Sermon text: John 12: 20-33
In the Gospel of John, Jesus and his disciples make the journey to Jerusalem three times to celebrate the Jewish Passover. This will be the final journey to the holy city. The last journey. And frankly, this chapter of John, chapter 12, marks the end of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus will spend the remaining nine chapters of the gospel with the small group of his disciples before final trial and crucifixion.
Jesus and his disciples were part of a huge group of people who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the festival. Among this group were some Greeks. According to my research these “Greeks” are most likely Israelites who were scattered around the Mediterranean during the great Diaspora. These are faithful Jews, even though they might live in Rome or Athens or Carthage or Byzantium, followed the Judean custom of going up to Jerusalem for Passover, despite the tremendous journey they faced. They are Jewish pilgrims, and I find it remarkable that they, coming from distant lands, have heard of Jesus and his ministry. And so they approach the disciples and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
It makes sense, doesn’t it? For three years Jesus traveled, ministered, welcomed outcasts, healed and exorcised, performed various signs, offered forgiveness, and made the promise of blessing to all who would listen. Huge crowds followed him and word spread so that by the time he came to Jerusalem this last time he was welcomed with a royal parade. With so much fame and wonder, who wouldn’t want to see Jesus? The Greeks are eager to have an audience with Jesus so they can finally see what all the commotion is about. After all, from the very first chapter of John’s Gospel Jesus has been inviting people to “Come and see.”
For Jesus, these Greek Israelites are a starting gun, a sign that his time has come. He tells his disciples, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” So many times Jesus told his followers that he hour had not yet come, in chapter 2, twice in chapter 7, again in chapter 8. But now it’s go time. The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Jesus knows that his glorification will not come from adoring crowds, or parade processions, or jeweled thrones and heavy crowns. No, his glorification will come through weakness and suffering. It will come through jeering mobs, scourging with whips and rods. It will come on the cross. Jesus insists that he must be like the grain of wheat, fallen into the ground, dead, buried under soil, before his true fruit is produced. Then he will be lifted up from the earth—he will be lifted on the cross, lifted from the grave, lifted into heaven—and he will draw all people to himself.
In the end, these poor Greeks never have the opportunity to meet with Jesus. It doesn’t seem that Jesus grants them an audience. I think it’s a little cruel. Imagine traveling half way around the known world only to discover that the Grand Canyon wasn’t open today. These people travelled a very long way. They’re in Jerusalem for Passover but seeing Jesus would be the icing on the cake. They weren’t requesting any miracles or healings, just the opportunity to see the man. Is their request to see Jesus any different than a request that we might utter today?
I once worked in a church that had those words carved into the pulpit, where only the preacher could see. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” It’s an excellent and timeless request—one that I utter from time to time, especially when the world seems like it’s crashing down on me. “We wish to see Jesus” when we come here each weekend, a prayer I hope we all utter, that we might see Jesus as we worship in this church. That we might bear witness to his awesome power that continues this day. Give me Jesus, I wish to see Jesus. It’s the song and prayer I cry when senseless violence and mass shootings befall our nation.
“We wish to see Jesus.” How often do we think these words? When we read scripture, when we contemplate our faith, and when we encounter small seeds of doubt, how much easier would it be if we could just see Jesus, right here in the flesh? When we seek a measure of comfort, when we need consolation for our suffering and sorrow, how much do we long to see Jesus? And when we feel lost, when we need forgiveness, and when we need the warmth of God’s presence, how much do we plead to see Jesus?
This is just a hunch, but I get the sense that the Greek Jews in this passage were window shopping for Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I like to window shop. It’s the best form of shopping. Window shopping is effortless in our modern age, especially with the plethora of internet opportunities available at the click of a button.
When we window shop, or flip through a catalog, or surf the web, it is easy to simply “see” that which interests us. Window shopping allows us to look at that pair of shoes, or that shinny car, or that new gadget and imagine the endless possibilities. Best of all, it’s cheap. Window shopping allows us to see without any commitment.
As Jesus disciples, if we wish to see Jesus or if we want others to have the opportunity to see him, we are going to have to look no further than ourselves. To use Paul’s language, we are the body of Christ. We are given the power to show Jesus to others and to see Jesus in our neighbors. Do we have eyes to see? Do we have the commitment to die and bear fruit?
One way that I see Jesus is through the empathy of others. Perhaps this is just me, but I have witnessed empathy on the rise in the last several months. I hear people connecting with on another, being able to share in emotions as we collectively ward off the negative ramifications of social distancing and virus mitigation. I am seeing Jesus when people ask me how I am and they really mean it; they actually care about the answer that will spill across my lips.
This goes beyond church too. The other month I had to make a call to the cable company. I had a billing question, which meant I was already in a cantankerous mood. But, by some major miracle, I actually connected to a customer service rep within seconds. I was stupefied. That never happens. And then things continued to get better.
The woman on the other end of the line was very proficient at her job, but somewhere between clarifying billing codes and running future estimates on TV packages we talked, deeply. About isolation. About working from home. About pieces of life we missed. After a year of this pandemic I know we’ve all had these conversations, but this was the least likely place I was expecting to find Jesus. I hope that call was recorded for quality assurance purposes because it was noteworthy. And even though she never gave me the answer I was seeking, I still feel like I’m getting swindled by the cable company, I saw Jesus.
When we follow Jesus’ lead we reflect his image. When our neighbors die to themselves and bear fruit we catch a glimpse of his image. We have more opportunities to see Jesus than the Greeks who came to Phillip. All it takes is a moment of connection and recognition for us to witness the fruit of the savior. All it takes is our commitment and observation.
The way of the Christian life is to bear fruit by carrying on the ministry of Jesus. When we give our life for others through our ministry we embody Christ’s death and resurrection. When we live out our witness by selflessly serving others we share the promises of the Good News. To be joined to Christ means we take up his same mission.
We can help to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, give empathy, bind up the brokenhearted, console the grieving, and heal the sick. We can share the good news of Christ through our deeds. We can do these things because we are joined to Christ. We can do these things because Christ first did them for us. May God help us be more than just browsers and window shoppers. May God help us be fully committed ministry partners with Christ Jesus our Lord. AMEN