Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The trouble with knocking at the door.

And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die , it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. Now is my soul troubled ; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this
hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes. Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die. The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man? Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest
darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them.

There's a knock at the door. Standing there are two Greeks, quite smartly dressed asking to see Jesus. Philip wonders whether these two gentlemen are in fact Jehovah's witnesses - there's still a lot of suspicion about these Greeks who "believe" in God. Nonetheless, Philip has seen Jesus talk with Samaritan women, prostitutes, tax-collectors so he knows that Jesus might actually want to let them in. He goes to Andrew who always seems to act as the bouncer in the Gospels - no-one sees Jesus without getting past Andrew - and together they approach Jesus, half-expecting "yes, let them in and we'll talk" followed by more profound teaching about the relationship between Jews and the "unclean" or "not-quite" Jews.

Instead the reaction seems quite extraordinary - IT'S NOW! Now is the hour. Now is the time! What a contrast to the wedding in Cana - "Madam, my hour is not yet come"! And then we hear nothing more about these Greeks or what was said to them. Who they are or what was said to them is not recorded in the Fourth Gospel. Whatever it is, their presence in St John's Gospel acts as some sign to Jesus about His ministry, and it causes Him great upheaval - He knows that He is going to die soon. And so He runs away!

Well, not really running away, preparations need to be made. This Friday, we have the Feast of the Transfiguration where Jesus is given news of His fate by Elijah and Moses. This episode in John's Gospel is another of great emotional strain on a Messiah who is introverted and seeking solitude, yet is devoted to an outward ministry to bring the good news of what He is going to achieve through His Life and Death and Resurrection.

In St John's Gospel, the clues to this ministry have been set in place very soundly. If you think about it, the main cause of Jesus' arrest and trial are because he raised Lazarus from the dead. This is the event that drove the crowds out to see Jesus on "Palm Sunday" and thus caused the consternation among the Jewish authorities that Jesus had corrupted the people away from the "True Faith".

Jesus knows all this. He knows that His ministry has set Him in direct opposition with the Spiritual leaders of the day. It has upset Him deeply. St John paints a picture of Jesus being deeply affected by humanity. We see him weep, angry, "sore troubled" - this is not an indifferent God who will go to the Cross in some stoic and pious silence. The silence He offers to His accusers will be brimming with wordless power unable to make them understand because their minds are closed, ears unlistening, eyes turned from the Truth. This is God Omnipotent impotent - the greatest of paradoxes - and Jesus is aware of this.

And aware of this paradox Jesus presents another. Death to those who love their life, life to those who hate their life. However, the paradox is lifted by the theme that has run throughout this Gospel - the only life that is worth having is the life of Christ. Lazarus is the sign that Jesus offers life. It is deeply offensive to those of the world; it goes against the received Science; it goes against the Epicurean idea of "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die"; it goes against the idea of being in complete control of our own existence and wills.

Our hope in life is to surrender complete control to God, to recognise that the way we live our lives is unsatisfactory. This means that we do have to search our own selves to see just how poor we really are. We can be satisfied with who we are - that means we don't get upset with ourselves, there's no emotional strain, and we can live our lives unaffected by any idea of shortcoming. Trouble is, then we cannot see the life of Christ. It is He who gives life, and self-satisfaction is a ghastly parody of that life. So if we opt for that life, we render God impotent to help us. Scandalous!

If however we opt for the hard route, the route of emotional upheaval, of distaste of what we have made ourselves, walk into the confusion in our souls and wrangle with our wills, then we see how much better the life of Christ is, and we submit to it joyfully. If we come to Christ, we have true life. It doesn't come cheaply, but Jesus is there with us and that is all that we need.

Sometimes it is we who have to come to the door and knock, just like those Greeks seeking Jesus. The results are not always what we think they will be. They will, of course, turn out to be more splendid than that.

1 comment:

CG said...

Thank you for this reflection. Your description of the hard route resonated with my own experience - emotional upheaval, distaste with what the Anglican church had made of itself, walking in the confusion of my soul, unable to see a way forward.

But then, by chance it seemed, I came across another door and had the temerity to knock. I found myself welcomed into the Orthodox Church, not Greek or Russian or Serbian, but all in my own language. And the results are indeed "more splendid" than I could have imagined.

Now I have left the confusion behind and I know how much better the life of Christ is. I do indeed submit to it joyfully. In the Orthodox Church I have at last come to Christ, and have found the true faith and have life more abundantly.

As you said: "Sometimes it is we who have to come to the door and knock, just like those Greeks seeking Jesus. The results are not always what we think they will be."