John 12:20-33 (34-36)
Some Greeks want to see Jesus.
They must have heard stories about Jesus. Word had gotten around about this Jesus who brought a man back from the dead. Maybe one of the Greeks was a friend of a friend who knew the man born blind who could now see. Maybe they were even members of the crowd who’d waved palm tree branches called, “Hosanna!” Maybe they simply wondered what all the hype was about, and they wanted to see for themselves if there was anything to the wild stories about this man called Jesus.
They know enough, these Greeks, to know that Philip is one of Jesus’ followers, so they go to him and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” A simple, straightforward request: We wish to see Jesus.
Philip – the one with a Greek name, the one Jesus asked to feed the 5,000, the one who invites Nathanael to “Come and see” for himself that this man from Nazareth is indeed the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote – goes to Andrew and the two of them go to Jesus.
“Jesus, there are some Greeks who’ve requested to see you.” Philip and Andrew make the ask.
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” Jesus says, and then uses the metaphor of a single kernal of wheat dying and bearing fruit. He goes on to say that those who love their life will lose it and adds a bit about following him and serving him and the Father honoring those who follow and serve him.
“But, Jesus, some Greeks want to see you. Is that a yes or a no? What do you want us to tell them?”
Jesus goes on with one of those Johannian monologues: “My soul is troubled. What should I say? ‘Father save me from this hour?’ No, this hour is the very reason I have come. Father, glorify your name.”
Then the voice from heaven chimes in about having already glorified and will glorify again — and some think it is thunder and some think an angel has spoken and still, somewhere, some Greeks are waiting, wanting to see Jesus and Philip and Andrew are wondering what to do. Maybe those Greeks heard the voice that Jesus says was for the sake of the crowd or maybe they didn’t. The focus has shifted, and Jesus goes back and forth with those crowded around him about whether the Messiah remains forever. Another question is posed by the crowd that maybe includes some Greeks, “Who is this Son of Man?”
Pretty straightforward. Couldn’t Jesus say, “Me. I am the Son of Man”?
But he goes into another metaphor, not grain or wheat, but light: walk in the light, believe in the light, become children of the light.
Huh? Is that a yes or a no? Are you, or aren’t you? What does it mean that the Father’s name has been and will be glorified? Can’t we just see Jesus?
Well that depends, because seeing in John’s Gospel goes deeper than visual sight. Those who truly see recognize the Truth that is elusive to many. Those who see in John’s Gospel believe. Those who see in John’s Gospel recognize the connection between Jesus and the Father. Those who see Jesus in John’s Gospel know who Jesus really is and follow. But what Jesus says – his talk of the grain falling to the ground and dying to bear fruit, his declaration about being raised up, his call again to choose light over darkness – invites the crowd, the Greeks and Jews, disciples and palm-wavers, to consider what seeing him means.
Seeing Jesus, in John’s sense of seeing, is believing, following, serving, dying to an old life and being raised to a new one. Do you really want to see Jesus?
Throughout the Gospel, Jesus has encounters with those who are curious or those who are in need, people who think they want to see Jesus: Nicodemus, the rich young ruler, the royal official, crowds, the man born blind. But not all of them, once they learn what seeing Jesus entails, want to see him clearly enough to do what is required and follow.
For John, seeing Jesus is believing and believing is following and following is dying to self in order to be reborn. And not everyone really wants that kind of sight.
At this point in John’s Gospel, Jesus is in Jerusalem to celebrate his final earthly Passover. He has entered the city to face the hour of glory that comes through his death and resurrection. The time for curiosity has run out, the time for commitment is at hand. Jesus wants to know if some Greeks and the crowd and the disciples really see him, the Son of Man who will die and be raised for the sake of them all.
Curiosity about signs and wonders is easy. Commitment to follow, no matter the circumstances, is hard. Jerusalem is the place where the choice between those two stances must be made. Do you really want to see Jesus?
In this season of much rhetoric and many causes, it is easy to be curious, to go from one headline to the next, one rant and diatribe to the next. But to what – no, to whom – are we truly committed and willing to stand with no matter the cost? For what – no, for whom – are we willing to lose our lives?
Like many, I have been outraged and heartbroken about the latest mass shooting. I have prayed. I attended a workshop on preventing gun violence. I have reached out to friends further along the path in advocating for changes in policy and laws. I have been working on ways I can leverage my sphere of influence to make a difference. But I realized that I had not fully committed because I had not seen, really seen, the human cost of this violence. I came to this revelation when I read the article, “This is what a 14-year-old girl left behind after she died in a mass shooting.”
I read: “Alyssa’s room was full of signs of high school life, and remained as she left it. Textbooks were strewn about the floor, as were notecards, hairbrushes, markers. On her dresser there were face masks (which she loved) along with a box of nail polish.” The paragraphs of text were interrupted by images of a soccer jersey, a sparkly dress, hairbrushes. I wept as I read and scrolled. I have a 14-year-old daughter, and a 17-year-old one too. I pictured their rooms: the nail polish, the snow globes, the posters, the books and facemasks. I saw the events of February 14, 2018, in a way that I had not seen them before, in a way I could subsequently never unsee and the right response to truly seeing is commitment. Half-hearted curiosity would be an abomination.
Do we really want to see Jesus?
- What do “glory” and “glorify” mean in this text? What do we mean when we talk about glory? How do the two meanings relate (or not)?
- Where are the other places in Scripture where a heavenly voice is heard? What is the message of those passages? Why do you think some people heard thunder and others an angel? Were there some who didn’t hear it at all?
- Look at other passages in John’s Gospel where people seek out Jesus. What are they looking for from him? What happens once they encounter him?
- In verse 32, Jesus says that he will be lifted up and draw all people to himself. What do you make of the word “all”? Does “all” really mean “all”?
- Why does Philip go get Andrew before he goes to tell Jesus about the request of “some Greeks”?
- We are well into Lent. How are your Lenten practices going? What have you learned? What questions have they raised for you?