Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Stumble or Stride?



OUR READING for All Saints Sunday comes from the Gospel According to Saint John. Within the text provided, we repeat a previous lesson about the raising of Lazarus as a sign of God’s powerful love freely given.

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill."
 But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it." 
 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.  Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go into Judea again." 
 The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?" 
 Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any one walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  But if any one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." Thus he spoke, and then he said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep." 
 The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover." 
 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." 
 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.
 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary sat in the house. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." 
 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 
 Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." 
 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" 
 She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world." When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying quietly, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you."  And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 
 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 
 Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." 
 Jesus wept.  So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" 
 But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" 
 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb; it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days." 
 Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?" 
 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, "Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that you hear me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that you did send me." 
 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out." 
 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." 
 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him… (John11:32-45a)

What Does It Take?
This story here from the gospel of John was intended to bolster faith that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. The writer tried to prepare the hearers’ minds for the good news of our Lord's own resurrection, and thus strengthen the resolve of the early Christians. Reading this account from a day which preceded Jesus’ death and Resurrection, the early churches of John could not say that resurrection was impossible.
 We note as the telling began that Jesus answered the request for his presence, but not immediately. Yet it showed that God had gracious intentions even when he seemed to delay. We can take from this, that whenever the work of divine deliverance whether physical or spiritual, public or personal, seems to be delayed, it does not mean that healing is denied. God’s attention is not absent, it just may not work favorably until the right time.
 Originally, the disciples thought that it was needless for Jesus to go to Lazarus. We might guess that they wanted him to heal his friend without going to Bethany. Possibly they were being cautious because returning to Bethany, located just outside the walls of Jerusalem, would expose them all to danger. Hadn’t they just fled the zealous powers of unbelieving persons? But note here! Lest we judge the early disciples too harshly, remember that today we also are brought to hope that good works will be done by someone else… especially if great peril exists in the doing.
 Jesus went to Bethany in spite of the hazard. He found that Martha’s house, once a place of love, care and concern, was through death made a house of mourning. As Jesus walked by grace toward her house, it is of little doubt that he went with love to be expressed in ways of mercy and comfort far greater than could be imagined.
 Hearing that he approached, Martha went out to meet him. She told him what he already knew. Lazarus was dead.
 But Martha exhibited faith. She believed that Jesus could ask God for anything, and it would be granted. We repeat for emphasis, his response to her faith…

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" 

 Martha answered, “Yes Lord, I believe…”

 Amid this, Jesus provided that for God neither time nor death are barriers. Indeed, Mary had been sitting alone in the house. Her solitude at one time was advantage for her when she sat at Jesus’ feet. In that day of loss, however, the same time of independence disposed her toward being melancholy. Lazarus had been dead four days.
 Here I believe that John demonstrates much to his readers. He stressed that too much time had passed. By this our author stressed that with God it is no harder to restore life in one moment, than in another. It was commonly thought amongst the Jews that after three days the spirit had completely left the body laid to rest… surely by human standards the expiration date had long passed.
 Jesus stated clearly to Martha that he is the Resurrection and the Life. In every sense, John pointed out to his readers that Jesus is the source, the substance, the first-fruits, the very cause of life. Consequently for Martha and even believers living today, death cannot have the last say.
 Jesus then asked Martha if she believed this Truth. We ask ourselves, we who read such miraculous news sitting in a day of peace at Christ's feet… and are taught by him. “Can we run from solitude like Mary to join in his community? Can we proclaim Christ, crucified and Risen even in days of unbelief and persecution?”

What of Loving Power?
The early church of John, upon hearing this lesson was called by the writer to cast unbelief, persecutions and death at God’s feet. Thus we too are called as well to do act in faith whenever we suffer loss. As the people of God we are admonished by John to corporately “only believe” when we are assailed by times of trial.
 Note Jesus’ tender sympathy with faithless mourning was shown by tears. Whether it was tearful anger at sin, or sorrow because of unbelief… we cannot know. We do know that he loved greatly. His feelings for mourning friends showed up immediately. He asked after the remains of the deceased man.
 Jesus arrived at the tomb and he demonstrated that God does not let death have the final say. Being a man of tears and acquainted with grief, Jesus Christ thus set an example in that we too should be brought to tears in our comforting of the afflicted today. We too are called to cry out… but not just for the passing and missing of someone deeply cared about… but rather we are called to mourn a greater loss. We are to grieve sinful stubbornness and unbelief.
 By this lesson we are surely to know that we have not a High Priest who is distant from our infirmities and finitude. Indeed, Jesus could have raised Lazarus by a distant and silent exertion of his power and will. He could have acted in a remote, unseen way.  Instead, John tells us that God is intimately involved and willing to shed tears. So should we be also involved in the lives and deaths of others. Jesus provided a call for each of us in full sight of others. Surely those whom Christ loves become sick and bodily die. This tells us that Jesus came not to preserve his people from afflictions, for we still suffer under the condemnation of the Law… but he came into the world to save us from the penalty of our sins. We are not abandoned to the grave. Through the mercy of God provided through his Son, death like sleep shall not eternally hold us.
 For the church of John this lesson provided a prophetic call as they were sent out into a hostile world. Persecutions were hard upon the young church in the last years of the first century, but here they were pronounced as not standing over against the love of God. John told that Lazarus had been revived and had returned not only to life, but to health. So it was told to be the future with John’s church as they faced the world. They proclaimed the gospel of God on into the next era. The church had been separated, disdained, and declared dead by authorities. Yet those churches of John were proven alive, even though they were driven into the cemetery catacombs that housed the dead. The church endured to see God’s glory and we are its descendants.
 This good news comes to us today as we live in our own turbulent time. Evil powers of this modern world still assail faithful saints of God. Here we are reminded by John, however, that these things are not new. We are encouraged by the Word of God that despair, isolation, and even death shall not seize the day. Through the Word given by the Spirit even unto eternal life we know that believing in his redemptive power, we of the church eternal shall see the glory of God. So it was then, and so it shall be now
.

No comments:

Post a Comment