In the midst of the heaviness of Lent, it is sometimes easy to overlook the lightness, and even the humorous peculiarity of the Bible. On the one hand, Jesus’ conversation about and with God concerning is upcoming death seems to so dominate this week’s Gospel reading that it leaves room for little else. And why shouldn’t it? We are just over a week away from Jesus’ passion and crucifixion. Perhaps this is what we all should be thinking and talking about. But, on the other hand, there is at least one “something more” to this text that I think should lay some claim on our attentions.
The identity of the “some Greeks” in the passage is not completely clear. Chances are that they were likely either Greek-speaking Jews visiting Jerusalem from other areas of the Roman empire, or converts to Judaism living somewhere in the Holy Land. In either case, they are marginal figures, living somewhere in between the standard categories of “Jew” and “Gentile.” In this way, I believe that, regardless of their true identity, they can also serve as stand-ins for a whole class of early believers in the Christian tradition, those who don’t fit the traditional categories. These folks “want to see Jesus,” and they are asking the disciples to help them on their way.
Now, whether we most identify with the Greeks or the Disciples in this text, I think the contemporary musing is just about the same. If we want to see Jesus, if we want to show others how to see Jesus, where should we look?
The standard church-y answers would would include things like:
- “in the bible”
- “in the liturgies of the church (especially communion)”
- “in prayer”
- “in the lives of the poor, the imprisoned and the marginalized.”
- “in your heart.”
These are all very good and I’m thankful that most in the church would not fall into the trap of being overly concrete – “in that stained-glass window over there,” or, “I haven’t seen him around lately, heard he left about 2000 years ago.”
However, I think the point of this week’s lesson is even more profound.
In a certain respect, Jesus seems to totally ignore the request of the Greeks’, he seems to change the subject. But, in doing so, in talking about his death and its meaning, I think he is making an important statement about where and when and how anyone can truly “see Jesus.” The whole meaning of Jesus ministry and the way that his life and witness will ultimately see its final purpose – to Glorify God – will be crystallized, epitomized, in his death. This may not be a particularly attractive to us, but it is deeply important. If we can learn to see Jesus this way, we will never lose sight of him again.