The last week or so, I have been intrigued by the passage in John 12:20-36. This passage begins when some Greeks, who had come to Jerusalem to worship at the Passover feast, make a request through Phillip, who shared it with Andrew, and together they took it to Jesus. Their request seems relatively simple: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
But Jesus’ response seems anything but simple. In fact, it doesn’t seem to be a response to their request at all. When Philip and Andrew tell Jesus of the Greeks’ request, Jesus “answers” them: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.” At the very least this appears to be an odd response. But, honestly, it seems like a non-answer—a response to some other question or request.
Backing up a bit, in John 20:19, before we are told about the Greeks’ request, the Pharisees lament the fact that “the whole world has gone after” Jesus. It certainly must have seemed that way after huge crowds were following him because he had raised Lazarus from the dead, followed by Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem amidst the crowds who had come for Passover. And the Greeks’ request seems to lend credence to the Pharisees’ worries. Here are some foreigners wishing to see Jesus!
However, the Jesus that these Greeks want to see is the one who raised Lazarus from the dead and the one who was greeted as he arrived in Jerusalem with palm branches and shouts of praise, being hailed as the King of Israel. And the beginning of Jesus’ response seems to affirm their hopes: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
But then Jesus starts talking about dying and losing one’s life, proclaiming that the Son of Man must be lifted up, which was understood as indicating his death and was certainly antithetical to the crowds’ belief that “the Christ remains forever” (12:34). The next step in Jesus’ glorification is his death. Not only that, but those who choose to follow him must also lose their lives. Wait a minute…what is happening here? Was this the Jesus that the Greeks had wanted to see?
In addition, the Greeks’ question seems to initiate a major change in Jesus’ ministry. Whereas up to this point Jesus’ hour had not yet come (2:4, 7:30; 8:20), now the hour has come (12:23). Jesus is now headed inexorably toward the cross, and in doing so he “will draw all people” to himself. No longer are the Jews his focus of ministry, but rather the whole world.
Who knew such a seemingly simple request would set off such a cataclysmic progression of events? The Greeks just wanted to see Jesus. But the repercussions of their request were immense. They were given a starkly realistic picture of who this Jesus they wanted to see really was. So far they had seen a Jesus who could raise the dead and who was lauded by the crowds. But there was much more than they imagined or expected to this Jesus. He himself was going to be lifted up and draw all people to himself. And he was calling his followers to be willing to die, to lose their lives, for wherever he goes, there will his servants be also (12:26). This was Jesus’ path to glorification.
Sometimes we seek out Jesus and we do so sincerely, though possibly a bit ingenuously. We think we know who we’re looking for and what we will find at the end of our search. And we are wrong. Our search may set off a series of events that aren’t at all what we had in mind. The journey to Jesus may be filled with unanticipated and bewildering twists and turns. And the Jesus we find may not be the one we expected or the one we thought we wanted to see. But he is the one whom the Father honors and glorifies. And he is the one who was willing to be lifted up in order to draw us to himself, into the light of his love. And we will likely find that that is what we were searching for all along.
Questions for reflection:
Are you seeking to see Jesus? Why or why not?
What are your expectations and hopes as you seek to see Jesus?
Are you willing to let go of those expectations?