From John’s Gospel:
Now among those who went up to worship at the 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.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – John 12:20-22 (NRSV) – March 1, 2014.)
This is such a great set up! Here are these Greeks (whether gentiles or Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora is unclear) who want to meet Jesus. They come to Philip who apparently speaks Greek and make their request. He goes to Andrew (another unclear thing: does he take the Greeks with him?) The two of them go see Jesus (with the Greeks?)
Now, how will Jesus respond?
If the Greeks are gentiles, will he respond as he did to the Syro-Phoenician woman: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Matt. 15:26)
Will he respond as he did to the centurion who sought healing for his servant: “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.” (Matt. 8:10)
If they are Jews, will he remind them of the Law as he did the rich young man who asked about eternal life: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mk. 10:21)
Will he welcome them and invite them to eat with him as he did the tax collectors and sinners? (Luke 15:1-2)
Uh . . . no. Not John’s Jesus. John’s Jesus goes off on some entirely self-centered tirade about glorification and grain dying and eternal life and his soul being troubled! John’s Jesus doesn’t respond to Andrew or Philip or the Greeks at all! I swear, there are times when Jesus as portrayed in the Fourth Gospel seems to be somewhere on the autism spectrum; his answers to inquiries are so far removed from the subject of the question one wonders if he even heard what was asked, or knows or cares who is asking. (This is one of those times!) Is this an accurate portrayal of the way Jesus interacted with people? Can this be historically factual?
So here’s my thought: the Jesus of the Fourth Gospel is not the historical Jesus. This Jesus is John’s attempt to communicate the spiritual nature of the resurrected and ascended Lord; this Jesus is a mystical reality not an historical portrait. L. William Countryman in The Mystical Way in the Fourth Gospel called Jesus’ strange, almost non-responsive, frequently offensive dialogs “obnoxious.” Although that’s a good description, I think they are almost hallucinatory. They twist the reader’s understanding of reality and open the reader’s mind to new possibilities. Would you see Jesus? Then consider a kernel of grain and how its life increases even though it dies? Would you see Jesus? Then follow Jesus, do as Jesus does, do what Jesus teaches. Would you see Jesus? Then listen for the voice of the Father. Jesus’s answers seem non-responsive, but they are gateways to new appreciations.
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.