Read the text here: John 11:1-45
Not What I was Expecting!
How often do we ask questions where we already know the answer we expect? I think quite often. Occasionally someone will call the house and ask if I would like to take a “non-partisan” poll. Usually I say no, but occasionally I have agreed. So then the questions start and within the first couple questions you can tell this is not a “non-partisan” poll. The questions, in fact, are designed to elicit specific answers and there is no space for an alternative perspective. I know what I want to hear – end of discussion! It is perhaps one reason why I have no respect for the polls to which everyone on television and in politics is always referring. But we do the same for faith issues too, don’t we? How often have you asked a question expecting a certain answer? How often have you asked a question with the express purpose of making a point?
Throughout the season of Lent we have experienced this same phenomenon in the Gospel texts from John. Lent II – Nicodemus visits Jesus to question him, but gets more than he bargains for – “How can these things be?” he asks in frustration when Jesus is not giving him what he expects. Lent III – The Samaritan woman asks Jesus where God is to be found and consequently where true worship of God is to be conducted – in Jerusalem or Mt. Gerezim? She knows what Jesus will say, after all he is a Judean! Lent IV – The disciples point to a blind beggar and ask Jesus whose sin is the consequence for this poor man’s condition – the man’s or his parents? After all, that is what everyone understood – bad things happen for a reason, and that reason is someone is a sinner! But in each of these instances Jesus does not give the expected answer. In fact, Jesus turns the questions upside down and completely changes course. “You must be born again!” Jesus tells Nicodemus. “Neither in Jerusalem or on Mt. Gerezim, God is worshiped in Spirit and truth here and everywhere!” Jesus tells the Samaritan woman. And not content to simply dismiss the disciple’s small-minded question Jesus shows his contempt for popular wisdom by actually reaching out and healing the blind man! Talk about turning things upside down!
This brings us to Lent V – and the Raising of Lazarus. Jesus gets the message that his friend Lazarus is ill but instead of leaving immediately he “tarries” and by the time he arrives in Bethany, Lazarus is not only dead, but already buried – 4 days ago! And he is greeted Martha: “If you had been here my brother would not have died!” This outburst is filled with anger and hurt, but Jesus responds by simply telling Martha that her brother will rise again. Well, yes of course, way off in the future on the last day, right? She replies. That is when we will all rise again, but it doesn’t really help this situation now! And it is at this point that we get the twist from Jesus. Martha, and we the readers, are assuming that Jesus is pointing Martha and Mary towards hope in the future resurrection, to a heavenly time way off in the distant future. After all what else can we say at this point, right? Lazarus is dead now, and there is nothing to be done. But this is not what Jesus is saying: “I am the resurrection AND the life!” He says! This is not an exclusively heaven-focused faith at all – there are implications NOW for life – for your life Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ life, and your life too – dear reader!
This is the challenge of this story: the Gospel is not only about a future, distant heaven; in fact, the Gospel is not primarily about going to heaven at all. The Gospel is about living life in the Kingdom HERE and NOW in the midst of our everyday lives. “…The promises of God we announce are not only about life eternal with God or even about God’s forgiveness at the last day. Rather, the Gospel should make a difference now, make things possible now, open up opportunities and options now, transform relationships now. The promises of God are present tense, not just future.”
So then, what difference does the Gospel make in your lives here and now? Death is not the last word – Jesus brings life: a full and complete life – eternal life that begins now. So what difference does this make in your lives here and now? For Lazarus it meant being restored to the community and his family; for Mary and Martha it meant having the relationship with their brother restored; for the others who witnessed this event it meant a restoration of relationship and a new calling! Do you notice the theme of the restoration of relationship? Yet again this is central to the proclamation of the Gospel. The Gospel is about the restoration of relationship – with each other and with God.
But there is also a calling included in this text. Jesus tells the community to unbind Lazarus and to let him go. The community is called upon to participate in this action of God’s. Restoring life and breath was God’s work through Jesus, but it would have been kind of a useless exercise if Lazarus had been left to languish in the cave swaddled in his linen shroud. Other hands were needed to continue and complete the work.
And those hands are ours. Like the other stories we have heard this Lent this story comes back around and looks squarely at each of us demanding we consider this important question: what difference does it make?!? What difference does it make in your life here and now that Jesus is not only the resurrection but also the life? That Jesus has come so that we might have life and have it abundantly? That we are called to make a difference, to open the tombs of those who are trapped in darkness; to unbind those who are tied up in the shrouds of hardship, poverty, hunger, loss, illness and so on; to free those who are imprisoned by addictions and obsessions and all kinds of other death inducing situations? To what response is Jesus calling you? What does you're here and now eternal and abundant life look like?