“We Wish to See Jesus”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

March 22, 2015 The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Psalm 119:1-8; John 12:20-36

 

We don’t know who they were, those Greeks who went up to worship at the festival.

Were they old or young? Were they men or women? Were they locals or foreigners? Were they sympathizers or adversaries?

Why had they come seeking Jesus? Were they motivated by curiosity about the teachings of this itinerant preacher? Were they driven by hunger for the food he shared with those around him? Were they compelled by a yearning for the healing he offered? Were they dissatisfied with their own lives? Were they looking for a fresh start, a new beginning, a second chance?

Were they discouraged by the suffering and injustice that surrounded them? Were they looking for collaboration, for motivation, for inspiration? Were they disheartened by the struggles of their own lives—a broken relationship, a betrayal from someone they loved, a terminal illness, a tragic death, an unfulfilled hope, a mistake for which they couldn’t forgive themselves?

We don’t know who they were, those Greeks who went up to worship at the festival. But we know they were human, which is to say, we know they were like us, like the people we know. We can guess that they struggled like we do, that they faced hardships like we do, that their stories were not so different from ours.

Perhaps one of them was like a person I know whose father died recently, and who just can’t seem to find his way forward through the strange and empty landscape of grief.

Perhaps one of them was like a person you know who is fighting cancer with all she’s got, but every time the doctors take one step forward, the disease drags her two steps back.

Perhaps one of them was like a person I know who thinks she has screwed things up beyond any possibility of redemption.

Perhaps one of them was like a person you know who is unemployed, depressed, lonely, who thinks his life isn’t worth anything at all anymore.

We don’t know who they were, those Greeks who went up to worship at the festival. But we know they were human, which is to say, we know they were like us, that they had needs and hopes and longings that were not so different from ours.

 

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” they said. They came, as the Psalmist said, seeking God with their whole hearts. But whom did they think they would find?

Were they hoping for someone who would lay his hands on them and make everything okay?

Were they looking for someone who would restore the sick to health, the dead to life again?

Were they looking for someone who would overpower the forces of violence and injustice, whose strength would be mightier than the powers that be?

After all, they had heard stories of Jesus doing all these things. They had heard the story of the man born blind, whose sight Jesus had restored. They had heard the story of Lazarus of Bethany, whom Jesus called forth from the tomb. They had heard the story of the feeding of the five thousand… the story of the royal official’s son, cured of his fever… the story of the thirsty Samaritan woman, given water to drink. They had heard the story of the woman caught in adultery, spared and forgiven and granted a new lease on life. They had heard the story of the moneychangers in the temple, whom Jesus chased away with a whip after overturning their tables.

They had heard stories of Jesus doing all these things. We have heard stories of Jesus doing all these things. So they would be justified—we would be justified—in looking for a Jesus who uses his might and power to right wrongs in dramatic fashion, to turn the world on its head.

But that is not the Jesus those Greeks found. And if your experience is anything like mine, that is not the Jesus we most often find, either.

Those Greeks who went up to worship at the festival, the ones who came to Philip and said, “We wish to see Jesus,” found a Jesus who spoke of falling into the earth and dying in order to bear fruit, of losing one’s life in order to keep it eternally. They found a Jesus who foretold his own death, his own departure from this world. They found a Jesus who, after making these cryptic, mysterious, unsettling pronouncements, went away and hid from them.

We don’t know exactly who they were, those Greeks, but we know they were human, which is to say, we know they were like us—and if they were like us, then this was not the Jesus they went seeking.

In the face of their sufferings, don’t you think they would have preferred a Jesus who would snap his fingers and make all things well?

In the face of their fear, don’t you think they would have preferred a Jesus who would flex his muscles and send hardships scurrying away?

In the face of their struggles, don’t you think they would have preferred a Jesus who would multiply blessings and wash away sufferings and bring forth new beginnings?

In the face of their weakness, don’t you think they would have preferred a Jesus who was clearly stronger, blatantly mightier, obviously more powerful than the forces of sin and death?

In the face of your challenges, wouldn’t you prefer the same thing?

But they Jesus they found, the Jesus we find, is quiet, gentle, mystical, philosophical, unassuming, self-sacrificing.

And in the end, the Jesus they found, the Jesus we find, is the Jesus this world needs.

 

The Jesus revealed in this story is the Jesus who will overturn the powers that be, but not in the way we expect. This Jesus reveals that true power is not found in meeting one mighty imperial force with an even mightier one, but in overcoming evil with good, hatred with suffering love.

The Jesus revealed in this story is the Jesus who will transform all our sufferings, but not in the way we think. This Jesus reveals that there is no suffering we can experience that God does not know, no depth to which we can go where God does not go with us.

The Jesus revealed in this story is the Jesus who will make all things new, but not in the way we imagine. This Jesus reveals that God’s realm breaks into our own when we walk in the light, when we follow God’s ways, when we model our lives after Christ’s example.

The Jesus revealed in this story is the Jesus who meets our failure with forgiveness, our sorrow with tenderness, our fear with grace, our despair with hope. This Jesus reveals the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts, our souls, our lives—and, through us, to transform all creation.

The Jesus revealed in this story is the Jesus who brings a whole new order into being—an order where weakness is strength, where gentleness is power, where love is the mightiest force around.

 

We don’t know who they were, those Greeks who went up to worship at the festival. But we know they were human, which is to say, we know they were like us, that they had needs and hopes and longings just like ours. We can guess that they struggled like we do, that they faced hardships like we do, that their stories were not so different from our own.

And for them, just as for us, the Jesus they found may not have been the one they sought, the one they wished to see… but the Jesus they found was the one they needed, the one we need, the one this world needs—the one who will face the betrayal, endure the cross, leave the tomb empty—the one who is, even now, drawing all people to himself.

Thanks be to God.