire to make his love for us truly known, we can remain firm in our belief in him. It may have just gotten real, but Christ, like any savior, carries on knowing that what must be done, must be done. To defeat death, he must face it head on, and realize it’s power on the cross.
S@#! just got real. Good thing Jesus was just as real.