Fifth Sunday in Lent | We Want to See Jesus | John 12:20-33 | Pastor Norma Johnson | March 21, 2021

We Want To See Jesus

Two men went up in a hot-air balloon one May morning. Suddenly they were enveloped by clouds and lost track of where they were. They drifted for what seemed like hours. Finally, the cloud parted, and they spotted a man below them on the ground.

“Where are we?” one of the passengers hollered down. The man on the ground looked around, looked up at the balloon, looked around some more and then yelled back, “You’re in a balloon.”

The two balloonists looked at one another and then one of them yelled down again, “Are you a philosopher?”

“Yes,” the man hollered up from below.

The other balloonist said, “How did you know he was a philosopher?” His friend replied, “No one else could give an answer so quickly that’s so logical and yet tells you so little about where you are and where you want to be!”

(“On Being Religious”, Donald J. Shelby, May 27, 1984).

Now, Jesus was not a philosopher. However, in seeking truth, he did deal in paradox which is a favorite tool of philosophers. Yet, he had a way of using the simplest examples from daily life to make plain the truth of his paradoxes. For instance: if you’re going to find your life, you’re going to have to lose it.  Remember how he said: “It is only in giving that you receive.” “If you want to be first, you must become last.” “If you’re going to be master, you must become a servant.” And all of these paradoxes are wrapped in one: We must die, in many ways I might add, if we want to live.

In today’s Gospel reading, a group of people sought similar information about Jesus.  They were Greeks.  They had come to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.  They may have been proselytes to the Jewish faith and maybe they had heard stories about this unconventional prophet from Galilee.

Probably they had seen him as he entered the city, riding on a donkey.  They had watched the crowd that scattered palm branches in his path as we will celebrate again next weekend in our own way.  They may have heard the people shout: “Hosanna to the Son of David.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Now, when these Greeks asked to see Jesus, they may have been seeking wisdom and interested only in debate and dialogue on theological and philosophical issues of the day.

On the other hand, because they had just seen Jesus enter Jerusalem on that donkey and how he had been given a coronation reception which was typically reserved for Kings. They may simply have wanted to know exactly who this person was and what his political aspirations were.

In any case, what they had seen and heard probably made them want to know more.  So they sought out Philip, one of the apostles, and said to him:  “Sir, we want to see Jesus.”  Philip wasn’t sure what to do with that request; so, he took this request to Andrew.  And the two of them together took it to Jesus.

Now, John is the only one of the Gospel writers who tells this story, and he leaves us to wonder what happened.  Did Jesus talk with them?  I think we can safely assume that he did, but we do not know what was said.

Did the conversation lead to anything?  Did these anonymous seekers become disciples?  All such questions are left unanswered by the Gospel of John.

However, the important thing is that the Greeks were there, for they in a sense are representatives.  They are a delegation from the world, talking to the early church.

Most of the time, we structure that communication in the opposite direction.  We think of the church’s message to the world.  But this is the world’s message to the church, and we need to listen.

It is important for us to know what the world wants from the church.  If we are to be effective messengers of the Gospel, we must first become good listeners.

Someone has said:  “The church is always answering questions that no one is asking.”  That’s a serious indictment.  If it is not true, there is no reason for us to become testy about it.  But if it is true, we need to take it to heart.  One of the worst things that can happen to religion is for it to get disconnected from life.  That is a very real danger.

If you doubt it, look at history.  Over and over again, religion has turned inward and become absorbed in itself.  This was the sad state of affairs with the Jewish religious leaders in the first century.  They would spend endless hours debating fine points of doctrine.  They were zealous about keeping the rules that had little or nothing to do with life.  And the result was that most of the common people lost interest in religion.  They did not oppose it; they simply ignored it.

That same thing has happened to the church, not once but many times over the years.  There is a story that when the communist revolution erupted in 1917, the church in Russia was caught completely unaware.  It was embroiled in a heated argument about the color of some garment to be worn by the priests.  I don’t know whether that story is true; I do know that it illustrates a truth.

That truth is that religion is always in danger of losing touch with life.

Yes, and that is one of the worst things that can happen to religion.  One of the surest ways to avoid that tragedy is for the church to listen to the world outside of its walls.  What questions are they really asking?

That’s not to say that the world should set the agenda for the church, not that at all.  But the world is our clientele.  And Christ has commissioned us to go and share the story.

If we are to do that with any measure of success, we must listen, to what the world is saying to the church. What do they want from us?  What do they need from us?

Those Greeks, who came to Philip, answered that question, long ago.  They said to him:  “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” That is what the world wanted from the church back then, and that is still what the world wants from the church today.  They are not very interested in our creeds.  They could not care less about debates between liberals and conservatives.  But if we could somehow give them a clear vision of Christ, most people would be interested in him.

Of course, the only convincing way for us to do that is by the way we live.  If we live in such a way that his qualities can be seen in our attitude and actions, then they will see Christ.

Let me share with you this example.  I once heard this story of an Armenian nurse in a hospital in the Middle East.  I am told that this young nurse watched as a Turkish man was brought into her ward, and placed under her care.  She recognized him as the one who had killed her father and her mother … and he also recognized her.

The man lived in constant fear, waiting for the revenge that was sure to come.  At meal time, he expected a lethal poison in his food.  In the night, he would start at the slightest sound, expecting a dagger in his back.  But day after day, the young woman cared for him pleasantly and patiently, as if he were a brother.

Finally, the man could stand it no longer.  He said to the woman:  “You know who I am.  Why have you been so good to me?”  The nurse was quiet for a moment, and then replied:  “I am a Christian.  Christ has taught me to love my enemies.”  Now it was the man’s turn to be silent.  After a long pause, he said:  “I never knew there was a religion like that.”  There, in that hospital ward, a young woman had answered that ancient request, “We want to see Jesus”.

That is what the world wants from the church, not sermons and instructions, but lessons on how to live.  We cannot take this world by the hand and lead them into his presence, as Philip and Andrew did.  But we can help them to see Jesus by the way we live.

Now, if those Greeks ever did get to speak to Jesus, and if he told them all of what we hear in today’s Gospel text, they probably would have responded the way we did this past Wednesday morning at Bible Study when we read this text.  They probably would have said something like: “Say what???”

But we believe in his paradoxes (even though they make us study even more in our own search to understand); and we believe in his teachings; and we believe in him.  And that, my friends, is why we not only want to see Jesus, too; but we want to be Jesus, to be Christ in the way we live our lives for others.



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