The two scenes – one from the past, the other contemporary – are strikingly similar. So are the contrasts. Both involve candidates for political office attending a festival of sorts.
The feast scene from the past involves Jews and Gentiles (the text describes them as “Greeks”) coming together in Jerusalem to observe the Jewish Passover.
But at least some of the non-Jews are present in order to get a glimpse of the one who, it is being claimed, is taking on the mantle of “Messiah.” (See the Gospel of John: 12: 20-33.)
They approach the Greek-speaking disciple, Philip, and, in their own native tongue, make a request to see Jesus.
Philip passes this request along to his colleague, Andrew, and then both share it with Jesus.
The contemporary feast scene takes place at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City where people are coming together for a $2,500-a-plate dinner to see and to support the campaign of one seeking the mantle of “president.” (See newsreports on and following March 14.)
A few of those who show up for the feast want a meeting with Mitt Romney. The interview with the candidate by the friendly Fox reporter is arranged.
The two meetings – ancient and contemporary – include questions about how these two candidates can identify with the people they are seeking to serve.
Both candidates make no apology for making their own case with the wider public, even if both could appear a bit defensive.
“Guess what?” Candidate Romney asserts. “I made a lot of money. I’ve been very successful. I’m not going to apologize for that.”
And he adds: “I understand the economy not because I’ve debated the economy in a subcommittee of Congress; I understand the economy because I’ve been in it. I’ve lived it.”
He suggests that his financial success (his estimated worth ranges from $190 million to $250 million and his annual income from investments is in the range of $21 million, on which he pays taxes at a rate of 14 percent) is not only what he wants for other Americans but is also the success that those other Americans want.
The ancient candidate presents a contrasting case: no money, no investments, no homes, no luxury donkeys.
Candidate Jesus instead defines his success – and his identification with the people he would serve – on the basis of hard but intriguing and even rich wisdom.
He tells his Jewish disciples and Gentile visitors: “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it does, it bears much fruit. The person who loves his or her life destroys it; while the one who hates her or his life in this world, preserves it to live eternally.”
And he adds: “If anyone would serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be.”
He suggests that his current and forthcoming success in following this hard, intriguing and rich wisdom applies not just to himself – in fact, it isn’t for himself that he is engaged in it – but is primarily for those who will join him in successfully giving up self for others and thereby have life eternal.
No apologies. Two scenes – one ancient and one contemporary – strikingly similar, strikingly different. Both with no apologies.
Larry Greenfield retired on Dec. 31, 2018 as the executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. He served previously as executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, a regional judicatory of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A, and the theologian-in-residence for the Community Renewal Society.