Sunday, March 18, 2018

the obedience of Christ

May my words be in the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today begins with the requests of some Greeks who were visiting to Jerusalem to St Philip that they might see Jesus, might meet with him. There are two interesting points concerning them that strike me. The first is that in original language of the New Testament, which is Greek, these men are quite literally described as Greeks … but in some older translations this is rendered as 'gentiles'. There is a reason for this, I suspect; in many other places in the New Testament, particularly is some of the writings of St Paul the word 'Greeks' is really meant as a synonym for gentiles, the Jewish term for all those who were not Jews. We may think perhaps of what he says in his letter to the Galatians when he says that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ. The tradition of the Church down through the ages has been to understand what St Paul here is not literally someone from Greece but rather all people who are not Jewish – and for that reason some modern translations actually use the word 'gentile' in place of Greek, to avoid confusion in this age when biblical literacy and the understanding of our heritage is not what it once was among Christian peoples. Regarding our reading today, the reason, I think, that some older translations use the word 'gentiles' here is because they regard it as more important for us to understand that there were people who were neither from the Holy Land or even of Jewish origin present at that time, rather than knowing the precise country they were from.

The second interesting point is that after they are introduced they disappear from the text completely! These men take their request to St Philip; he repeats it to St Andrew and together they take it to Jesus – who them begins to teach them about the things that to happen to him … and we are never told how he responded to the request that was made to him by these foreigners and whether they ever indeed get to meet with him.

This is not, I think, a lapse in the story-telling techniques of the evangelist. It might be nice for us to know what became of the men who made the request; but it is really of very little importance in the context of the Gospel message. What is important is that their request, when brought to Jesus, caused him to speak the teaching which followed. And it is the teaching that matters – because it is the Word of God, given to us directly from the mouth of the Word who was made flesh.
It must be said it is not immediately evident what it is about their request that sparks the teaching that follows. Perhaps it is merely the fact that it is made by foreigners – men who were presumably, given that they had come to Jerusalem for the festival to worship, would have been what were called 'God-fearers' … those who found Jewish religious thought and practices attractive but had not taken the decision to convert … and who most probably, given that it would have required that they be circumcised, would be unlikely to take such a step. But as God-fearers they would have known a great deal about Jewish teachings; and they would have known well the prophecies of the Messiah to come. And being able to meet the one that so many were either saying was the Messiah, or wondering if he was indeed the Messiah, would have been tempting indeed for them.

So there is our Lord, teaching those standing close by; when along comes his apostles with this request, from men who are perhaps a bit star-struck at the idea of meeting the Messiah. A request that was made within the hearing of all there. And for our Lord the important thing was not so much what the men wanted, as to make it clear to all who the Messiah was – someone who was to suffer and to die.

More, and perhaps this even more important, that the Messiah was one who was perfectly obedient to the will of the Father … even if that obedience should require death. The impact of that teaching is far greater for us – or should be - than it was for those who heard it on that day. For them the Messiah was simply a man – a man sent by God, but a man nonetheless. We know that he was much more than that – he was God incarnate. And having taken on human flesh he was, in his manhood, obedient to the will of the Father … irrespective of the cost.

There is a foreshadowing here of the words he will all too soon speak in the garden, when he prays that if it be possible that the cup of his crucifixion should pass him by: but not my will, but thine be done. This shows us the importance of obedience to God's will; for if even the Son of God must be obedient to the Father, how much more so must we be?

This is a teaching to be followed by all who would follow Christ. And he speaks it to us all directly by the medium of Sacred Scripture. Indeed, in this way we may understand why it was that the evangelist saw no importance in recording whether or not those men visiting Jerusalem that day met with Jesus or not; for they, like we, if they would meet with him through his teachings, through his word. Christ is someone whom all may meet; male or female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile. And as I end, I pray that here will indeed meet him, and know him, and love him, and learn from him the perfect obedience that leads us to become one with the Father as he was one, the perfect union with God that leads to eternal life that his Son suffered and died so that all might attain. Amen.

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