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Bible Commentaries
John 12

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-50

XII. 1-50 End of the Public Ministry—The last journey of Jesus from Ephrem to Jerusalem was a circuit, for we are certain that he passed through Jericho. It is probable that the events and words given by Lk between 17:12 and 19:28 belong to those few days. On this hypothesis Jesus would have touched Galilee once more (at Jenin?), then passed into Peraea, and finally made the journey to Jerusalem via Jericho from near the place where his public ministry began. Jn’s account of the days which preceded the intimate farewell of Holy Thursday groups itself in six sections which naturally arrange themselves in pairs. The supper at Bethany, 1-11, and the triumph of Palm Sunday, 12-19, are closely associated by the Evangelist with the miracle of Lazarus; the words occasioned by the petition of some Greeks form two discourses—both under the sign of the cross—namely, that of the grain of wheat, 20-26, and that connected with the Saviour’s first prayer of trepidation at the approach of his Passion, 27-36; what remains consists of two solemn summaries, one from the Evangelist, 37-43, and the other from the lips of the Divine Master himself, 44-50.

1-11 The Supper at Bethany—Mt, Mk, Jn tell of the anointing at Bethany. Jn marks the date. ’Six days before the pasch’, probably on the Friday evening that began the Sabbath of 8th Nisan, Jesus came to Bethany. Since his return from the grave, it is Lazarus that gives prominence to Bethany.

2. The supper was on the evening of the Sabbath. Simon the (ex-) leper, probably a friend rather than the father of Lazarus, was the host, Matthew 26:6, and Lazarus one of those reclining at table with Jesus; Martha was serving. It was Mary’s magnificent gesture which made that supper memorable wherever the Gospel is preached. Anointing the head of a distinguished guest with perfumed oil was quite a common courtesy, Luke 7:46, and it is this act that is given prominence on this occasion even by Mk, who emphasises the profusion of unguent involved in the woman’s act of breaking the neck of the alabaster which contained it.

3. Jn on the other hand draws attention to the anointing of the Saviour’s feet and the extraordinary act of the woman in wiping the ointment off his feet with her hair. Since towels would obviously have been available this incident becomes readily intelligible only on the assumption of the identity of this Mary with the sinner of Lk 7; and thus her act is also a recalling of the events of her conversion. Nard pistic (genuine) precious, probably the Indian product from the nardostachys Jatamansi of the Himalayas, had a penetrating aroma, and Jn (probably with conscious thought of the symbolism) notes that the whole house was filled with the odour.

4-8. Mt and Mk, if they do not use a plural of category, show that several disciples joined in criticism of the apparently wasteful gesture, but Jn points to Judas Iscariot as the leading and vocal objector. To say that his estimate of the price of the unguent meant so many French francs, or English pounds is mere mathematical equivalence, for 300 denarii actually represented the salary of a whole lunar year earned by an ordinary workman working six days a week.

6. ’took the things. . . .’ Jn tells that the pretended solicitude of Judas for the poor was really the avarice of a thief who had been appropriating contributions to the money-box (?????ó??µ?? originally a musician’s ’tongue-box’) which he administered.

7. Mt and Mk show that the Divine Master’s defence of Mary’s action drew attention to its character of anticipated embalmment. The words in Jn mean the same, but we must supply an ellipsis: ’Let her alone (she did not sell it) that she might keep it against the day of my burial’.

8. The proximity of the Saviour’s death is also brought out in the words: ’the poor you have always with you, but me you have not always’. 9. Unmixed spiritual motive is rare in human crowds. The attraction of Jesus and curiosity as regards Lazarus brought a great throng of Jews to Bethany, of whom many believed.

10. The decision of the chief priests to kill Lazarus as well was involved in the fearful logic of their purpose to destroy the influence of Jesus. But Aug. asks: ’Could he who raised a dead man not raise a murdered man?’

12-19 Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem—The Johannine description of the triumph of Palm Sunday joins that of the Synoptists, but Jn alone mentions palmbranches.

13. In the acclamations of the crowd, taken in the main from the great festal Ps 117(118), he gives prominence to the Messianic title King of Israel; cf. 1:50. Since he supposes the synoptic narrative, he omits many details such as the presence of its mother with the colt that served as a mount for Jesus, but he joins Mt in pointing to the fulfilment of Zach 9:9, which reads ’Rejoice exceedingly, daughter of Sion’, etc. Jn quotes the text freely from memory, and substitutes ’Fear not’ for ’rejoice exceedingly’.

16. It is again recorded that, as on the occasion of the purification of the temple, the fulfilment of Scriptural prophecy in the events of the day did not come home to the disciples. till later, ’when Jesus was glorified’.

17. The enthusiasm of the crowd is connected with the raising of Lazarus, of which some had been eyewitnesses, while others knew from reliable informants that Jesus ’had done this miracle’. 19. The Pharisees who were the prime haters and deadliest enemies of the ’King of Israel’ expressed their envy in many ways that day (cf. Mt, Lk). Jn records their sense of frustration and their admission that ’the (whole) world is gone after him’. Characteristic of St Augustine’s tractates on Jn is the question: ’Why are you jealous, blind crowd, because the world has gone after him, by whom the world was made?’

20-26 The Gentile Visitors —Some men, Greek in language and non-Jewish in race, had come to Jerusalem to worship the one true God whom they (like the centurion of Capharnaum and Cornelius of Caesarea) had learned to know through the influence of the synagogue. The legend of Abgar connects the origin of the Syrian Church of Edessa with these pilgrims.

21. Wishing to have a private talk with Jesus of whom everyone was speaking, they approached Philip, the Apostle from Bethsaida Julias. His name was Greek and he probably spoke Greek.

22. Philip consulted Andrew his fellow-townsman, his senior in the school of Christ, and his helper in embarrassment, 6:5-9. Together they told Jesus.

23. It seems clear enough that Jesus did not say yes. These men were moved by the triumph of Palm Sunday which was not the real triumph of Jesus. His name was to be great amongst the Gentiles in another way. That is what his answer—the parable of the grain of wheat—shows. The hour of the glorification of the Son of Man, which is now so near as to have already come, is the hour of the Passion—to be followed, of course, by the resurrection, ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit.

24-25. Thereupon he enuntiates that immolation is the condition of spiritual fructification. The grain of wheat is an example. It has the germ of life in it, but that germ does not germinate into the production of other living grains, unless it is subjected to a process of death and burial in the earth. The interests of spiritual, supernatural life must take priority over everything. To love the lower natural life more is to lose the higher; to hate (which means to love less and subordinately) what is life in this world is the means of self-preservation unto life everlasting. This is the law of self-denial so often proclaimed by the Saviour, of which the highest act is martyrdom.

26. It is the law of all the ministers or servants of Christ to follow their Master. To be with Jesus in glory— ’where I am’ by the anticipation of proximate realization—it is necessary to follow after him in the way of the cross. Such servants the Father will honour and crown.

27-36 Agony of Spirit —Jn alone relates this Agony as the Synoptists alone relate the Agony in the garden. The cross frightens us, but it also frightened Jesus, who clearly showed us that he has known every experience of human weakness (apart from sin) that would fit him to be a compassionate priest.

27. The vivid image of a cruel death brought to Jesus a tremor, freely permitted, of fear. The first Gk words of Jn’s version of the Saviour’s utterance are an echo of a verse of the Judica, Ps 42(43):6, which is also echoed in the Tristis est anima mea of Gethsemane. The parallelism with the agony in the garden is striking: ’My soul is troubled ’—’ my soul is sorrowful unto death’; ’what shall I say? ’—’ he fell on his face praying’ . . .; ’Father, save me from this hour ’—’ Father . . . take away this chalice’; ’but for this cause I came unto this hour. Father, glorify thy Son ’—’ not my will but thine be done’.

28. The voice from heaven is, however, not like the angel of the Lord strengthening him in Gethsemane. It will be remembered that the voice of his Father was heard at his baptism and his transfiguration. On those occasions it came to accredit the Divine Messias. Now, before the Passion, the voice of God tells that the name of his Father has been glorified in the life of Jesus and shall be glorified in his death. Like the voice addressed to Saul on the road to Damascus, this voice was not understood by all the bystanders.

30. While they disagreed, some saying it was thunder, others an angel speaking, Jesus told them that the voice had not come to assure him but to assure them. He explains to them how God will be glorified in him.

31. The judgement which is to fall on the world is a judgement of condemnation, for ???+´??? has its usual meaning in the mouth of Christ. The world is the hostile mass of men and its Prince is Satan, who is now about to be cast out of his dominion. In this sense Christ immolating himself is, as Simeon foretold, set for the ruin of many. But Christ is the Saviour.

32. Lifted up on the cross he shall draw ’all men’ rather than ’all things’ (Vg but not so strongly attested by Gk MSS and Fathers) to himself. The ’all’ is not numerical but excludes every distinction of race or people.

34. As exaltation meant crucifixion, the crowd fell into a discussion about the contradiction between the idea of a Messias reigning for ever, Ps 109(110); Is 9; Dan 7, and a Son of Man who was to die.

35. Without entering into the discussion, Jesus renews his warning that the light is before them and the time short.

36. Jn says that after these words he hid himself, because he did not stay in Jerusalem but retired to Bethany at night.

37-43 The Reflexions of the Evangelist —In the following reflexions the tragic note of this Gospel sounds again. So many miracles encountering so much unbelief! What is to be thought of it? That ’he came to his own and his own received him not’ is from a human point of view the great ’scandal of Jesus’. But there is no scandal.

37. The want of success of Jesus amongst the lost sheep of the House of Israel was due to a perverse disposition foretold in the prophetic Scriptures.

38. It is from what has been called the Passion of Christ according to Isaias, 53:1 ff., that Jn takes the first oracle describing Israelite unbelief.

40. The more difficult text cited freely from Isaiah 6:9 f. had been used by Christ himself, Matthew 13:14 f., and by St Paul, Acts 28:26 f., of the same kind of incredulous obstinacy. The difficulty is in Jn saying that the Jews could not believe, because Isaias had foretold that they would not, and the text itself attributes their blindness and hardness to God blinding and hardening them. What is predicted in Scripture belongs to God’s foreknowledge which is infallible. Therefore the Scripture must be fulfilled in the obstinacy of the Jews as well as in the treason of Judas, 17:12, but clearly that does not necessitate the action of the culprits any more than visual knowledge in the eyewitness of a murder necessitates the murder. In the blinding and hardening we have the mystery of the distribution of grace and its efficaciousness or non-efficaciousness.

41. Isaias said these things because (rather than ’when’) he saw his glory, so that the Evangelist identifies Jesus with Yahweh of the famous Isaian vision. Hence Jesus knew how his work amongst the Jews was to turn out.

42-43. Like Paul later, St John notes that the infidelity of the Jews was not absolutely universal. Many, even amongst the Sanhedrites, believed, but through fear of the Pharisees and of expulsion from the synagogue—human glory hindering zeal for the glory of God—they did not publicly profess their belief.

44-50 Recapitulation of Jesus’ teaching —In the last summary the Evangelist recapitulates from the lips of Jesus the main ideas of the various discourses. Jesus had demanded faith in himself as an Envoy of God.

46. He had repeated that he came into the world as the Light of the World.

47. He had said that he was a Saviour to save, not a Judge to condemn. 48. Nevertheless, by their attitude to his word men condemn themselves and by that same word they shall be condemned on the last day. Practically the first and the last word of this part of the Gospel, 1:4 and 12:50, is ’life’.

49-50. Jesus came into the world with his Father’s command to execute and that command is life everlasting—its whole purpose is to give eternal life to those who receive Jesus and keep his words. ’The things, therefore, that I speak, even as the Father said unto me, so do I speak’. ’See’, says Chrys., ’how everywhere he shows himself united with him who begot him and that there is no separation’. To see Jesus is to see the Father, to hear Jesus is to hear the words which the Father gave him to speak. 801j

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on John 12". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/john-12.html. 1951.
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