What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to journey with him to the cross?
There’s a short, little song on the album One Man Dog by James Taylor called “Fool for You.” In it, Taylor sings about a woman for whom he has fallen madly in love. “I’m a fool for you,” he sings. The song makes it clear that he doesn’t always like his lover. She complains about his behavior. She nags him about the way he carries on. She “takes unfair advantage” of him by using her body as a lure. He even sings, “I can’t stand it no more.” But, despite all of that dissatisfaction, the song makes it clear that the singer loves her and remains devoted to her because he is a fool for her and her love. It doesn’t make sense, but matters of the heart rarely do.
In today's gospel lesson (John 12:20-36), we read that, among those who went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival were some Greeks—some Gentiles. And a few of them came up to Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples, and said, “We wish to see Jesus.” But Philip didn’t really know what to make of that request. So he went to his buddy Andrew and asked him for advice. And the two of them put their heads together and still couldn’t figure it out, so they went and asked Jesus what they should do.
If that sounds strange, remember that in those days Jews and Gentiles lived very separate lives. The fact that these Greeks had gone to Jerusalem for Passover indicates that they were worshipers of Israel’s God, but there was still enough cultural and religious difference between them that approaching Jesus wasn’t as easy as we would think. Imagine, for example, what would happen if a congregation of Spanish-speaking, charismatic Christians came and asked me if they could take part in our worship on Easter Day. What’s the first thing I would ask? “What exactly do you mean by ‘take part in our worship?’” In the spirit of Christian fellowship, we would all want the answer to be “yes,” but the reality is that sometimes there are enough differences between us that it doesn’t work to merge us together—at least not without some careful planning.
Philip’s heart probably knew what the right answer was, but his mind wasn’t sure how to make it happen. And Andrew wasn’t sure either. But, when they went to ask Jesus for advice, he gave them a very strange answer: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus already knew that his death had the power to bring all peoples to God—that the real fruit of his life and ministry could not be obtained until he died. Jesus knew that everything that separates us from God would die along with him, and, if Jesus died to reconcile the whole world to God, what could stand in the way of these Greeks finding that which they seek? If we are all reconciled to God as one people, what could possibly keep us apart?
Well, a lot, really. I don’t speak much Spanish, and, although I do appreciate charismatic worship, I believe that there is a time and a place for speaking in tongues, and it isn’t at St. John’s at 11:00am on Easter Day. In Christ there may be neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but there’s a lot of difference between them in the world I live in. You think race relations are all hunky-dory? Have you been to Ferguson lately? You think there are no gender barriers? Then why are we still talking about equal pay for equal work? And have you noticed that, despite worshiping the same God, Jews, Muslims, and Christians seem to have a hard time agreeing with one another? Jesus died so that the whole world might come to God as one people, but we’re doing a lot to stand in the way of that happening.