The story of the Greeks at the festival who want to see Jesus (John 12:20-26) came up in the Daily Office Lectionary today. Jesus’ response always seemed like a bit of a non sequitur to me:
The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me.
What seems to be happening here, though, is that Jesus’ “celebrity factor” is growing. His miracles and direct challenge to the religious powers that be is gaining him a bit of fame far and wide. And now some Greeks are getting in on the action: “We’d like an audience with Jesus, please.”
Perhaps their motivations were sincere, like those who sought Jesus out for healing or provision. Perhaps their motivations were more along the lines of those who sought to trap him or use him to advance their own political agendas. We don’t really know.
But it seems that Jesus isn’t interested in leveraging his growing fame and popularity to consolidate more status and power among the people. Instead Jesus consistently moves in the opposite direction, because he knows that the glory the crowds seek to give him is fleeting and fickle. He also knows that the true “glory” he is entering into is bound up in his impending death.
So, in response to a new group of people wanting to see him, Jesus says, in essence, “You want to see me? You want to walk with me? You want to figure out what my deal is? You want to participate in my ‘glory’? Well, you can, but it looks very different than what you’re expecting. My ‘glory’ is to fall to the ground and be buried. My ‘glory’ is to turn away from a life of status-seeking and self-preservation. My ‘glory’ is to die (to produce much fruit).”
We’re invited to walk the path
Jesus is, of course, talking about his coming death. But notice that he doesn’t talk about it merely as a singular act he will do our on our behalf (though it is that). He also says, “Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be.”
And so Jesus’ “non-answer” to the Greeks who wanted to see him is in fact an answer, and an invitation to them and us and everyone: if you want to see Jesus, walk the way of the cross.
This is our pattern as disciples of Jesus: we follow him where he goes.
We walk the way of the seed that goes into the ground (trusting that it is also the way of abundant fruit).
We make choices that seem insane from the perspective of the powers and principalities that order our world, as if we “hate” our lives (trusting that we are in fact investing in a new kind of life that can never die).
We walk the way of the cross, following Jesus to death, trusting it to be none other than the way of life and peace, a path of hidden glory the world cannot perceive.