Tuesday: We Need Each Other to Find Jesus
There two groups of people in our readings for today, Jews and Greeks.
The first important thing to realize here is that these words are only superficially referring to ethnic groups.
For both John and Paul, “Jews” and “Greeks” are not people of Jewish heritage or people who were born in Greece.
Jews and Greeks are people of two different spiritual personalities.
Consider our texts about Jews and Greeks for Tuesday in Holy Week. We have a story and a theological description.
The story comes from the Gospel of John: “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.’”
It’s actually an unfinished story. We don’t know if the Greeks actually met Jesus or not.
They probably did, and heard Jesus’ teaching on the grain of wheat falling into the earth. But let’s come back to this in a moment.
Our other description of Jews and Greeks comes from Paul in 1 Corinthians: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Here we have Paul describing these two types of spiritual personalities.
What can we learn from these two passages?
Remember again that we are not talking about ethnic groups—that’s an important caveat for this discussion! We are NOT here to make gross generalizations about people of Jewish or Greek heritage, either in the Bible or today. We’re actually looking for an interpretation that strips the text of anti-semitism and cultural appropriation. We’re rethinking how John and Paul use the terms “Jews” and “Greeks” to help us understand something universal about all people.
So in this context, Jews are people whose strength is their hearts and Greeks are people whose strength is their minds.
They each approach God and knowledge of God differently.
Which side of the equation rings most true for you?
Perhaps you love complex systematic theology, or sophisticated linguistic analysis of Bible passages, or find your imagination lit up by discovering the ways God is at work in the world.
Maybe you communicate with God via ideas and concepts and words, and love the clean and elegant coming together of a new insight or understanding about God.
If this sounds familiar, you are a Greek.
On the other hand, maybe you are moved to tears in worship or prayer.
Perhaps you experience God when your heart swells with emotion—the joy of service, the ache of tragedy, the peace of receiving grace.
Your communication with God is often wordless, sometimes viscerally exuberant or anguished, but always expressing itself in your feelings and in your body.
You love to see someone awakened to how God can speak through their instincts, and welcome being pushed emotionally off-balance in your spiritual life because you know it always leads you deeper.
If this is the case, you are a Jew.
The gifts of the Jews and the Greeks as spiritual personalities are wonderful, and create many avenues to deeper relationship with God and others.
But each type has an Achilles’ heel as well. This is what Paul is getting at when he says, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”
In the context of spiritual personalities, people driven by their hearts can be accused of being overly sentimental, limited by nostalgia for previous emotional experience, and dismissive of anyone who has a more intellectual approach to God.
They “demand signs,” needing an ever-greater emotional high in prayer or worship to be spiritually satisfied.
On the other hand, people driven by their minds run the risk of being alienated from instinct and emotion. They can apply logic too far and be unable to enter or tolerate mystery.
It becomes tempting to look down on all those schmaltzy, hysterical, intellectually sloppy heart-Christians.
They “desire wisdom,” as Paul says, but this can manifest as always seeking out the latest theological trend.
Their thirst for ever-more advanced knowledge can lead them to undervalue everyday experience and to an elitist over-valuing of systematic theology that is dangerously close to Gnosticism.
What we discover leads us back to our gospel story: Jews and Greeks need each other.
“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.’”
The Greeks are the ones whose curiosity drives them to seek out Jesus, and the Jews (Philip and Andrew) are the ones who lead the Greeks to Jesus.
Together they hear his teaching and are transformed by his grace.
Their spiritual tendencies that make them different also make them need each other.
They can balance and inform one another, and serve as catalysts for each other to go to new and deeper places in their relationship with Jesus.
The truth is that few of us are entirely Greeks or entirely Jews.
We may have a strong preference for one side of the spectrum, or we may bounce back and forth between the two based on the context.
But it’s worth considering, this Tuesday in Holy Week, how are you preparing to experience the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus in just a few days?
Are you completely mentally plugged in or fully ruled by your emotions?
Could you invite someone on the other side of the spectrum to talk and pray with you?
Together the Jews and Greeks approached Jesus, and together they received his teaching.
When together we bring both our minds and hearts to the foot of the Cross, we discover that our hunger for signs or wisdom is brought fully forth and fully fed in Christ’s saving work.
As Paul says, “to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
And our trust of our spiritual opposite, our engagement with our brothers and sisters who approach God differently, our willingness to welcome God through a new door, results in an even deeper miracle: transformative unity.
As Paul says in Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
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