Now among those who went up to worship at the [Passover] festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. – John 12:20-22 (NRSV)
We often think of Judaism as a religion, but it even more so it is an ethnic identity. Even today, people identify as Jewish based on ancestry even if they are completely nonobservant. Non-Jewish “Jews” are often referred to as “God-worshippers” in the Bible. Those referred to as Greeks here, may have been Greek or they could be any non-Semite. Their actual nationality isn’t important. What is, is that they are non-Jews.
These Greeks have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. They may have heard about Jesus before or maybe just at the palm parade that has just occurred. People were probably still buzzing about the resurrection of Lazarus. There are many reasons they might want to see Jesus, and they seek out Philip to do so.
We first met Philip and Andrew in the first chapter of John’s Gospel. Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist. After Jesus’ baptism, he had been looking for Jesus and was following him when Jesus turned around and asked him what he was looking for. Andrew said he wanted to know where Jesus was staying and Jesus said, “Come and see.” After abiding for a while, Andrew went to find his brother Peter and brought him to Jesus.
When we meet Philip, it is Jesus who is doing the looking. The next day, Jesus seeks him out in Galilee. Philip then goes to find Nathaniel and tells him to “Come and see” Jesus. In all cases, the “seeing” of Jesus is the Greek verb οραω, meaning to behold, perceive, or witness. It’s more than just a Jesus-sighting.
The Greeks may have approached Philip and Andrew because they are the disciples with Greek names. Maybe John is bringing us full circle from his very tight Jewish beginning to the broader, apostolic ministry of the disciples to the world. Immediately before this, as the religious leaders made the decision to kill Jesus they say that the whole world is following him. We see here that it’s true. Maybe we have come full circle, so when the Greeks arrive it is a clear sign of the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Regardless, the Greeks want to “see” Jesus in the same way that Philip and Andrew have. They may have been like Andrew and wanted to abide with Jesus for a while. Maybe they wanted to speak with Jesus to know who he was as Nicodemus did that night long ago. Or, as the now-seeing man-born-blind asked the religious leaders, did they want to become Jesus’ disciple too?
As the crowds look at Jesus, we might wonder what have they come out to see?
Earlier in his ministry, Jesus asked the crowd about John the Baptist, “What have you come out to see?”Was it a voice yelling helplessly into the wind, the world’s wisdom dressed in all its finery, a prophet speaking truth to power? Whatever it was, John was more than all this for John prepared the way for God to come. People came for many reasons and left with differing understandings of who John was. It is the same here.
On our Lenten journey, we might wonder, what have we come out to see?
If we came to see a feel-good Jesus who doesn’t rebuke, demand obedience, require risk, or get angry, we did not get our money’s worth. If we came to see a Jesus that doesn’t challenge us and fits nicely within our comfortable expectations, we have been disappointed. All we’ve “seen” each week in Lent is that the path of discipleship is difficult, and faith requires something of us.
But if we have seen these things and believe them, then we have seen Jesus. And if we have listened as well, we have also heard that these things begin and end with love.
A love so great that God claims us without requiring anything from us in return. A love that tells the truth about both glory and the cross. A love that empowers us to turn over the tables of oppression, though we may look foolish in the eyes of the world. A love that couldn’t be contained within the heart of God but needed to come to us so that our hearts could know that love. A love that doesn’t walk away when the going gets tough because love is stronger than death.
As we’ve heard again and again in our Lenten liturgy, thank God for a love like that.
But coming to see Jesus is not the goal of our faith. If we have come and seen these things, if we’ve heard them and believe, we’ve come to the beginning rather than the end. Jesus shows us again and again that love is not passive. Love always requires a response — not out of duty but because true love cannot be contained.
This is our challenge as we near the end of our Lenten journey and look to life beyond the cross. If we lift up our eyes to Jesus and truly see him, seeing becomes believing. And if we believe, we are changed as love becomes our primary way of life.
Beloved, we have come and seen Jesus. How will you respond? How will love change your life? Amen.
Jesus, we are a curious people; we love a good show. However, we are not in need of entertainment; our souls do not long for spectacle. We have come to see you. Open the eyes of our hearts that we will see your truth although it challenges or even scares us. Do not let us settle for a cheap and easy grace. Let us embrace love in its fullness. Jesus, we have come to see you. Give us sight; give us faith. Amen.
 John 12:19
 c.f. Luke 7:24-29