20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very 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. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
Some Greeks come to Jerusalem to worship at Passover – are they Hellenistic Jews of the diaspora, or God-fearing Gentiles? We do not know the answer, but the author’s point seems to be that they came from across the world. And they spoke to Philip, whose name was a Greek name; Phillip came from Bethsaida, the home (in John’s gospel) of Simon and Andrew), a city in Galilee. It may be that the author is implying an understanding of their Greek because of his background. (Could Bethsaida be a city where Herod, the Great, had managed to fulfill his aim of imposing Greek culture and language in the land?) The visitors asked Phillip if they could see Jesus. It would be like going up to one of the “entourage” of a rock star who seemed to be from your home town, or at least might know people you know, and asking if he could get you a back stage pass to meet the star. But it is also reminiscent of the calling of the first four disciples in Chapter 1; these people have heard of Jesus, and want to see him. They wonder if they, too, have found the Messiah.
And so, Philip tells Andrew, and the two of them go to Jesus. Does he want to meet these foreigners? But Jesus seems to take a completely different view of this visit. His message is a message for all the world; the visit of the Greeks indicates to him that this has been achieved – the message of salvation for all will be achieved – the workings are all in place – the hour has come. And Jesus responds by speaking again of his death.
If a grain of wheat does not die, it remains a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit – Jesus’ death will bear fruit for all humankind. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Those who live to preserve life, to gain the things of this world – fame and fortune, wealth and treasure – will lose life itself; but those whose life is lived for Jesus, for God, will keep eternal life. Remember that the word translated as “hate” has more the meaning of “not prioritizing” than the emotional load we give to hate. Jesus is not saying that we should “hate” life to the extent of, like Elijah, begging to be rid of it; he is saying that focusing on the worldly aspects of life, living in fear, never taking a risk, is a sure way to lose life. Whoever serves Jesus must follow him – where Jesus is, there the servant will be also – and that means following him all the way to the cross.