The Sunday Lesson – Lazarus Dies
On most Sundays, I post a brief vignette from the life of Jesus and consider how it relates to me and to us. I don’t preach. My goal is to understand what the writer said and what the hearers heard. I leave the what it really means to others, smarter than me. It’s impossible for me to do this without some bias. I know this, and when I recognize it, address it. I don’t come from any theological position except love: I read and enjoy almost anything from the Big Three of Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant theology. I label myself a Christian agnostic arguing that, in religious matters, unlike measuring, say, the weight of a hunk of Carolina Blue Granite, there is no logical way to be certain of anything. Nor do I trust my puny human brain to understand the transcendent G of the universe. I believe by faith, and not logic, and whatever I glom onto, I hold in an open hand. Loosely.
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I’m reading about Martha, Mary, and Lazarus and wonder about something.
But first, the setup:
By no stretch of anyone’s imagination am I a Greek scholar, but smart people agree that the Greek verbiage used to portray the relationship between Jesus and this family is deeply loving just like His relationship to James and Peter and John. This lovingness adds something to the story of the death of Lazarus.
We have Lazarus, here, lying ill, and his sisters – believing that Jesus is the Messiah – send for the Healer. Remember, this isn’t like me calling Benny Hinn on the phone to buy a healing: this is family. These are the friends who Malinda called when I was in the hospital, knowing that they would do whatever she asked of them. But Jesus, when He hears that Lazarus is ill, decides to loll for a few days. “No worry,” He tells the disciples, waving them off. “Lazarus won’t die, and it will all work for G’s glory!” There is apparently no rebuff from His followers.
A couple days pass by and Jesus decides to mosey on to see the women, but this time, the disciples balk. “You know they’re trying to kill you right? Isn’t it best to stay away?”
Jesus spills the beans: “Lazarus has died.”
The hapless disciples say exactly what you think they would say: “He’s dead? Heck. Why even go?”
Once they leave – it’s only a two-mile trip – Martha hears that Jesus is coming and runs to meet Him. They meet, and she says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, but even now I know that G will grant whatever you ask of him.”
They talk, and when they get near to the house, Martha goes inside to tell her sister that Jesus is outside and wants to see her. Mary runs to meet Jesus and says the exact thing as her sister, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Let’s notice four things and ask a question:
1. The disciples didn’t have any interest in the story until they figure out that Jesus might actually go. Their necks are on the block, and they forget Jesus’ words that “it’s for G’s glory.” Message: If and when you hear from G, even the best people might step in your way, for good reasons. But they haven’t heard the same call as you.
2. It was John who said that if ‘everything Jesus said and did were recorded, then all the books in the world wouldn’t be able to hold them.’ I won’t put too much into this, but Jesus isn’t recorded as telling Martha to get her sister. Knowing Martha from other scriptures, I imagine her now, marching into the house after walking a mile with Jesus, thinking to herself, “DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING? MARY!” I sense something of a victory in Martha’s tone. I ran out to see the Master. I came in to get Mary. I had a theological talk with Jesus. And you are sitting here crying, and there’s not a SINGLE DINNER ROLL FOR ANYONE TO EAT!”
3. Martha appears here as Martha. She is in control, logical, and taking care of business. She says the same thing as her sister does to Jesus but He responds differently, and they engage in a theological discussion about dying, the resurrection, and the Messiah. There is little emotion, and the thing rolls off your tongue like a college class.
4. Mary appears here as Mary. She sits in the house weeping and runs to Jesus weeping, and, finally, they weep together. Her feelings stir His, and my Jerusalem Bible says Jesus was ‘greatly distressed.’ The Greek here is telling. What is translated in my Bible as ‘greatly distressed’ is more like ‘He was so angry that He bellowed like a bull!’ Not at Mary or Martha or the disciples, but at death. At decay. At sin that leads to death. More than in almost any other passage we are confronted here by the bad news of sin and death and see a Savior bring good news, that we can be delivered from our actions and rightful inheritance.
The question I wondered about, in light of these few verses, is if G responds to each of us in the same way we respond to him. We all know that ‘as you have judged others, so you will be judged,’ and think about it every time some sourpuss bangs the Bible on the podium. But what if Jesus meets you as you are? As who you are? What if Jesus meets you as a wise teacher, or a thorough doctor, or as someone who rubs the wounds of leprosy patients in India? If that were true, how would you want Jesus to meet you?
For me, if I had my druthers, I’d sit with Mary and cry.
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