25 March 2012/Lent 5B – John 12:20-33 (34-36)
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills
Become Children of Light
In the fall of 1983, having been ordained a deacon just few months, I was going to have lunch with a local Presbyterian minister in Winnetka, The Reverend Robert Hudnut. I met him at his church, and he left me to look around the sanctuary while he had to take one last phone call before we could leave. I wandered around until I was standing in the pulpit looking out at the rows of pews that sat empty as the “congregation” before me. As I glanced down at the reading table in the pulpit, my eyes fell on a verse from this morning’s gospel carved into the wood for every preacher who would ever stand there to see: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
It was like a blow to the solar plexus. It caught my breath. It was a moment of revelation as direct from the God of the great “I Am” as could possibly be. It was a reminder, early in my ministry, as to why I had been ordained in the first place – that for all the “Greeks” who might sit in front of me every time I undertake the task of proclamation there is only one task: to present Jesus to all those who come to see him. To find ways to make Jesus visible, palpable, available, able to be comprehended, known, alive, and present in all that we do and all that we say as a congregation of his people.
“The Greeks” in today’s story are stand-ins for us – for all of us. We come week in and week out wishing to see Jesus. Note, that in John’s narrative that although their request passes through the chain of command (from Philip to Andrew to Jesus), we never learn if their wish is granted. That is, I believe, because John means for us to be “the Greeks”. And this twelfth chapter lays it out in sequence quite clearly for “those who have eyes to see, and those who have ears to hear.”
You see the choice is ours. Will we be those who love our lives and lose them? Or, will we dare to live among those who “hate their life in this world” who “will keep it for eternal life”? Will we dare to be those who follow Jesus, that where he is, we are also? Are we at all ready to become those, who like Jesus, have a “troubled heart”? He is actually quoting Psalm 6 verse 3, which in the Hebrew means something more like, “My soul is struck with terror!”
And why not? For as he says, his hour had come to be lifted up high upon a cross – a crude, yet effective, means of state sponsored execution meant to be a deterrent for any and all who would challenge the status quo. Is this what “some Greeks” really have made the journey to Jerusalem to hear and see?
To get the full thrust we need to review chapter 12. It begins with the after miracle dinner in Bethany where Martha is serving the table, her sister Mary is anointing Jesus’ feet with a pound of costly perfume, Judas complains, all the while Jesus and the newly revived Lazarus enjoy a meal after a full day’s work. Outside the door those who are not willing to have the status quo rocked are plotting to kill Jesus AND Lazarus. The next scene is Palm Sunday, at which his adversaries, impressed with the crowd cheering Jesus on into the City of Peace, remark, “There is nothing to do about it, the entire world is coming to him.” Then our episode confirms that, yes indeed, the world has arrived in the guise of “some Greeks,” gentiles, outsiders, unclean, unfit and not entirely welcome for the Passover festival that is at hand. Had we read the whole scene, after Jesus announces his being lifted up, like Peter at Caesarea Philipi, the crowd asks, “But our understanding is that the Son of Man, that is the Messiah, the Christ, will last forever. How can this be?”
Like any good Rabbi Jesus does not answer their question but rather speaks about light. This is how John’s gospel begins – “What was coming into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (1:3b-4) Throughout the ages the translators have had a bit of a puzzle over that last bit, variously rendering it, “did not comprehend it,” “did not apprehend it,” “did not overcome it.”
The Greek word here can mean “to take to mind” (apprehend), or “to take under control” (overcome). That is, to be enlightened by it, or to put it out. Both meanings are true. The darkness neither is enlightened by it, nor does it put it out. The darkness in no sense received the light, and yet the light continues to shine undimmed. For Jesus, like the seed he discusses, may be dead and planted in the ground, but like the seed he sprouts anew to shine on another day – an eternal day at that! Jesus concludes it all with the challenge, “The light is with you a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light!” (John 12:35-36)
My guess is that the Greeks, if they were indeed present for all of this, got much more than they bargained for. To “see” Jesus is to be with Jesus. He says, “Where I am, there will my servant be also.” That is, the same darkness trying to take Jesus down will try to take us down as well.
The good news is that he has planted the seed of faith within us, and his light continues to shine. His seed of faith and his light makes it possible for us to be those people who promise that all that we do and all that we say will proclaim the good news of Jesus. Fortunately for us there are those who have gone before us who have reflected his light in all that they have said and done. Think of the disciples, of Laurence deacon of Rome, of Ghandi, Martin King, Mother Teresa - they have all withstood the darkness. They were not the light, but reflectors of the light because they themselves are turned toward the light. The light they reflect continues to shine, giving us examples, giving us hope, giving us power to become children of the Light.
Sir, we wish to see Jesus. Where I am, there will my servant be also. Are we there? Are you there? When people look at us do they see Jesus? And if not now, when? Amen.