Yesterday’s gospel reading was John 12:20-33. It’s familiar enough. It begins with some Greeks approaching the disciple Philip and saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
Entire sermons have been written on that sentence alone, about how people just wanna see Jesus and how that’s something we should aspire to as well. We heard one yesterday. It was lovely.
But after the Greeks tell Philip they wish to see Jesus, John writes this (12:22-24):
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.
Jesus monologues for 13 verses, and when it’s over, Jesus departs and hides (John 12:36).
Those Greeks never get to see Jesus.
Instead, the same people who have been seeing Jesus go back to Jesus and then get wrapped up in being around Jesus.
The effective response to the widely-lauded “We wish to see Jesus” is “Sucks for ya.”
And isn’t that so often how it is?
I have so often been in the presence of people who are feeling the presence of Jesus. I’ve sat in prophecy meetings where prophecies went out, it seemed, to everybody but me.
Chris Rice’s song “Smell the Color 9” was the first song I ever heard about the presence of God that I identified with. The salient portion goes like this:
I can sniff, I can see
And I can count up pretty high
But these faculties aren’t getting me
Any close to the sky
But my heart of faith keeps poundin’
So I know I’m doin’ fine
But sometimes finding You
Is just like trying to smell the color 9
I have sometimes felt that God was present, but more often, and often enough to understand, I have said “I wish to see Jesus” and then opened up my Bible and found God talking about something entirely different, and those people who already feel the presence of God get so wrapped up in the moment that they don’t persist in advocating.
And isn’t that so often how it is?
Jesus’ intermediaries, Philip and Andrew, are not persistent. They pass on the word that these Greeks want to see Jesus, and Jesus says something totally unrelated… and Philip and Andrew get caught up in it.
John seems more interested in Jesus than in the Greeks. They seem to exist merely as vehicles for Jesus’ glory (a la John Piper), not as real people. That they want to see Jesus merely goes to show how popular Jesus is; they never actually get to see him.
I would guess those Greeks never met Jesus because Jesus’ intermediaries couldn’t be bothered with getting past what was right in front of them to what was challenging those Greeks: their inability to see Jesus.
Philip and Andrew don’t take the Greeks to Jesus. They tell Jesus the Greeks want to see him. The Greeks want to see Jesus, but ultimately see only the gatekeepers, those between them and Jesus.
I Corinthians 1:22 speaks of Greeks this way: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom.”
Neither party gets what they want.
Matthew’s Jesus (16:4) says “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”
Wisdom? I have asked difficult questions of people who would see themselves as those who know Jesus, and I have found the responses hollow, shallow, and provided with as much thought as any other answer delivered through rote memorization.
Many Christians simply scamper off from difficult questions to do their devotions and find that Jesus was exactly who they always thought Jesus had been.
Even those who dedicate immense time to writing responses so often do not even bother to do what Philip and Andrew appear to do, which is listen to Jesus as he challenges their expectations. Rather, they return having found that Jesus is exactly who they always thought Jesus had been.
Their Jesus offers nothing relevant to what the Greeks requested, only answers to questions nobody was asking.
The Greeks, on their part, had far too much respect for the system that stood between them and Jesus.
Churches, where people are supposed to go to meet Jesus, and Christians, who are supposed to introduce people to Jesus, so often get in the way.
The designated disciples know the “Greeks” want to see Jesus, but then they wander off to be with Jesus and forget all about those Greeks.
The Jesus so many find in church seems interested only in himself and his own glory, not in being a real person present to those who have questions and responding reasonably to those questions.
The evangelical American Jesus, if I may say so, has answers to specific questions, and no time to speak with anyone about how in the world the Bible could say God commanded genocide.
Our LGBTQ brothers and sisters wish to see Jesus, but are far too often met with Christian gatekeepers whose response is not to invite them in, but to go talk to Jesus about them (and imagine Jesus’ response as a pontification on, to be honest, a different issue entirely).
Atheists wish to see Jesus in his followers. They too are met by Christians whose only response is to talk to Jesus about them. Those Christians’ Jesus is also tiredly off-topic.
Jesus does not need our protection.
Jesus can handle himself.
People don’t want you to talk to Jesus for them.
They want to see Jesus.
Let’s invite them in.
No ifs, ands, or buts. No concern over the fact that they’re Greek. Jesus’ welcome was extravagant. May ours be as well.