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. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, 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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.’ (John 12.20-26)
They too were from out of town and not just from out of town but from another place and another culture. These unnamed Greeks approached Philip for a meeting with Jesus, for a way into the inner circle. Philip had a Greek name and we can perhaps infer from this that he spoke Greek. The tradition is that he later went on to preach and witness to the gospel in Greece and other Greekspeaking places. So these men – we don’t know that they are men but they most probably were – find a kindred spirt, someone who understands them, in order to find out more.
In St Matthew’s Gospel Jesus makes it quite clear that he has been called to minister to the ‘lost sheep of the House of Israel’ (Matthew 15.24 ) and in his dealings with the Syro-Phoenician woman is less than complimentary in the language he uses, ‘It is not right to take the childen’s bread and throw it to the dogs’ (Matthew 15.26). But in fact, despite these instances when Jesus appears to have a very clear and particular focus for his mission there is an inclusiveness in the way he sees the kingdom – that it has open borders.
There are no nicieties in the account of the meeting however. Instead Jesus comes out with this powereful image
‘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.’
There has to be death for life to flourish is what Jesus is saying to them and to us. It is an image that has helped us to understand his passion but also to bring understanding to all the martyrdoms which have occured in the history of the church up to and including today. Many seeds have fallen into the soil and produced a rich harvest as in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13.1-9). Philip was listening to this along with the Greeks who he had brought to Jesus and perhaps he might not have understood the relevance of those words to him then – but later he would do.
Each of us is called to mission and witness and people may ask us about Jesus because we appear to be a kindred sprit, share their language, share their outlook, share something of their background – like the Greeks and Philip. All we can do is respond and allow ourselves to be the wheat grain that bears fruit for an open-bordered kingdom.
I adore this poem by R S Thomas, simply called The Kingdom.
It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.