Monday, March 19, 2012

The Raising of Lazarus: A Lesson In Trusting GOD. From John 11





5th Sunday of LENT
Homily for 3.25.12
JOHN 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33B-45 
Year B








Today, the Lectionary Gospel reading offers us the rather startling account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Now, unless one believes in the power of GOD to break into the system that is our way of life, and to alter how that system normally works, I do not know how we are to take this text seriously. Because where I come from, dead is dead.

Said differently, if the universe is a closed system that operates only within internally driven cause and affect processes, one that allows no intervention from the outside (because there is no outside) then this story must be rejected on the face of it. But, if one believes in the possibility of the occasional movement by GOD within an open system that is our world, then this account of Jesus and his friend Lazarus, while still startling, is also possible.

I know where I come down on this.


Still, in the midst of this...shall I use the word?...this miracle story, lies a rather troubling lead-up. At least it troubles me. Jesus hears of his friend's illness and chooses to do nothing.

Presumably, the Jesus we have met in the synoptic gospels, and certainly the Jesus John presents to us, is capable of merely speaking the word to heal his friend. Or, short of that, he could have come immediately when he heard of his friend's serious illness instead of waiting two days. Now, what does this mean?

Jesus' explanation is mysterious:

"The sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus, saying, 'Master, the one you love is ill.' When Jesus heard this he said, 'This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.'"
OK, we understand that there is more going on in this moment than a normal sickness followed by a miracle. That is, John would have us understand that this is Jesus' moment, this miracle was the event of demarcation -- the point of no return -- after which nothing would be the same. For, after this miracle-event the leadership of his own nation could no longer tolerate his words or his works for fear of the Romans, and therefore they seek to kill him:
But some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the leading priests and Pharisees called the high council together to discuss the situation. "What are we going to do?" they asked each other. "This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. If we leave him alone, the whole nation will follow him, and then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation." (Jn.11:46-48)

But, to fail to read this from the underside of the story -- the human side where a family member is gravely ill and the one whom you thought was your friend fails in your expectations -- is to miss what is truly tragic and truly human. Martha's confrontation with Jesus makes perfect sense:

Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise." Martha said, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."
But notice, Jesus does not so much defend his actions to Martha as he asks her to trust him. "Do you believe this?" says Jesus, which for me is the human-heart of this story. Of course, from John's point of view, this is the event that triggers the crucifixion, but from my point of view this is the moment when Jesus asks of his friends to trust him even when things fail to make sense. This idea is given more import as we hear what Jesus told his disciples earlier: 

“So then Jesus said to them clearly,‘Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.’” (John 11:14-15)
And so, here is Jesus, confronted by his friend, confronted with the emotions of the death scene, and the text tells us that Jesus, "greatly perturbed and deeply troubled," asks to be taken to the tomb. Interestingly, the word here translated perturbed is often translated, “wept,” so that the text would normally read, "Jesus wept." But the word is heavier than that, so that the text would actually have us understand that there is more going on here than sorrow. That is, facing the wailing of the mourners and the emotional clash with Martha Jesus came to the tomb overcome with his own emotion, upset at the death-reality of the human condition, and perhaps even anticipating his own upcoming experience, for a tomb is in his future as well.

Thus, from the human side of this story there are two things present in this text that we must remember:

GOD IS AT WORK, ACCOMPLISHING HIS WILL IN THE WORLD, SO THAT EVEN WHEN WHAT WE SEE MAKES NO SENSE, OUR CALLING IS TO TRUST GOD’S GOODNESS AND HIS WILL...

JESUS, AS THE COMPLETELY HUMAN ONE REVEALS TO US GOD'S RESPONSE AT OUR CALAMITIES AND CATASTROPHES. WEEPING WITH US, EVEN AS HE MOVES TO RESCUE US.

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JOHN 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33B-45
The sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus, saying, 
"Master, the one you love is ill."
When Jesus heard this he said,
"This illness is not to end in death, 
but is for the glory of God, 
that the Son of God may be glorified through it."
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
So when he heard that he was ill, 
he remained for two days in the place where he was.
Then after this he said to his disciples, 
+Let us go back to Judea."
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus 
had already been in the tomb for four days.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him; 
but Mary sat at home.
Martha said to Jesus, 
"Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you."
Jesus said to her,
"Your brother will rise."
Martha said,
"I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day."
Jesus told her,
"I am the resurrection and the life; 
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, 
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?"
She said to him, "Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world."
He became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, 
"Where have you laid him?"
They said to him, "Sir, come and see."
And Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, "See how he loved him."
But some of them said, 
"Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man 
have done something so that this man would not have died?"
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.
It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.
Jesus said, "Take away the stone."
Martha, the dead man's sister, said to him, 
"Lord, by now there will be a stench; 
he has been dead for four days."
Jesus said to her,
"Did I not tell you that if you believe 
you will see the glory of God?"
So they took away the stone.
And Jesus raised his eyes and said, 
"Father, I thank you for hearing me.
I know that you always hear me; 
but because of the crowd here I have said this, 
that they may believe that you sent me."
And when he had said this,
He cried out in a loud voice, 
"Lazarus, come out!"
The dead man came out,
tied hand and foot with burial bands, 
and his face was wrapped in a cloth.
So Jesus said to them,
"Untie him and let him go."
Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what he had done began to believe in him.