by Father Jean-Pierre Ruiz
FRIENDS OF MINE who are Yankee fans shook their heads in disbelief when I told them that I once sat next to Jorge Posada and his family on a flight from San Juan to New York and had no idea who he was until the flight was over and the flight attendants were shaking the superstar catcher’s hand as he left the plane.
How was I supposed to know? Even if I had recognized him, though, the chances are pretty good that I would have respected my celebrity fellow passenger’s privacy. This Sunday’s Gospel is all about another superstar and the people who are eager to see Him. The episode we read from John’s Gospel takes place just after the events of Palm Sunday, on the heels of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to the acclaim of the crowd and the complaint of His enemies that “the whole world has gone after him” (John 12:19). All Jerusalem was abuzz with the arrival of the celebrity teacher and wonderworker from Galilee.
The evangelist tells us that “some Greeks” approach the apostle Philip and ask, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip goes to tell Andrew, and then the two apostles went to Jesus to let Him know of the request. John’s Gospel doesn’t tell us anything more about who these “Greeks” are, except that they “had come to worship at the Passover Feast.” Passover was one of the pilgrimage feasts when Jews would go to Jerusalem to celebrate in the city where the temple stood. The presence of these “Greeks” among the crowds gathered in Jerusalem suggests either that they were Jews or that they were “God-fearers,” non-Jews who admired Jewish beliefs, values, and practices. What seems to us like a simple request turns out to be not so simple at all.
These Greeks aren’t just fans making a request of a member of Jesus’ entourage because they’re too star-struck to approach Him themselves. There’s more to this Gospel reading: in the Gospel of John, every word matters, every word has layers of meaning.
First of all, they bring their request to Philip. Commentators point out that Philip and Andrew are the only two apostles with Greek names. What’s more, Andrew and Philip were among the first apostles. Andrew was one of the two disciples of John the Baptist who turn to follow Jesus once John tells them “Look, there is the Lamb of God.” When Jesus notices them following him, he turns to ask “What are you looking for?” (John 1:36-37). They reply that they want to see where Jesus is staying. He replies “Come and you will see” (John 1:39). In John’s Gospel, “seeing” isn’t just a matter of satisfying curiosity. Seeing Jesus, really seeing and recognizing Him for who He is, is about believing. The Greeks approach Philip because they want to see and believe.
The apostle Thomas — doubting Thomas — knew that very well. When the other disciples shared the good news, he refused to believe until he saw with his own eyes, felt with his own hands. He got his wish, falling to his knees in the risen Jesus’ presence. Jesus responded with what seems a very mixed blessing: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29).
We never learn whether the Greeks of this Sunday’s Gospel ever did get to see Jesus. So it’s possible that they might chime out of curiosity over where that beatitude leaves all of us. How can we come to believe in Jesus? If we were to see Jesus, how would we recognize Him?
In this Sunday’s Gospel, he offers some hints. He begins by answering Andrew and Philip, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” If they were looking for glitzy glory, they were looking in the wrong place, because Jesus lived the paradox that He proclaims: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” (John 12:25-26).
If we’re looking for the real thing, for genuine glory, the parable of the grain of wheat teaches us where to find it: on the tree of life that is the wood of the cross.