‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus…’
What a great opening line this is! ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus…’ Can we just imagine the scene? This was just before the Passover feast and everyone was getting ready for a big festival, a celebration. Jesus has just, earlier in this chapter of John, been to the house of Mary and Martha at a dinner celebrating the raising of their brother Lazarus from the dead. And in that evening we have the well known scene of Mary putting the nard, the costly perfume, on Jesus’ feet and the small altercation between Mary and Martha, and Judas raising the cost of the perfume. And that’s when Jesus says, ‘Leave her alone…you will have the poor with you always, but not me!’ A couple of days later Jesus makes his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, palm branches and all that, which we will commemorate next Sunday. At this point in the gospel John says that all were chatting, discussing, wanting to come and see Jesus, as well as Lazarus who had been raised from the dead. He says ‘A great number of the Jews,’ the chief priests, the Pharisees, and ‘some Greeks,’ were there. Interestingly ‘some Greeks’ was a term which was often used to mean, not necessarily Greeks but rather ‘outsiders.’ So there is the wide variety of people around, all wanting to see Jesus. There was likely lots of chatter and buzz. Today it would probably be Facebook posts, or Twitter ‘tweets,’ or Instagram messages. This Jesus is coming! Lazarus is here. Let’s go see if we can see him. Perhaps not unlike a Papal audience here on Wednesdays.And John’s gospel says, the Greeks said to Philip, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus…’
What do you think they expected? What were they imagining might happen? He was going to turn water into wine, heal someone, walk on water, raise another person from the dead? Certainly those stories of such events had circulated widely. And they wanted to experience for themselves. ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Faith is easier to accept, internalize, believe, when he have something so dramatic as a miracle in front of our eyes. When we see the real thing. Perhaps that was what they were after. Then again maybe they just wanted to see the guy, in person. We have all had the experience of meeting someone famous, whether a singer, a rockstar, a movie personality. A religious leader. I have met Archbishop Desmond Tutu and dined with him. I have seen Pope Francis in person twice. I saw Pope John Paul II once. I didn’t get to personally meet and shake either of their hands but I saw them. And there is something very dramatic, ‘real’, charismatic about such an experience.
There is a holiness around them that is impressive. And I don’t mean impressive as in ‘I’m impressed,’ but rather makes an indelible impression on one’s psyche. Seeing the real thing. Not just hearing the stories. The Greeks
saying, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus,’ seems to be in that same phenomenon of experience.
But we can’t always see the real thing. Sometimes we have to settle for something just shy of the real thing. Perhaps a picture. A picture is worth a thousand words, it is said. And it really is. For example, if someone describes a building to me and says, ‘It is a classic Greek revival building with a broken pediment and six ionic columns,’ I kind of know what they are talking about. But if they show me a picture of such a building I say, ‘Aha! Now I see!’ Or likewise with a landscape. I can say the English countryside, or the Tuscan hills. But seeing a picture of it, or being there is so very different. And better. Similarly, there is no way to describe someone’s face that accurately portrays who that person is. A picture is so much better. That’s why photography, which was invented in 1827, is so very popular. And why movies, invented by Thomas Edison in 1889, are so loved. And the iPhone. Everyone is a photographer with the iPhone. And can share photos and videos and stories.
So these ‘Greeks’ want to see Jesus. A reasonable request given the stories that had circulated about him. They probably wondered what he looked like. What did Jesus look like? A very
knowledgeable seminary professor of mine suggested that, based on Jesus’ heritage and tribal lines, he was rather dark complected, not necessarily tall, nor fair skinned. And that he likely didn’t have long flowing hair as is so often depicted in our statuary and paintings. Rather he probably had a bit of a thin nose, curly or wiry hair, and possibly looked very much like Anwar Sadat. An interesting thought given our mindset and Western religious traditions. The fact is we don’t have a photograph of Jesus. Or a movie. We don’t have an iPhone image of Jesus. But we do have something richer and more valuable. We have his stories, and we know of his life. And we have his living presence, in our lives. Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but a living experience is worth more than that. We have the gospel stories, we have the words of Jesus, we have seen the working of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in peoples’ lives through the ages. Think of the desert fathers, the saints — Augustine of Hippo, Francis of Assisi, Benedict of Nursia, Ignatius of Loyola, Hildegard of Bingen, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Mother Teresa, Abp Desmond Tutu, Pope Francis. And each of us here. Lives that are transformed by experiencing Jesus the Christ. Lives that are lived in ways that indeed show Jesus to the world. We know about his life, how he lived, and how he lives in our lives today. Rather than showing a picture we are to imitate Jesus in our daily lives, in our everyday experiences, in our interactions one with another. In our relationships, in our conversations, in
our hugs and our smiles we can show Jesus. Always. St. Francis of Assisi said, ‘Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary, use words.’
Toward the end of my seminary training and in my first position as an ordained Deacon (all priests are ordained deacon for period before being priested, usually six months to a year) I served at a parish called St. Timothy’s in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, in the United States. I will never forget that on their very simple wooden preaching pulpit, there was a brass plaque at the top that said, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus!’ For anyone in the pulpit this served as an admonition to ‘show them Jesus.’ And it really challenged the preacher to live into that. To show Jesus.
How do we do that? By considering Jesus’ lessons to us, his teachings. By internalizing his examples, not just what he said but the way he acted and the way he treated people. Remember when Mary and Martha were having the dinner celebrating Lazarus’ resurrection thatI mentioned earlier? Jesus didn’t chastise Mary, but commended her for her love. When the woman was caught in the act of adultery, Jesus suggested that those without sin cast the first stone. When Peter sank in the waters because his faith wasn’t strong enough, Jesus didn’t reprimand him, but rather reached out his hand and pulled Peter into the boat. When they crucified him on the Cross he didn’t curse them. He said ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’ ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ The world wishes to see Jesus. If you and I don’t show Him to the world, who will?
This is the end of Lent. Next week is Palm Sunday, also called, now, The Sunday of the Passion. Until 1969 this particular Sunday, was called Passion Sunday, and marked the beginning of Passiontide, the two weeks leading up to Easter. Passion from the Latin word ‘passio’ referring to both suffering and love. As we wind up Lent and head into Holy Week, it is
time for us to consider, evaluate, our Lenten experience. How has it been? Suffering? Difficult? Perhaps we didn’t quite keep all the Lenten disciplines we intended? I certainly didn’t. But does Jesus reprimand or scold us for that? Is he as hard on us as we are on ourselves? What might he say to us if we had an individual one-on-one conversation about our individual faith journey, or our observance of this Lent? When someone comes to me for confession, as
happened spontaneously this week, I don’t chastise or reprimand them for their sin. I remind them of the generous love of God, who always takes us back. And of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for us. Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus, makes a difference in lives. We can do that! We can share that.
‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Yes! Let us go forth showing Jesus into the world. How? Maya Angelou that great, recently deceased, African American writer said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Show the world Jesus by showing them God’s unfathomable love. Make them feel it. May that be your Lenten and Easter message. A blessed Holy Week to you.