The universalist vision of the prophet Isaiah (Is 56, 7) of a future in which all people come together in the house of God to worship the Lord as the one God. In the layout of the Temple of Jerusalem, the vast Court of the Gentiles in which this whole episode of the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus takes place is the open space to which the whole world is invited, in order to pray there to the one God. Jesus’ action underlines this profound openness of expectation which animated Israel’s faith. Even if Jesus consciously limits his own ministry to Israel, he still embodies the universalist tendency to open Israel in a such a way that all can recognize in its God the one God common to the whole world. This also answers the question of what Jesus actually brought to humankind. That is Jesus brought God to all nations. According to Jesus’ own testimony, this fundamental purpose is what lies behind the cleansing of the Temple. To remove whatever obstacles there may be to the common recognition and worship of one God – and thereby to open up a space for common worship: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father … But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him” (Jn 4, 21-23).
A similar conclusion may be drawn from a brief scene recount by John concerning “Palm Sunday.” We must also remember that in John’s gospel, the Temple cleansing took place during Jesus’ first Passover, at the beginning of his ministry. For the Synoptic, on the other hand contain only one Passover, and so the cleansing of the Temple takes place in the very last days of Jesus’ ministry.
The evangelist John tells us that among the pilgrims there were also some Greeks, “who went up to worship at the feast” (Jn 12, 20). These Greeks approached “Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee,” with the request: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (Jn 12, 21). The gospel goes on to say that Philip discussed the matter with Andrew and that the two of them together brought the request to Jesus. Jesus replied – as so often in John’s narration – in a mysterious way that was puzzling at the time: “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12, 23-24). If read independently it is a completely disconnected response from Jesus. That is, when asked by a group of Greek pilgrims for an opportunity to meet him, Jesus responds with a prophecy of the Passion, in which he points to his imminent death as “glorification” – glorification that is manifested in great fruitfulness. What could this mean?
It cannot be some brief, external encounter between Jesus and the Greeks. There could be a far deeper meaning to this. The Greeks will indeed “see” Jesus: through the Cross he comes towards them. He comes as the grain of wheat that has died, and he will bear fruit among them. They will see his “glory”: in the crucified Jesus they will find the true God.
The universality of which Isaiah’s prophecy speaks (Is 56, 7) is brought into light of the Cross: from the Cross, the one God becomes visible to the nations; in the Son they will recognize the Father, that is to say, the one God, who revealed himself in the burning bush.