Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 5:7-9, John 12:20-33
The great feast of Passover was about to start, and Jerusalem was packed with pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean world and beyond. Jesus was among them, together with his disciples, and knowing that he was about to be sacrificed as the true Paschal Lamb, he announced his imminent death to the crowd who surrounded him: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified (Jn 12:23) – he said – And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (Jn 12:32).
It is typical of Saint John´s gospel to emphasise that the glorification of Jesus took place at the much anticipated “hour” of his death, and that by being raised upon the cross the Son of Man became the King of the Universe. But what did Jesus actually mean when he declared that he would draw all people to himself (cf. Jn 12:32)? This question is further complicated by the fact that according to the Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, Jesus is reported to have said: Et ego si exaltatus fuero a terra omnia traham ad me ipsum. – And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself (Jn 12:32).
Clearly the intricacies of biblical exegesis are best left to Scripture scholars and other experts, but I think we might gain some insight into this most extraordinary statement if we compare it with the following verse in chapter 11 of Saint John’s gospel: Jesus was to die for the nation – and not for the nation only, but also to gather together into one the scattered children of God (Jn 11:51-52). The nation is the Jewish people, and the children of God are all those who believe in Jesus as the Messiah, according to what is stated in the Prologue to Saint John’s gospel: to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name (Jn 1:12). So if we bring all these elements together, we may infer that when Jesus declared that by his death on the cross he would draw all people to himself, he meant that he would unite both Jews and Gentiles alike into one and the same family of children of God, a family of believers in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah sent by God, so that there would be only one flock and one shepherd (Jn 10:16).
But we have seen that in the Latin translation of Saint John’s gospel Jesus declares that he will attract all things to himself – and not just all people. Therefore the question now is: can these two different versions be reconciled with each other?
I would argue that the Latin version simply emphasises the cosmic dimensions of a promise made to all children of God. To put it another way, in the Greek text Jesus says that by his death on the cross he will gather to himself all who believe in him, but in the Latin translation he states that in fact all beings – that is to say, even the material world – will be drawn to him together with those who believe in his name. And this is very much of a piece with what Saint Paul says in the Letter to the Romans – namely, that creation itself will be set free from its slavery to corruption and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Rom 8:21).
So the restoration and renewal of the entire cosmos was irreversibly set in motion by virtue of the sacrifice of reconciliation that Jesus offered on our behalf. And this ought to make us more keenly aware of the fact that we believe in Christ and obey his commandments not simply to save ourselves individually, or to help others achieve salvation, but rather to gradually bring the whole of God’s creation to that point at the end of time when all evils will be wiped out for ever, giving way to incorruptibility and perfect freedom. To follow Christ, therefore, means to assume full responsibility for the care of creation, and also to believe and proclaim that despite all appearances to the contrary, the final destiny of the universe is to be renewed by Christ and in Christ, who was handed over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification (Rm 4:25).
Fr Lino Moreira OSB