Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, 'Sir, we wish to see Jesus'. Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus. And Jesus answered them 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified". (John 12.20-23). Jesus went on to speak about the need for His death which precluded any conversation with the non-Jewish enquirers. But we must wonder why the 'god fearers' from among the Gentiles should approach Jesus?
What had they seen and heard which prompted them to speak to Jesus? He had just ridden on a young donkey into Jerusalem with crowds cheering Him all the way from the Mount of Olives.
Do we echo those Gentiles' sentiments and for what reason? Have we seen in Him the 'Hope of Israel ‑ and indeed much more than that, for in Him is the hope of the world. In Him is our hope ‑ in Him is all that we have. Our reasons for wanting to see Jesus are much greater than those Gentiles of old. In the words of John in his first letter, our hope is to be "like him, for we shall see him as he is". How much can we see Jesus now? How do we look at Jesus as we see Him in the Gospels? Paul in 2 Cor.5.16,17 wrote, "From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer." Since we came into Christ our viewpoint has changed and we see Him as our Saviour, our Lord and our daily companion. As we become saturated with the Gospel, we must let Him speak to us and the words of the old hymn become real for "He walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own".
The Quiet Time with Him each day sets the pattern for the hours to come. This is not a time to analyse and synthesise the Scriptures ‑ there must be other times for the philosophy logistics of the Gospel. This time of meditation enables us to be aware of Him in every situation and decision through the day. He becomes alive in our lives as we watch Him at work in the lives of others as recorded in the Gospels.
There is a fascinating story in John 5.1-16 when Jesus was near the northern gate of Jerusalem. He came upon the sick and suffering at the Bethesda Pool, a name that means 'the House of Mercy'. It has actually been excavated in recent times and it is possible to see the remains of the five arches or doorways that had been adjacent to the pool. There, in the hot sun lay dozens, perhaps hundreds, of disabled folk, "invalids, blind, lame, paralysed" waiting for the movement of the waters. It was believed that the rippling of waters was caused by the visit of an angel although it was more likely to have been caused by some underground mineral spring. Verse 4 is not included in the text by many authorities and modern translations tend to omit it with just a reference as a footnote.
It must have been a very sad sight, particularly as they would all rush forward, eager to be the one who was cured by being first in the water. The remainder would be restless, noisy, angry, elbowing each other out of the way. For some it would be a moment of merriment particularly if one helpless person got an unnecessary ducking. Others would be in complete despair. For many it would be their last hope of getting better.
So it was as Jesus walked through the paved area, he stopped at a man who had been there for thirty-eight years. He must have had an unimaginable life of distress. Was Jesus recognised as the teacher and healer from Galilee? He spoke to the man and asked him, "Do you want to healed?" It may seem a strange question but there are some that nurse their disability ‑ to be fit and whole again would mean facing life and all its responsibilities. While he lay there he could just rely on whatever was given him. We know nothing of his background or how he travelled to and from the pool each day. He certainly seemed a little startled by Jesus question and answered "Sir I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled and while I am going another steps down before me". How did he receive Jesus command to "Rise, take up your pallet and walk"? It was the Sabbath and the Jews did nothing which remotely resembled work on that day. To have carried his 'stretcher-like' carrying bed was to attract attention. Why should he obey a complete stranger to do something he had not done for so many years? Before moving, did he realise he was healed? Did he feel the energy enter his tired muscles and did the will to move all at once enter his hitherto helpless body? Whatever it was, he obeyed, he got up, found he could move and picked up the 'pallet'. It was a wonderful moment for the man and for those watching him. As he walked away through the crowded city he was accosted by some religious leaders who wanted to know what he was doing 'working on the Sabbath', that is carrying his bed. The man must have been mystified. Jesus had vanished into the crowds. The man who had been healed did not know at this point who had told him to carry his pallet and walk but later they bumped into each other and later still the man reported who had healed him to the Jewish leaders. It was all part of an on-going dispute that the Jews used to stir up trouble against Jesus.
We need to ask ourselves how Jesus handled people and why He said and did things in the way that He did. We can read about the healing of the man with leprosy in an account given in the three synoptic gospels (Mark 1.40-45; Matt.8.11-4; Luke 5.12). As we read these records we cannot help wondering if it is the same story. The prologue, as it were, to each account is different. In Mark, Jesus has been having a quiet time of prayer and meditation away from the crowds before most people were up and about. The disciples found Him and urged Him to meet the crowds who wanted more of the miracles and teaching. Jesus however needed to go further afield and meet people of other towns.
A man with leprosy met him and said "if you will you can make me clean." In great compassion for the man's condition Jesus reached out and touched him. The Matthew account places the story immediately after the Sermon on the Mount ‑ but we have the same response of Jesus for "He touched him" as He said the words "Be clean". In Luke the story follows the large catch of fish in Galilee; but there is mention of being in the city ‑ and again the response to the man saying "If you will, you can make me clean". Jesus showed His willingness and touched the man. There are those, like Campbell Morgan, who believe that Jesus would never have broken the Law by touching someone who had leprosy. But there are others, like Eddie Askew, who see this as an act of compassion ‑ vital to show by touching. Leprosy in the 1st century included much more than the disease that now goes by that name. Today it is recognised that 'leprosy' is a disease affecting the sensory nervous system which destroys feeling. The damage is caused accidentally as a result of that loss of touch. The great Christian missionary surgeon Paul Brand did more than any other to uncover and put right the problems connected with the disease. But the awful stigma remains, particularly in countries where the disease is prevalent and it is the compassionate reaching out to the sufferers that is so important.
Throughout the ages until modern times, leprosy sufferers were isolated from everyone else. No one could help them, almost seemingly no one wanted to help them but rather protect themselves by keeping their distance from them. Jesus did what was unthinkable in any 1st century society ‑ he touched the man ‑ his compassion was stronger than the fear of contamination. The Law had been given to prevent infection passing but that didn't apply to the Son of God. As Jews feared physical contagion so most people fear moral contact with those who appear to be immoral. Jesus never condoned wrong-doing but He really cared about all sinners ‑ that's all of us and He was deeply concerned to make them whole in every respect ‑ and He still is. He reaches out to us and touches our lives ‑ but we need to know and to confess that need. And when we have been 'made whole' then we can be His hands that reach out and touch the lives of others. When we have really been with Jesus we want to be like Him, and do the things which He did ‑ help others to be made whole.
Two Women who saw Jesus
"…a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was sitting at table in the Pharisee's house brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment." (Luke 7.37,38 RSV)
This is one of the most extraordinary stories in the Gospels. Here was a woman who so desperately wanted to see Jesus that she went against all the conventions of polite society in order to do so. Jesus had been invited to Simon's house for a meal which by this time in itself might have raised a few eyebrows. It may have been one or two buildings to which a courtyard was attached and it might have been in that yard that the story was set. It was not altogether unusual that uninvited people wandered into the courtyard. But this woman was different, for she obviously came from part of the town that Simon would never dream of entering. The woman most likely had never been to this more 'respectable' part of town before either. She would find it rather embarrassing to enter this house; and from another angle, Simon would also find it embarrassing that she entered his house. But this woman had a mission ‑ and almost certainly she had met Jesus before this.
The woman is unnamed in the Gospel and there is no need to confuse her with any named person. She stood behind Jesus as he reclined, with his feet projecting away from the table. That is why it was possible for her tears to fall on his feet. That she could wipe those feet with her hair indicates that she had loosened her tresses so that they fell rather unmanageably in all directions. This was very unusual and normally regarded as incorrect behaviour in public. The tiny phial of perfumed ointment would have a breakable seal which could access its contents to those same feet. It was all an expression of affection for one who had freed her from the burden of sin. But to Simon, host with guests, member of a select group of very religious Jews, this was outrageous and embarrassing. He could not understand how Jesus if he was a prophet should allow this woman to do such a thing. He was devoid of compassion for the weak and fallen; Jesus was driven by that compassion. For all his knowledge of the Scriptures, Simon had forgotten that Moses' greatest teaching was of God in Exodus 34.6,7 about Him being "merciful and gracious, slow to anger…forgiving iniquity" . Then Jesus went on to show Simon how he had even forgotten to show the normal courtesies as a host to a guest. Now this woman, in spite of all the things she had done wrong in the past, this woman who he despised, had perhaps without realising it, done for Jesus what Simon had failed to do. He should have welcomed Jesus with a customary cleansing of the feet from the dust of the journey; given Him a welcoming embrace and removed the odours of the streets with some perfume. This woman, at great cost to herself had shown Simon the way to treat guests. Then Jesus helped Simon to draw the lesson. The proud Pharisee felt he had no need of forgiveness for any wrong doing and he probably didn't approve of Jesus expressing forgiveness on God's behalf. The woman had much to be forgiven and that made her all the more lovingly grateful for what Jesus had done. For Simon, Jesus could do nothing, because he believed he had no reason to receive the loving forgiveness of God through Christ.
There is another story of unspoken forgiveness in John 8.1‑11. Although not in the best manuscripts, it is normally accepted by scholars because it is so in keeping with the spirit of Jesus' actions. It was also accepted as part of the Gospel by the turn of the 1st century by Papias as part of the oral tradition. The story is about a prostitute caught in adultery who was brought to Jesus to see what judgement He would make of her breaking of the Law (Lev 20.10, Deut 22.22-24). That Law required that she should be stoned and if Jesus took His usual forgiving attitude then they could condemn Him for not keeping the Law. The whole episode may have been 'set-up' for that very purpose. If Jesus did condemn the woman and she was killed, Roman law would be broken. Interestingly, they did not bring the man involved in the illegal action.
When they had asked him what He would do about the problem Jesus began to write in the dust with a stick. They pressed the matter so Jesus told them that the one among them who was without any sin should be the first to throw a stone. Then He continued His writing. What did He write? Did He write the names of the men present with some of their sins listed? Did the oldest go first because in their long lives they had committed more sin than the younger ones? They all departed leaving just the woman with Jesus and so he turned and asked her about her accusers. Jesus didn't come into the world to condemn the world but to save it (John 3.16,17), even those we think are the worst of sinners. Have we seen Jesus at work in the world of the 1st century or the 21st? Might He not say to us now, 'Go and do likewise'? Are we ready to rush in with our condemnation ‑ with our accusations ‑ with our 'holier than thou' attitude? How do we look at sinners ‑ the world is full of them? How do we look even upon others who name the name of Christ?
Jesus went in and out among men and women and children clearly to help them positively. It's a sad old world and its people are in desperate need to recognise their Saviour. But they are blind until Christ through us can open their eyes. Have we seen Jesus … at work in our own lives making us compassionate and patient and gentle? We may know a lot of things about the Bible but have we learned how Jesus treated others ‑ and do we do the same?