Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”
John 12:20-21 (NIV)
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
John 12:35 (NIV)
I recently read an interview with a social scientist in the Wall Street Journal who has spent his academic career studying the blending of people groups within a culture. With the current cultural conversation around prejudice and racism, he raised some interesting facts that no one is talking about. Leading up-to World War two, ethnic groups in America kept to themselves. Italian, Irish, Dutch, German, and the like congregated together in neighborhoods and/or small towns. Prejudice and conflict between ethnicities was strong. Even in my small town of Pella, Iowa there once was a time when a neighborhood on the south side, known as “South Pella” was predominantly Irish amidst our town of Dutch immigrants.
Then after the war, in which different ethnicities fought together side-by-side and gained respect for one another, people began to intermarry. Ethnic prejudice is relatively non-existent today compared to what it was. The “melting pot” blended ethnicities. Now, the scholar says, the number of bi-racial couples has been rising steadily for decades. Some 20% of our population no longer fit into the categories of White, Black, Hispanic, or Native American because they are the offspring of bi-racial couples for which we have no applicable choices on the census form. With each subsequent generation the number of mixed race individuals will grow. Races, he believes, will melt together just as ethnicities have done. It’s already happening, though no one is talking about it.
A modern reader can scarcely understand how racial, gender, and religious prejudice were a way of life in Jesus day. One of the things that made Jesus a “radical” in the eyes of the religious leaders was His intentional crossing of every social boundary. Jesus crossed both ethnic and gender lines when he spoke to the Samaritan woman. He then taught and performed miracles in Samaria at a time when good Jews typically went out of their way to travel around Samaria because the hatred between Jews and Samaritans ran so deep. Jesus’ ministry among the Samaritans threatened the orthodox ethnic prejudice that was part of the culture of the day. Jesus healed a Roman Centurion’s son when Roman were the hated, occupying enemy. Jesus touched lepers. Jesus partied with tax collectors and unrighteous sinners that any good, religious Jew would self-righteously avoid.
In today’s chapter, John slips in an interesting fact. It’s the last week of Jesus’ earthly life, a group of Greeks ask Jesus for an audience. Greeks were another racial group that good Jews avoided since they regarded them as dirty and inferior. Jesus, however, welcomed them, though John does not share any of the conversation He had with them. The fact that Jesus welcomed them is important to John’s first century readers because the number one conflict in the early Jesus Movement was the long-standing prejudice between Jews and non-Jewish Greek “gentiles.” John was addressing those who might say, “Jesus never hung out with Greek gentiles, so why should we?”
John is also connecting the welcoming of the Greeks to something Jesus says later in the chapter: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” In drawing “all people,” Jesus boldly sets forth His mission to bring love, salvation, and redemption to anyone who believes regardless of DNA, gender, skin color, ethnicity, social status, economic status, family of origin, tragic mistakes or messed up life.
The Greek word that John uses for “lifted up” is hypsoō which has multiple definitions. It means literally “lifted up” (as on the cross) and also means “exalted” (as in resurrected and glorified). How fascinating that “exaltation” comes through suffering, just as Jesus said in today’s chapter: “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
In the quiet this morning, I’m feeling both inspired and challenged. I’m inspired by Jesus’ example, and His mission. John would also write the book of Revelation in which he is given a glimpse of eternity. He describes people “of every tribe and people and language and nation” gathered together to “exalt” the glorified Christ.
Or, as U2 describe it:
I believe in the Kingdom come,
when all the colors bleed into One.
At the same time, I am challenged to reclaim Jesus’ example of crossing any and every social boundary, excluding no one in channeling God’s love, and to exhort fellow believers in my circles of influence to do the same…until, together, all colors cross into a new reality and bleed into One.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.