“It’s not about the Greeks, it’s about the Kingdom the Jesus is advocating”
In seminary we were told when beginning to write a sermon, that we should pay attention to the parts of the scripture text that pinches our foot. The understanding here being that whatever bothers us about the text as preachers is likely to be a bother for others, as well. So, by digging into it, we end up cultivating a pretty useful and informative sermon (hopefully).
This approach has worked pretty well for me, honestly—especially right at the beginning of the sermon writing process. However, today’s Gospel reading did not have a particular pinch for me, so much as it had a few things that nag at me.
The main thing that gets to me is that the passage starts by telling us that among the people who went to Jerusalem for the festival were some Greeks. We’re then told that they approach Philip and say that they want to see Jesus… A pretty good start, really.
But, what makes me a little crazy is that once Philip tells Andrew about these people, and Andrew tells Jesus—it’s the last we hear about them. There’s no indication who they are, why they as Greeks were interested in being in Jerusalem for Passover—just this moment that goes…well..nowhere.
Commentaries about this passage really aren’t too helpful. They seem to agree that these aren’t Jewish people who had become secularized—after all, they wouldn’t be referred to as “Greeks.” However, scholars do believe that these were either Gentiles known as ‘God-fearers’, or even a group of converts to Judaism—both of which really tell us nothing about them. Besides even I could have come up with that…
Also, there is some belief that they first approach Philip because he happens to be one of the disciples with a Greek name…
While this might be helpful for making the case that these are not Jewish people—I can’t imagine how they would have any idea who Philip was…unless he was the greeter and wearing his nametag.
But the issue for me is that there is enough set-up about these people that it just seems like a wasted opportunity for a great story. However, we hear nothing more of them.
I suppose there might be something in their reason for coming to find Jesus that might offer something. After all, Jesus’ reputation was such that all kinds of people came looking for him—people caught in adultery, Gentiles, tax-collectors. But when they show up, there is always some lesson accompanied with it. Jesus always seems to take those opportunities to teach about the inclusion of the least-likely, and rebukes hard heartedness.
With these mysterious Greeks, however, we don’t see this response, and I suppose it’s up to the reader to try to discern how they fit into the bigger picture.
Now the fact is that Jesus does ‘teach’ in this section—it’s just not necessarily in conjunction with these Greek people showing up. Or, at least it doesn’t seem like it. It’s also not exactly his normal teaching style. It’s less dialogical—not the usual posing questions and answering with more questions… This is more a formal farewell discourse from a teacher to his students.
In this discourse, then, Jesus begins by saying that “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Of course the troubling thing about this is that the glorification he’s referring to is his crucifixion. And it is apparently by this act that he will draw all people to himself.
He openly admits his fear, but explains that it must be done. He even goes so far as to call people to a discipleship that demands giving-up one’s life. But in this promises honor from God for those who would give themselves so readily. Of course, what he asks seems impossible—but not something he himself would not undergo first…
Perhaps this is the reason for the Greeks showing up. To some Jesus appears by all intent a failed, Byronic hero. However as we’ve seen in other places in the Gospel narratives, he is one who teaches with authority—and even does miracles to prove his authority. The Kingdom that he advocates is not limited by boundaries, or ethnicity, or politics so that it might be caught up in wars, or the exclusion of people based solely on their background. In fact, when he enters Jerusalem, he enters as a king returning home in peacetime.
Likewise along with the ruler of this world (as Jesus says), the ushering in of God’s Kingdom marks the end for ambitious, power-hungry despotism. In Jesus is heralded something completely different—this, I believe, is what draws all people to him. This is what I believe still draws all people to him—and just like those people who knew him then, we’re all still trying to figure him out.
So, perhaps like those Greek pilgrims, Jesus has also drawn us. It just may be that in our own experience of being drawn to him, we can intuit what drew those people then.
Ironically, it’s most likely the impossible call to give our lives, and the constant challenge to be more loving, and more committed to God and others that draws us. However, these are things that test our sense of comfort, and impress upon us the necessity of finding our purpose and true selves. As hard as these things seem, though; in our sometimes chaotic world they’re exactly what gives us grounding, and help us to find our bearings again. Help us remember who we are…
This is because the Shepherd’s voice is a universal one—one which calls to all people to be known and redeemed by God’s love. And like these nameless, unknown Greeks, we can’t help but be drawn—like them, we wish to see Jesus.