Saturday, March 08, 2008

Wanted: Clues for Disciples (John 11:1-45)

Most of the time we see the disciples interacting with Jesus, we see them not getting it.

Doesn’t matter what “it” is. Maybe it’s other people proclaiming the word of God. Maybe it’s a village that won’t let Jesus enter. Maybe it’s a parable. Maybe it’s the question of their status in the group and how that’s determined.

As different as all those things are, they all share a common factor: A group of disciples that seems to lack clue one about what Jesus does, teaches or is here to do. Lazarus’ story is little different.

Jesus waits two days and then sets out for Bethany, which is near Jerusalem. Before leaving, he tries to tell the disciples about Lazarus by saying Lazarus has fallen asleep. The disciples suggest that if he is sleeping, he may be on the road to recovery. OK, Jesus says. I mean he’s dead.

Look closely at this exchange. The disciples worry that the religious leaders will try to kill Jesus again. He tells them about Lazarus’ condition – while he is in a village two days away. Any hints in there? Like maybe a guy who can sense death at a distance can handle himself against a group of temple goons? No? OK, we’ll move on.

At Bethany, Lazarus’ sister Martha confronts Jesus. If he had come when they called, Lazarus would not have died. “But even now I know that God will do whatever you ask of him.” Martha seems to have a better handle on Jesus than the disciples. Even though she doesn’t allow for the possibility than a man who can miraculously heal deathly illness might be able to do so from a distance if he can do it in person, she keeps her faith that Jesus might still do something.

I think this intrigues Jesus. “Your brother will rise again,” he tells her. “He will rise in the resurrection on the last day,” Martha says. “I’m that resurrection,” Jesus tells her. “Those who believe in me will not die, and even if they ‘die,’ they will still live.” He asks Martha if she believes this and she says she does.

Then she fetches her sister, and the conversation kind of repeats, and Jesus asks to be taken to the tomb. While there he weeps.

Observers believe Jesus weeps because of his great love for Lazarus. But that Greek word we read as “disturbed” or “deeply moved” comes from a word that means “to snort in anger.” If you read Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrase, it talks about “the anger welling up in him again.” Although probably sad, Jesus was also frustrated. I think one of the other comments by onlookers tells us why.

“If he healed the blind, could he not have healed him?” some ask. John doesn’t tell us if Jesus looked at them and said, “Well, duh,” but I expect he might have wanted to.

These people have seen and heard how he can heal. They have seen and heard the miracles he can do. They have heard him teach about himself as the redeemer, the Messiah sent from God, and they still think death will block him from doing what he has been sent here to do. In his Explanatory Notes on this verse, John Wesley says, “What a strange mixture of faith and unbelief!”

So Jesus calls Lazarus forth from the tomb, demonstrating that not even death can stand in the way of his work. And maybe a couple more people watching now “get it” about who he is, like Martha does.

What I talk about when I say “getting it” seems pretty simple to me. Jesus is either the Messiah or he’s not. If he is, then what he said about who he is and why he came matters to me. He said he’s that resurrection in the last day, a resurrection made flesh and blood. I can trust that or not. I trust him that even though things might look hopeless and I might face my own death, it’s not the end. Or I don’t trust him and I believe that what I’ve got here on this earth is all there is.

I pick one or I pick the other.

As near as I can figure, only one of those two paths continues beyond the tomb. So that’s the one I pick. And I work as hard as I can on figuring out what that choice means for how I live my life. Maybe then I’ll get it.

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