Sometimes the answers just don’t seem to fit the questions. At least that’s how it appears. Maybe we don’t quite understand the question, and therefore cannot grasp the answer. Maybe we are simply being redirected in our thinking. Which of these is going on in John 12:20-26?
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 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. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
“Some Greeks” wanted to see Jesus. That should come as no surprise; after all, who in the region would not have been aware that the man by that name had become something of a sensation? Wanting to see Jesus may have been no more than wanting to rub elbows with a celebrity, something to tell the folks back home. It could also have been an honest desire to meet and speak with and learn from the one whose words as well as his actions had people taking. This is plausible, in light of the fact that they were there to “worship at the feast” (a curious enough phrase in itself for many of us). In any event, the Greeks came to Phillip, who went to Andrew, who accompanied the former to speak to Jesus about the request.
But the only answer given seems to be given to Phillip and Andrew, the Greeks no longer being mentioned. And it is an answer that only vaguely answers the situation. My hunch is that Jesus is referring to the desire to see him, a desire which is about to be fulfilled in an as yet unanticipated way. Once he is glorified, which is connected to his being “lifted up” in the succeeding passage, he will draw not only a few Greeks, but everyone to himself. But not yet. Had Jesus been seen at this point by those outside the small circle of followers they would have taken word of an odd but charming miracle-worker back to their own context. And that’s not God’s intent for the one we would know as Lord.
The necessity of Jesus’ death to his saving mission is again underscored in this response. The kernel of wheat must be placed in the ground to fill its purpose. It’s something we recognize as necessary for our salvation; do we see it as readily as a pattern for our own lives of discipleship? Are the followers of Christ content to sing songs thanking Jesus for what he has done to save their skin and/or their souls without a death of their own? Do we wish to draw others to ourselves on any terms, even if it is without the message of the cross which we are to take up in our following of Jesus?
To be blunt, I have had my fill of people saying in one breath that “it’s not about me, it’s about Jesus,” and in the next breath singing songs that are about themselves and how they feel. Maybe we want a Jesus who dies, but not a self that follows him there.
Or maybe I’m just an old crank. What do you think?