I wondered why the Greeks were introduced at the start of this story about Jesus. It seems almost like an aside .. but then I considered what it might be the Greeks stood for .. asking the Monty Python question of the Jews about the Greeks .. what have the Greeks ever done for us. It seems the appearance of the Greeks is exactly what Jesus message is directed at.
What do we know about the Ancient Greek culture of that time 2000 years ago? Well we know that at the heart of Greek culture was the pursuit of excellence in body and mind. We are talking about a culture and a time heavily influenced by the likes of Plato and Socrates and the Academy in their approach to learning .. and of the physical pursuit of excellence in the Olympics and wrestling throwing and running .. the marathon and boxing all attributed to this time and era.
Here were a people visiting Jesus who for over 500 years had already looked at life through the lense of a culture that pursued perfection!! Their God were in large part simply perfected beings were they not .. think of the images we have of Zeus and Apollo and Artemis .. all ripping with muscles and chiseled jaw lines .. the ultimate in strength and knowledge .. or think of Athena and Hera, and Iris all the epitome of beauty and wisdom.
The Greeks who came to visit Jesus were from this world in which the Gods were strong, beautiful and clever .. and humans were in pursuit of that godlike perfection seeking to develop their bodies and minds through training and learning and betterment. And they want to meet Jesus .. and Jesus sends them a message …
the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
Jesus turns the whole Greek worldview on its head. He talks of Glory and honour but not of the sort given in the olympic wreaths or the qualifications of the philosophical schools and academies.
Jesus says to find true honour and glory you do not need to have the perfect body or mind … you do not need to compete against one another or even against your own body. In fact if you wish to know wisdom and honour you will need to follow me. Follow me in my frailty and human weakness. Follow me in putting others above yourself and not competing with them. Follow me in giving up rather than holding on. Unless you fall to the ground like the losing wrestler in your amphitheatres and the last runner in your marathons you will not know true life.
The Jewish Messiah it turns out was not like the Greek gods. Here was a humble carpenter with no great learning .. a man who was called a glutton and drunkard by the rabbis so probably didn’t have the body of a Greek God as we perhaps imagine from the images we have painted hung on our crucifixes .. a God who became weak and vulnerable to show us that it is in weakness and frailty we can truly serve God and one another.
Tell the Greeks, Jesus is saying, that they must give up on their search for betterment and perfection. Give up on striving to become the fittest or the most beautiful or the most knowledgeable. Come follow me .. the bedraggled prophet and Messiah who didn’t look like Apollo or Zeus, but who looked like us. The one we are called to follow is the one who asks us to accept our frail bodies, to accept our aging and decline, to accept our comparative failures with others, and to follow him in allowing our life to be about more than that.
Jesus says come follow me, lose your life .. it’s going to disappear anyway .. so why not through its being spent allow God to produce seeds of life for other in your actions and words and prayers. Use the time you are spending on beautification and academic learning to serve people in need. Honour those who love and show mercy and patience and compassion above those who win marathons and wrestling matches.
Change your culture in order that we might honour what God honours. The God of love and mercy who created us distinct and purposeful because of the gifts and talents was already have and not what we might achieve. Follow the bedraggled and crucified God not the movie star Gods of your Greek heaven.
I wonder what the Greek’s thought of this message. I wonder what we think of this message this morning?