“Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”” (Jn 12,20) There are many different connotations to our understanding of the verb, “to see”. At its most simple and basic level it refers simply to vision. If that was the meaning of this request by these Greeks, Philip could have just pointed out Jesus in the crowd and said, “There he is.” However, I don’t think that the Greeks would have been satisfied with that response from Philip. They didn’t need Philip to point him out from a distance as it would have been obvious who Jesus was in this crowd as he had just been hailed triumphantly into Jerusalem. The Greeks had a different meaning to their request and that is why they had chosen Philip, who was obviously one of Jesus’ close friends. The Greeks wanted an encounter with Jesus. When we want “to see” someone we make an appointment and we set aside some time for a personal encounter with that person. Jesus has just recently raised Lazarus from the dead and everyone in the world is talking about it. Right before this, John tells us, “This was why the crowd went to meet him, because they heard that he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after him.”” (Jn 12,18f) Sometimes when there is a musical or a movie that everyone is talking about we make the determination that we “have to see that” so that we can be a part of the excitement and not feel left out of the conversation. The Greeks however, want an encounter with Jesus, to come near to him and to perhaps even come to know this person that can work such wonders. Sometimes “to see” someone implies an even more intimate relationship. When two persons are dating it is said that they are “seeing” each other and it is clear that their desire is to know one another more intimately. After an initial encounter, Jesus invites people to discipleship by saying, “Come, and you will see.” (Jn 1,39) Philip will later invite his friend Nathaniel to join him in answering the call to discipleship by encouraging him to “Come and see.” (Jn 1,46)
The response that Jesus makes to Philip and Andrew’s request on behalf of the Greeks indicates that “to see” Jesus is no casual affair. Seeing Jesus, having a personal encounter with him, leads a person to a decision point in their lives. “To see” must be followed by “to believe” which in turn leads to “to follow” Jesus in a life of discipleship. A person who “sees” knows where they are going for they are walking in the light. Jesus tells his disciples, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.” (Jn 12,23-26) If one really wants “to see” Jesus then they must take up the call to discipleship, leave their old life behind, follow Jesus and remain with him through every trial in life. “Jesus cried out and said, “whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me, and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.”” (Jn 12,44f) Jesus is the way to the Father but one cannot follow that way unless one takes up the call to discipleship.
“To see” Jesus one must not only use their eyes but also their hearts. As John quotes Isaiah the prophet, “that they might not see with their eyes and understand with their heart and be converted, and I would heal them.” (Jn 12,40) The New Covenant that God wishes to make with his people will be written in their hearts. Jeremiah describes it for us: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord, I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the Lord. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.” (Jer 31,33f)
In this time of Lent, we ask that our hearts may be cleansed from sin so that we may see more clearly the way of Jesus which is written on our hearts. Now if we want to see Jesus and have a personal encounter with him, we need to open our hearts to his presence and come to know him in a personal way. Only a disciple can truly see Jesus and know his glory.