Fifth Sunday of Lent - Passion Sunday
Jn.12. 'Some Greeks came to Philip and said, "Sir, we
would see Jesus"'.
During my academic years I became aware of the difference between what
was called 'pure' studies and 'applied' ones. At its simplest, pure
mathematics is knowing that 12x27 = 324. Applied mathematics is paying #3.24
for a book of a dozen first class stamps.
Most, if not all our knowledge and our actions can be divided in a
Practice without the theory behind it is a blind gamble. Theory without
practice is pointless and frustrating.
Christianity owes a good deal to Greek Philosophy in the years before
Christ was born. Socrates, Aristotle, Plato and the like caused people to
think about creation, to wonder about mankind's place in the world, about
the causes and the effects of human thinking and behaviour.
Then, and perhaps for the first time, people began to think in the
abstract. No longer was human thought a solely concerned with surviving and
reproducing. In the Greek world, there were those who were seeking meaning,
seeking reasons, looking for reason in the strange mixture of the divine and
the animal which we call humanity.
We could regard the Greek world as a source of 'pure' philosophy.
But Christianity owes a great deal, too, to Jewish history. Jesus refers
to the Old Testament on many occasions. To the Jews we owe mankind's
awareness of 'One God' To them we owe the idea of God working IN the world,
God operating for the GOOD of the world; God working with mankind. God
designing mankind "in his own image" so that man could be aware of God's
being at one with his creation. To the Jews we owe our knowledge of a God
whose eyes are too pure to behold iniquity - a God who sets standards of
morality to be applied to human life. From the Jews come the beginnings of
But each, by itself, is incomplete. The Greeks acknowledged their own
lack when they set up an altar in Athens dedicated to an 'unknown God'. The
Jews showed their lack, first by identifying God with the Law. Obey the Law
and the rest does not matter. Jesus was strong to condemn that.
The Jews showed their lack by their confident expectation of a Messiah,
but one defined and circumscribed by themselves. That is why Jesus was
despised and rejected. To them he had become a stumbling block. He did not
conform to their parameters. They could not see beyond the practicalities of
If for some reason I were to be denied access to the Bible except for two
short sections, I think I would choose first the vision of Isaiah.
The prophet finds himself in the Temple, where he sees the Lord, high and
lifted up, with all the majesty and trappings of divinity. Before that God
he is filled with fear, aware of his own inadequacy, of his own uncleanness.
But he finds himself called out, cleansed, and commissioned to proclaim the
word of God to God's people.
It is in awareness of the Majesty of God that our Christianity begins. It
is from pure worship that our inspiration comes. Without it our lives are a
blind gamble. When worship becomes a social triviality - and sometimes it
does - we have lost our source of inspiration.
But for applied godliness, I must turn to Jesus. So my second choice from
the Bible would be his sermon on the mount. In that discourse, our
conception of worship, of the majesty of God, of his power, of his love, all
these are turned into action, into daily life, into our association with
neighbours, friends, yes, and with enemies.
The Greeks were masters of pure philosophy, the Jews of religion based on
cherished history. In Christ the two levels meet. Christ, says St. Paul is
the power of God and the wisdom of God, but St. John reminds us that in Him,
the WORD, the pure logic of God, became flesh and dwelt among us - became
applied to us and our lives - and he said to us, "Whoever serves me must
© The Estate of William John Green, 2004