In college I was part of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship group. I have since outgrown much of their conservatism, as have most of the friends I made there (it makes me laugh that most of them have ended up in the Episcopal Church!) but the one thing that stays with me is the music. I will often find myself humming one of the songs we learned.
This week it was “Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus.” Every time I thought about what to preach, I would find myself singing this again. It’s a lovely song, really. Meditative, simple. Asking God to help us see Jesus in unexpected places.
‘Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus, to reach out and touch him, and say that we love him. Open our ears, Lord, and teach us to listen. Open our eyes, Lord. We want to see Jesus.’ The Episcopal Church in Millinocket sings it before the Gospel proclamation every Sunday, but it’s particularly appropriate for today.
“Some Greeks” come to Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples (and not the same Philip we’ll hear about in Acts!) asking to see Jesus.
What did it mean, they wanted to “see” Jesus? Were they expressing some deep spiritual desire for a transformative encounter with Jesus, like in the song? Were they seeking healing, as so many people had before them? Was it something more cynical, a wish to be part of the latest spectacle, treating Jesus like some sort of flash-in-the-pan celebrity? The original Greek doesn’t help me, actually. The word “see” isn’t actually in the text. It’s something more like “We want Jesus.”
Perhaps this is why Philip responds as he does. He goes to Andrew, and together they go tell Jesus about this request. I wonder what keeps Philip from bringing them men straight to Jesus?
It’s likely that these Greeks are Jews in Diaspora (a different word would have been used if these were Gentiles). So maybe Philip is being overcautious. This is just after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we will commemorate next week. It’s after the raising of Lazarus, which upset many of the religious authorities. This is the last public appearance of Jesus before his Crucifixion. In fact, the text states explicitly that Jesus hid from the crowds after this encounter, because they didn’t understand and didn’t believe. It’s possible that Philip is trying to protect Jesus from those who might be seeking to harm him.
Or perhaps he just lacks confidence. He doesn’t know if he has permission to bring strangers to Jesus, so he goes to one of the inner circle to find out. Perhaps he’s betraying a little cliqueishness, wanting to control who is “in” and who is “out” of the Jesus group.
Or perhaps he’s just been around Jesus long enough to know that it’s not going to be as easy as Yes or No, and he wants someone else there to help him sift through whatever response Jesus gives them.
As soon as Jesus hears the request, he launches into this strange speech about the how the hour has come for him to be glorified, and then goes on about seeds having to fall to the ground and die in order to bear fruit, how his soul is troubled but he won’t ask to be saved from ‘this hour.’ How when he is “lifted up from the earth” he will draw all people to himself.
So…is that a yes or a no, Jesus? Can we bring these guys over to you or not?
I’ll confess, if this was the answer I received when I asked Jesus about introducing him to some strangers, I’d be confused and annoyed. As a colleague said recently, “Why can’t Jesus ever give a straightforward answer?!”
But perhaps that’s the point. Jesus is not simple. Not a celebrity to be gawked at from a distance. Not a wonderworker on call to patch us up when we’re broken. Not even a teacher offering words of wisdom.
To use the language from the first reading, perhaps Jesus is the seed of the new covenant, planted within us, written on our hearts. Seeds do their most important work out of sight. The hard outer shell breaks down in the dark soil, the tiny, fragile little shoot pushes its way out, and even as it grows up toward the surface, it is also pushing roots further down into the darkness. Some of the most important work that little plant does happens underground, out of sight. But there is a dying, a breaking open, that has to happen in order for the new life to emerge.
Jesus is answering the question, but in a roundabout way. He’s telling them all where they will be able to find him, to see him. Lifted up—on a cross—for all the world to see. Some will only see failure and humiliation. Some will see a price too steep to pay. Some will see only loss and grief.
But some will see the husk of the seed breaking open and falling away. They will see that this is God, writing a new covenant on the hearts of everyone who is willing to look. And that covenant will allow everyone who carries it within to see Jesus—not just in the man dying on the cross, but in every person they meet.
When I first set out to write this sermon, I was going to wrap it up by challenging all of you to be a little braver about taking others to see Jesus, to not set up barriers to their ability to encounter Jesus. But as I wrap this up, I realize there’s a different lesson to be learned from today’s reading. It’s not about taking others to see some external Jesus; it’s about allowing the Jesus seed to implant and grow in each of us, so that when someone wants to see Jesus, they only have to look at us. When the love of Christ has taken root in our hearts, it cannot help but grow and bear fruit in our lives. And the whole point of fruit is to create more seeds, until the whole world is God’s planting.
May our song be more than just open our eyes to see Jesus, but open our hearts to bear him and open our souls to share his love with the world. Jesus is not for your eyes only.