Lectionary Year B
April 9, 2000
John 12:20-33

Step VI: Contemporary Address


We Wish To See Jesus

Focus: New life is made possible for all through Jesusís death and resurrection.

      The roads leading to Jerusalem are well traveled this bright, spring day. White and yellow wildflowers are scattered among lush green pastures. Figs and olives are in bloom. Travelers coming through the hill country see grazing goats and sheep. Itís lambing season and the countryside is vibrant with new life.
      Where these roads converge on the climb to Jerusalem, travel bogs down as old acquaintances pause to greet and embrace. Itís the closest thing to a first century traffic jam one might imagine. Strange accents...people in unusual dress... There is an electricity and excitement in the air that can only mean one thing---its festival time in Jerusalem. I envision those ancient Passover Festivals to be some combination of homecoming, class reunion, and Thanksgiving Day all rolled into one.
      Itís against this backdrop that todayís Scripture reading takes place. The text informs us that among those going up to the festival were some Greeks. These Greeks went to the disciple, Philip, with the request, ďSir, we wish to see Jesus.Ē Phillip goes and tells Andrew. Phillip and Andrew go and tell Jesus. Jesus answered them, ďThe hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.Ē
      I can almost hear one of my more impertinent youth group members asking---is that a yes or is that a no?
      As Iíve reflected on the passage this week, itís troubling to me that Jesus never appears to directly answer this request. Itís troubling for me because I believe Jesus is the one who came on behalf of the outsiders, the marginalized, and the strangers in town. It just doesnít correspond with the Jesus Iíve come to know through the Gospel message. This doesnít seem to relate to the Jesus we profess in The Brief Statement of Faith---the Jesus who proclaimed the reign of God:
      preaching good news to the poor
            and release to the captives,
      teaching by word and deed
            and blessing the children,
      healing the sick
            and binding up the brokenhearted,
      eating with outcasts,
      forgiving sinners,
      and calling all to repent and believe the gospel.

      ďSir, we wish to see Jesus.Ē Why does it appear that Jesus ignores this request of the Greeks?
      Perhaps Jesus took issue with their motives. We as gospel listeners are not given any direct insight into those motives. However, the context seems to suggest they could be part of a larger group of curiosity seekers.
      Earlier in Johnís gospel we learn of Jesusís miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead. Word spread quickly through the crowds that were assembling early to prepare for the Passover feast. The high priest and the Pharisees were concerned and had already taken counsel on how to put Jesus to death (11.53). With Jesusís triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Johnís gospel reports the crowd went to meet Jesus because he had done this sign (12.18). Could it be that these Greek visitors were just part of that throng of people waiting to witness the next miracle?
      Thatís a possibility, but then again...maybe Jesusís priorities have changed at this point in his ministry. Jesusís declaration that ďthe hour has come for the Son of man to be glorifiedĒ (12.23) surely marks a significant moment in the life of our Lord. Itís the signpost declaring the end of Jesusís public ministry and his turn toward the cross. From this point onward, Jesusí focus seems to move from one of an outward direction involved with teaching, preaching and healing the people in the surrounding countryside, to one of a more inward focus---toward the disciples and those closest to him, and finally to his own passion and death on the cross. With the initial chapters of the public ministry closed, these latecomers may just have to wait for the Lord to complete the work He was sent to accomplish.
      But doesnít it seem like there should be some acknowledgment to the request--- "Sir, we wish to see Jesus" ?
      Perhaps the reason is that the Lord is distracted by the task that lies ahead. The text in the gospel message records Jesus as saying, ďNow is my soul troubled.Ē Troubled may be a slightly anemic translation of the Greek. The verb ("tapasso") literally means "to stir up, disturb, unsettle, or throw into confusion". Jesus is self disclosing a state of incredible personal duress. The psalmist poignantly captures a sense of such distress in the lament of Psalm 6, which says in part:
Ps 6.2: Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
            O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled.
      6.3 My soul also is sorely troubled. But thou, O Lord---how long?
      6.6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears;
            I drench my couch with my weeping.
      6.7 My eye wastes away because of grief, it grows weak because of all my foes.

If this psalm comes close to expressing the depth of Jesusís stirrings, its clear heís in no position to entertain visitors at this moment.

      So just why does it appear that Jesus ignores the request of the Greek festival goers when they ask---"Sir, we wish to see Jesus"? Itís possible that Jesus questioned the motives of the visitors. Itís possible that the priorities of Jesus were adjusted when he made that turn from his public ministry and focused on the cross. And, itís possible that he was distracted by his own deep stirrings associated with the Passion that was to come.

      A closer look at the passage, however, reveals that the answer may lie in the text. Seeing Jesus, in Johnís vocabulary, is closely related to believing in Jesus. The key to the resolution may be in the last two verses of the passage:
(32) "and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." (33) He said this to show by what death he was to die.
      The Greeks receive the answer to their request, not at the time of their asking, but with the subsequent death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Seeing and believing become possible---for the Greeks and all humanity---because of the death Jesus was to die. This great mystery which is to be accomplished once and for all, remains an ever renewing and amazing present reality throughout every age.
      Jesus alludes to this mystery earlier in the text using the imagery of the wheat seed. Having fallen into the ground, the seed remains there isolated in its aloneness. But in its dying----in its capacity to slough off that which keeps the seed isolated---the seed springs forth in new life.
      Those of us who have had the opportunity to live and work in an area where wheat production prevails, know from personal experience the power of this imagery. It takes a bushel of wheat seed to plant an acre of land. During a good year in Oklahoma, that bushel of seed wheat will yield 35 bushels or more of grain.
      Farmers will prepare their fields in late summer, sow those fields with the wheat, and---given a year with adequate moisture---by November that bare ground is transformed into lush, green grasslands. Itís a green that is nearly beyond description providing a stark contrast to the native grasses which have taken on the tawny, brown and gray colors of the winter landscape.
      Cattle graze on the wheat pasture. Wildlife graze on the wheat pasture. Migrating waterfowl---traveling south on the great central flyway---rest and browse on the wheat pasture. The crop supports an entire local economy---from the banker who loans the money, to the equipment dealer who sells the tractors, to the co-op who markets the seed and fertilizer, to the custom harvester who cuts the crop and to the grain elevator that stores the crop.
      This is a crop that draws life to it and sustains life far beyond the boundaries of the field. But such life only becomes possible after the seed----having fallen into the ground, dies---and is raised up with the fruitfulness and abundance of new life. New life is made possible through the mystery of death and resurrection.
      During the January term this year I was privileged to have the opportunity to participate in the chemical dependency treatment program at St. Davidís Hospital in Austin, TX. For twenty sessions, each lasting three hours, I was a full participant in a group treatment program with some 20 other people afflicted with chemical dependency. The drugs of choice included alcohol, marijuana, crack cocaine, and a variety of prescription medications. These were people who figuratively had fallen to the ground---fallen from their families, fallen from their jobs, fallen from the legal system---and landed in this 12 Step Program. The successful participants described that fall as the one that takes them to the lowest point in their lives.
      Like our wheat seed, some languish alone in that low spot---clinging to those lies and self deceptions that make one blind to the possibilities of new life. The program refers to those lies and self deceptions as ďcharacter defects.Ē Another context might call it sin.
      But the individual who responds to treatment is the one who is able---by the grace of God---to surrender those lies and abandon those deceits. New life is made possible for all through the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

      So what is the message this day to this community at this time and place? Let me offer that these forty days of Lent are a season in our year when Christians are invited to renew the personal disciplines of prayer, fasting, and penitent reflection. Itís a season characterized by a shift in focus ---from one that is outward and communal in nature to one that is more inward and personal in nature. Todayís message is an invitation to personal reflection---to give pause during these remaining days of Lent that we too might be deeply stirred to acknowledge, name and identify those personal deceptions that blind us to the truth and distort and compromise our relationships. The Good News in todayís message is that new life is made possible for all through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is through the saving grace of our Lord and Savior that we are drawn into the fullness of life with the same desire as the Greek festival goers---We wish to see Jesus.


Any congregation having pew sitters who think they have more answers than questions about the faith could benefit from a sermon this text inspires. If parishioners need encouragement to be different, as was Jesus, then this sermon might give them some hope. Any auditors who are getting self-satisfied as Lent heads into the home stretch, might find some help in this declaration.


A sermon from this text could inform and encourage believers to orient, reorient and/or sustain their lives in relation to Godís glory revealed in and by Jesus Christ. It might inspire hearers to identify with Jesusí troubles in living a life of faith obedient to Godís call. It surely has the possibility of addressing some confusions humans might encounter in trying to figure out some of lifeís mysteries. Just as likely, it promises to build confidence for any who assume reasonable definitions are required of most observations. Then, too, it might celebrate that there are several answers to faith dilemmas rather than just one. It could support them in attempts to live the questions and to enjoy processes that if the have to end, might end in eternity.


ďDare to be DifferentĒ


      Compared to great Christians, are we less than as good as we wish we were? Is there room for improvement in our attempts at serving God faithfully? Could we do better at exemplifying Godís love?

I. The Deity

God answers Jesus suggestion for more Self glorification, by informing him that divine Self glorification has already been done and that it will be done again (and again?). God does not condemn Jesus for failing to notice that God has already done some Self glorification and for not realizing there is more of the same yet to come again.

      Nor does Jesus censure the Greeks and/or other by standers for misinterpreting the identity of the voice from heaven recorded in verse 28. Rather, Jesus tells them that the voice came for their sake.

II. The Protagonists

We are like the Geeks, misfits in high school, like the Greeks in todayís lesson, mistaken in Jerusalem in the first century, like Christians hardly appreciated today.

      We seldom realize how mysterious are the tenets of the Christian faith, perhaps especially during Lent. We have questions we rarely ask. We hesitate to guess at whatís right. We might look for easiest answers, short term resolutions, paths of least resistance, a la the Hellenists, the Pharisees, the chief priests (John 12:9-11), etc.

III. The Resolution(s)

Jesus dies to free us to live fulfilling lives, lives of faithfulness and lives that share in Godís glory. And, remember, Jesus dies for us and for all others globally. What Jesus was doing according to part of last week's text (John 3:16) might be called "celebrating diversity". Recently at the Academy Awards presentation, Hillary Swank got the Oscar for "Best Actress". She played that part of a woman passing as a man in last year's film, "Boys Don't Cry". In her acceptance speech she thanked the real-life inspiration for her role. She said, "His legacy lives on through our movie. It reminds us always to be ourselves, to follow our hearts, never to conform." Then, she concluded, "I pray for the day when we not only accept our differences but we actually celebrate our diversity." If Hollywood can make that kind of progress, so can even today's church and her members, surely.

      Jesus would free us to life following him and his example. Although, as a human being, Jesus, according to some of the Gospel accounts, lived and served imperfectly. Nevertheless, he sought to live perfectly obedient to Godís will. So could we, do so, too.


With Godís compassionate and understanding help, we can get better, do better, believe more and find more peace.

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