We all have expectations. Some of them good, some not so good. You all had a pretty good idea what to expect when you came to worship this morning, and you have a general expectation on what Palm Sunday will look like next week. Everyone will get a palm to wave, and we will read what is called the Palm/Passion narrative. So, no big surprises for next week, but we know sometimes our expectations let us down.
Most of you know that Laura has been experimenting with a special diet to find out what some of her stomach issues, which means she is trying out some different ways of cooking different foods. Like pasta. She is trying to avoid gluten, just to see if it might be one thing causing some of her issues. She found this mouth watering pasta dish recipe that had all kinds of yummy stuff, including gluten free quinoa pasta. The expectation was this was going to be fabulous, the recipe looked good. Let’s just say, quinoa pasta just doesn’t taste as good as good old whole-wheat pasta. Not that what she made wasn’t good, but my mouth had an expectation for what I thought it should taste like.
Besides food, we have an expectation of what it will be like to meet someone new, especially someone we have heard of before, and especially someone that we have heard good things from before. There is an expectation of how it will go. “Hi, my name is_____.” “Great to meet you. I’m Keith.” “What do you do for a living?” “I work over at________. How about you?” “Oh, I ________.” and so on and so forth. We start with small talk, trying to get a glimpse of this person that we have been told about, going a little deeper at every turn in the conversation to find out more about this person, to see if the rumors are true, to see if they meet our expectations.
But that’s not how it worked out for these Greeks who show up while Jesus is in Jerusalem. Now, we don’t really know much about these Greeks or really where they are from. They could be from Greece, but the term “Greek” was sometimes used as a generic term for anyone who spoke Greek. As that tongue was the language of commerce throughout the Roman Empire, they could be from anywhere around the Mediterranean. But what we can deduce from this passage is that since they were called Greeks, they probably weren’t Jewish. They were probably what was called a ‘God-fearer’ by the Jewish community. They were Gentiles who had embraced Judaism up to a point. They celebrated the Jewish holidays and went to synagogue services, but typically didn’t get circumcised or follow the strict dietary rules the rest of the Jews did.
So, here these God-fearers were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. And they must have heard some of the stories about Jesus since they want to see him. They may have heard about him turning water into wine, someone may have shared the stories with them about how this man had fed five thousand or given sight to the blind. They may have wanted to ask Jesus about this rumor they had heard about this fellow named Lazarus being raised from the dead. My guess is they were a little excited about what they heard about Jesus. Because when they found out Jesus was there that day, they try to get his attention by coming in an indirect way. They play a little game of telephone, passing the message on through the only two disciples with Greek names, Philip and Andrew. It is hard to exactly say what the Greeks expected in this chance encounter with their request, “We wish to see Jesus.” But I don’t think they had their expectations met.
Here is why: Jesus doesn’t walk over to them and give them some miraculous sign or at least a hug. He doesn’t tell them that he is the one who is fulfilling all those prophecies that they had learned about in synagogue school. In fact, we aren’t even sure if Jesus even gives heed to these Greek’s request. It almost seems like they drop out of the scene almost as quickly as they show up. Their “we wish to see Jesus” is answered by Son of Man language, a parable about a grain of wheat, and serving him. If we could see them in the scene, my guess is they would be standing off scratching their heads. It almost seems as if Jesus is going off on some tangential trajectory.
Or is he? I think Jesus wants to be seen, but not in the way these Greeks had planned. For Jesus, this encounter marked a turning point where Jesus will be seen by all people who will be drawn to him when he is lifted up. What John is very clear about is the kind of Jesus they—and we—will see if we really look. Because upon hearing this request, Jesus immediately looks ahead to the cross. He seems to be saying, “Don’t look to me know, but look to what is about to happen, then you will truly see me.” The hour he speaks about, the glory he prays for, the fulfillment of his mission and destiny he anticipates – all of this revolves around his cross, his obedient embrace of sacrificial love to the point of death.
And this forces us to think about who we think we are looking for when we wish to see Jesus. Who did you expect to encounter this morning when you came through the doors of the church this morning? How we answer that says a lot about who we see Jesus as and our expectations of him. But our answer also sheds light on us and the expectations as his disciples, because it is here we encounter Jesus Christ and follow out into the world. Did you come looking for a teacher, someone who would give meaning to your life? Was the one you seek after a comforter, a friend who would walk with you in your grieving? Do you look for a mighty warrior who will vanquish the evil in the world? Do you wish to see Jesus to satisfy your spiritual desires or have your spiritual gas tank filled so you could face another hectic week?
I’ll be the first to say that I think each of the gospel writers would come to a little different conclusion of who they want us to see when we look at and to Jesus and what it means to follow him. But for John, to know who Jesus is, truly is, is to see the revelation of the good news that is made from seeing Jesus lifted up on the cross and ultimately lifted up in his resurrection. And what it means to follow the one who is lifted up is to know what it means to be drawn more deeply into the kingdom of God through our love for, service to, and sacrifice on behalf of those around us. Jesus comes to demonstrate God’s strength through vulnerability, God’s power through what appears weak in the eyes of the world, and God’s justice through love, mercy and forgiveness. Jesus was lifted up for the sake of the world, and he calls those who would follow him to the very same kind of life and love.
In this encounter with the Greeks, Jesus reveals to the world God’s love and how that love is lived out and experienced. Like the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, here Jesus teaches us that that the good news is that death must precede the new life that is found in him. Jesus is headed for the cross and invites us to give up our own lives to follow him. It is through the cross that we experience the new life he offers.
Is this the Jesus the Greeks want to see? Is it the Jesus we want to see? Is that the Jesus you want to see? That is the question you need to ask yourself during this week of Lent. I do know that the Jesus who reveals the heart of our loving God by going to the cross is the Jesus John wants us to see, encounter, and expect to experience in our lives. The Jesus who is raised again on the third day to demonstrate that love is more powerful than hate and life more powerful than death is the Jesus we are called to follow and serve. This is the one, in the end, who has promised to draw all of us to him. Amen.