Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” These were the words of the Greeks who came to the disciples asking to see Jesus. It seems like a simple enough request, but it opened the door to a trove of meaning – from predictions of Jesus’ passion and death, to lessons on fruitfulness and losing one’s life for the sake of others. Yet those folks who asked were posing a simple, fundamental question: How do we see Jesus?
My first sightings of Jesus came in Sunday School. I have here the first Bible that was ever given to me. The inscription says: “This Holy Bible is presented to Barbara Driver [I’m so glad it didn’t say ‘Barbie’] by the First Baptist Church of Penfield, NY on the occasion of Children’s Day, June 1969.”
A Revised Standard Version “With Helps” – meaning annotations, maps, timelines – it also has a few pictures included. Those images, specifically the ones of Jesus, amazingly looked just like the ones that adorned the walls of my Sunday School classroom. Here’s one: “Boy Jesus in the Temple,” a young white male with short hair and a slightly baby face kneeling before a bunch of old men with beards. Turn the page, and here’s “Christ Walking on the Sea,” Jesus with dark hair, beard and moustache, flowing robes and muscular outstretched arms. Jesus’ hair gets longer and his beard grows fuller as the depictions in the Bible progress.
My faith was also influenced by “Jesus Christ Superstar,” (my 5th grade, public school music teacher was actually allowed to play the album in class) as well as “Godspell” (remember Victor Garber, with the hair?).
Do any of you find it hard to get rid of your images of Jesus from childhood – of a long-haired, bearded white male, maybe sitting on a rock, surrounded by adoring children? While those images can be very limited and misleading, pictures of Jesus are moving. However culture-bound they are, physical depictions of Jesus are powerful. There have certainly been more than a few created over the centuries!
Don’t we all want to “see Jesus”? Just like the Greeks in today’s passage.
“Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, …and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ 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.’” The Greeks coming to see Jesus wanted to lay their eyes on him. They were looking for a man, a rabbi, a teacher, someone who must have looked a lot like other people of the day. He had been inviting people to “come and see” from the beginning. He’d turned water into wine, given someone their sight, and most recently he’d raised Lazarus from the dead. So when the Greeks ask to see Jesus, they want to believe in what they’ve seen.
But Jesus’ response to their request refocuses the whole picture. He explains that the point isn’t about HIM, it’s about GOD. Jesus says, “…it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” After a voice comes from heaven, Jesus says, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.”
In the movie Invictus, Nelson Mandela (portrayed by Morgan Freeman, who himself has played God in another movie, but that’s just an ironic twist I won’t go into right now…) – Mandela shares the following conversation with the South African rugby player, Francois Pienaar (portrayed by Matt Damon):
Mandela asks, “How do you inspire your team to do their best?” Pienaar responds, “By example. I’ve always thought to lead by example, sir.” Mandela says, “Well, that is right…But how do we get them to be better then they think they CAN be? That is very difficult, I find. Inspiration, perhaps. How do we inspire ourselves to greatness when nothing less will do? How do we inspire everyone around us? I sometimes think it is by using the work of others.”
Leading by example is a worthy goal. But being an example, seeking to be a good example, still means that it’s all about US. Desiring to be examples ourselves still leaves the focus on just that – ourselves. As much as we like to be good examples – to our children, our employees, our congregants, or to any others – we are called to be examples to the glory of something BEYOND us. This is what Jesus means when he tells us that “Those who love their life lose it…” Losing our lives to something BEYOND ourselves is where we find true life.
I don’t think God wants us to look at Jesus and see an example. God doesn’t want us to sacrifice ourselves, especially on a cross. I think God wants us to look at Jesus and be inspired. God wants us to recognize in Jesus something beyond ourselves. Jesus certainly wasn’t seeking anything for himself. Jesus was seeking to glorify God.
A week from today, on Palm Sunday, we will begin to commemorate Jesus’ final days when his humanity becomes very real, however we picture him. Jesus will become not so much a teacher, a healer, a miracle worker, as he will become a man nailed to a cross. How will we see him? What will we see when we’re looking at Jesus?
I hope that when we behold Jesus on the cross, we will gaze upon God – God made explicit, visible, and undeniable. A man dying on a cross. God dying on a cross. We will call that horrible sight the glory of God. And I pray we will be inspired.
Jesus didn’t want to be a good example. The path Jesus took, following God’s will, wasn’t a path of sacrifice, or self-immolation. Jesus simply wanted us to look at him and know God.
By the end of Holy Week, Jesus won’t speak to us. He will show us. We who want so much to see Jesus will see – as we look upon a broken body on a cross – we will see as much of God as we ever hope to see in this world. We will vividly see to what lengths God is willing to go for us. We will see Jesus. Amen.