Jeremiah 31: 31-34; Hebrews 5: 5-10; John 12: 20-33
In the name of the father, and the son, and the holy spirit.
Here we are on Passion Sunday, at the beginning of Passiontide, the liturgical season that leads us towards Easter. It’s a transitional point in these last weeks of Lent. Passiontide was a special time in Lent that took as its theme the words from John 8, about Jesus “hiding” himself. Thus, crosses would be covered, and all the statues and crosses in churches were covered in white or violet cloths.
And in many ways that’s my theme from this gospel, about seeing or not seeing, or what is hidden.
Now, this gospel reading from John twelve. This is the transition from Jesus’ last public statements to him fully hiding himself away from the public, to be with his disciples.
However, I first want to backtrack and see some of what precedes this.
Up until this point in John, Jesus has been saying that his hour is not yet come. This is the time when he suddenly says: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” From here on in, this is ‘the hour’, that movement in the story which goes from here to the events of passion week.
Also, there are statements about God’s intent to save the Gentiles.
And, there’s been the crowds. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, which was big news, and later, he went for a meal with Lazarus, Mary and Martha. It’s at that meal when Mary is pictured as taking expensive perfume, and anointing Jesus’ feet. And there’s a great crowd wanting to see Jesus.
The next day in the gospel of John the entry into Jerusalem happens. The crowds build, they want to see him, so much so that the Pharisees are described as saying: “Look the whole world has gone after him.”
And then we get to the passage we’ve had read, and there are Gentiles coming to see Jesus. Jesus is in the temple precincts, and it’s probably very crowded. Then, this group walks through the crowd, John describes them as Greeks, they might be Greek proselytes of the Jewish faith, they may be a group of God-fearers, or they may have been Greeks visiting Jerusalem who got to hear of this miracle worker. But, it’s the outsiders who ask to see Jesus.
This is a climactic moment in the gospel. The whole world has gone after Jesus, the hour is coming, and when that hour comes God will reach out to Gentiles. And suddenly Greeks are seeking Jesus.
They simply ask: “We wish to see Jesus.”
Now, in one sense this is what the gospel of John about, ‘seeing Jesus’. Way back in chapter one verse fourteen it says: “The Word became flesh”, and then in chapter one verse 18 it says: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” Seeing God. Seeing Jesus. This is one of the basic ideas within this gospel.
The Greeks approach Philip, who has a Greek name. Is there a reason that the Greeks feel comfortable approaching him? Maybe he looks more Greek than Jewish, maybe he speaks it better? He gets Andrew, and together they go and tell Jesus.
But, Jesus seems to ignore them. In the narrative he doesn’t seem to respond to them directly. And then they drop out of the story.
Yet, in the gospel that request “We wish to see Jesus” leads to the last public words of Jesus, in which the main theme is that the hour has come. So, I wonder if, for the writer of the Gospel, this is what it means to see Jesus? That his hour has now come. All the events that lead up to the crucifixion and resurrection.
So, those Greeks who maybe never get to meet Jesus? I think one of the difficult times in our lives can be when we feel we are looking for God, or reaching out in some way, and feel that he’s eluding us, or not there. It can leave us feeling uncomfortable, alone even, and yet the Christian mystics tend to teach us that its at that moment God may be closest to us, and maybe we need to trust he’s there even when we don’t feel, or experience anything.
Equally, we may wonder what is it which stops us ‘seeing Jesus’ as it were? Are we distracted by our lives, by all that’s going on for us? Maybe we are looking in the wrong place? There’s a sense with Jesus that he’s not quite where we would expect him to be. He goes off with ‘sinners and tax collectors’, he’s often behaving in unbecoming ways. It’s worth asking ourselves, are we looking in the wrong places in our lives?
Or, in some ways, we might be disciples like Philip and Andrew who are needed to take the Greeks to Jesus. The idea of mission is often co-opted by the evangelical wing of the church of England into a particular type of activity, but what is liberal-Catholic mission like? What is our mission as a benefice like? What would it mean to help people ‘see Jesus’? How can we help others? Charitable work, activities which we do, all the things that happen as a parish and as a benefice. But there’s that invitation to us to share in the mission of the church, to somehow help others see Jesus.
Becasue, in some sense we are ‘Greeks’, we are part of the Gentile world. What can we do to bring that of Jesus’ including message to the world he cares so much about? There are many excluded groups, many who are on the margins. How can we help those who feel excluded from faith, from Christianity, to feel it’s relevance, to feel it’s importance? What can we do to help the other feel included?
This morning I was reading in the news the chilling story of a whistle-blower, talking about the possible harvesting of Facebook data for political ends. What struck me was a brief comment that those who did this that were able to use such information as Facebook likes and dislikes, and other small aspects of online use, to predict personality types, and thus politics. Our culture precedes our politics. As part of my job as a counsellor, I sometimes use the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, one of the older personality models. However, many years ago I read a book about how within the church there are, typically, only a limited number of personality types, not all personalities are included in the wider church. The church can be a limited culture. In some sense, like with the Greeks who went to Philip, perhaps because they could tell he was Greek, we recognise similar personalities who are like us, they attract us. Thus, if our benefice might attract some people of certain personalities, from certain cultures, might we therefore not attract others? What would it be to be able to offer an openness to all, no matter what personality, no matter what preferences? How could we help people ‘follow Jesus’?
And then how might those words touch us personally? We want to see Jesus. Might we meet him in or lives, or the lives of others, or maybe in prayer? For some the recent month of guided prayer has recently finished, and, in September there’s the benefice retreat. In both these contexts a meditative style of praying encourages us to take the words of the bible and, as it were, let them speak directly to us. So, that they may touch us. The bible becoming the word of God for us in this moment, in our here and now, affecting us.
So, do we pray? Do we find time to be with God? Do we use our opportunities to see Jesus?
And now, in this moment, what would it feel like to ask ourselves, do we want to ‘see Jesus?’ Our answer may be ‘no’. But, it also may be a ‘yes’, and so I’m going to invite you to imagine for a moment, that you are like those Greeks coming into the temple in all its splendour, in all its busyness, seeing it in your imagination, and then approaching Philip, and asking that question. “We would see Jesus.”
What might that bring up in you? Excitement, interest, boredom, reluctance, anticipation?
What might that mean for you, now?
What does it mean for us to stand alongside our fellow gentiles, for us to contemplate the idea that we might want to ‘see Jesus’ as we move towards passion week, and to Easter, to help others see Jesus too? What might it mean for us individually, what might it mean as a church, what might it mean as a benefice, to be saying: “We would see Jesus?