The readings for today can be read here.
I wouldn’t know, but I bet there’s a strange and wonderful sensation that a musician gets when he hears his own music playing on the radio or that an author gets when she sees her own book on the shelf in the bookstore. If you’re on the radio or on a shelf, you must have made it. You’re legit. It’s not just your friends and family who say that you’ve got talent. You’ve been recognized as someone worth noticing. That’s a little bit like what it meant for some Greeks to find Philip and say, “We want to see Jesus!”
Jesus was a travelling preacher. He’d been wandering around the countryside for a few years, offering a strange and inviting message to anyone who would listen. His was a distinctly Jewish movement, and he spent most of his time preaching about what it would take for his people to return to their God. According to John’s gospel account, he had been to the big capital city a few times and had joined the dozen or so other charismatic figures in the temple courts who were trying to make a living by proclaiming a message for the masses, but this time things seemed a little different. These Greeks—these gentile converts to Judaism—had heard about Jesus and wanted to know more. Jesus’ fame was spreading across ethnic and philosophical lines. More and more people were attracted to his sermons. Philip went and got Andrew, and both of them, excited at what this might mean, went to tell Jesus. And what did Jesus do? He went away and hid from them.
It’s not that Jesus was afraid of the spotlight. He disappeared because he knew that the only way he could really draw all people to himself was by being lifted up from the ground and hoisted onto a cross. And no one wants to follow a preacher who is leading his followers towards death.
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Whoever serves me must follow me and be with me wherever I am. Things are about to get ugly. But what should I say, “Father, save me from this hour?” No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. This is what it is all about. This is how God will glorify me and glorify himself. I will be lifted up, and then I will draw all people to myself.
There’s a prayer in the Prayer Book that begins, “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace…” Just when it seems like Jesus is going to make it big as a powerful preacher with a potent message, he runs away from his fans. Just when he is achieving real cross-over in a whole new demographic, Jesus ducks out into the shadows. Why? Because he knows that the world needs more than just a preacher with a good message. Because he knows that the only way to really bring the whole world together is by stretching out his arms on the hard wood of the cross. We follow not the one who has huge crowds hanging on his every word. We follow the one who hung shamefully on the cross so that we might be transformed by his death.