April 2, 2017, 5th Sunday in Lent YR A
The Rev. Anne Abdy
When I was the interim manager for the psychiatric department at Bay Area Hospital in Coos Bay, I told my staff that there would be some decisions that would be easy to be make and would be made quickly, like moving the fridge from the activity room to the kitchen/snack area. Makes sense right. And then there would be those decisions that I would want to have time to consider, gather information, way the importance, and ponder on before I took action. That is just how I operate.
At the same time, I know a lot of people who are not as deliberate and intentional in their decision-making process as I am. There was an 8 year old boy that I worked with who had attention deficit disorder. One day he took his pet goldfish out of the water to play with it. Yip, you guessed it. It died but then he tried to resuscitated it by giving it mouth to mouth. Or my grandparents neighbors in Cape Town whose oldest son was trimming pine tree branches on their property for his punishment. He sat facing the tree trunk as he was trimming one branch. It fell under his weight and he fell with it breaking his leg. Sometimes, we just make foolish decisions.
We will come back to the notion of foolishness here in a minute but let me set the stage as to how foolishness relates to the gospel.
This story of Lazarus has many themes and probably the most popular version preached is the miracle of Lazarus’ return to life. But I wonder what are the disciples and Jesus thinking. I ask because the disciples are aghast that Jesus is going to, not thinking about, but going to return to Judea. To understand their astonishment, you need to know a little geography of the area.
Jerusalem is in the region of Judea, and Bethany, specifically the tomb of Lazarus is about 1.5 miles from Jerusalem. Jesus visited Bethany often to visit his friends who lived there, primarily Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Bethany is Jesus’ second home. Bethany clearly is a hop, skip, and a jump from downtown Jerusalem.
Jesus in the chapter before (chapter 10) was walking in the Temple and had upset some of the Jews with what he was saying. They wanted to throw stones at him for blasphemy. Instead, he retreats to Jordan—friendly territory.
So here is where we return to the notion of foolishness. The disciples can’t believe their ears as they hear Jesus say, “Let’s go to Judea.” You see, Bethany is in dangerous territory. To them, this is not only a foolish decision, it’s a really, really foolish decision. It is like driving a car at high speed on a winding road or playing dare on railroad tracks. Or in my case, scuba diving with a dive buddy I was forewarned about. In that dive, not only did he disappear below the surface within minutes leaving me alone in an unfamiliar dive spot, but my air tank dislodged, and without help from my dive buddy, I was in a potentially life threatening situation. In hindsight, I should have known better. It was a foolish, foolish decision. It could have led to something more tragic.
That’s what is going on in this gospel reading today. The disciples see this move not only as foolish but one that might bring certain death. I can almost hear them talking amongst themselves, saying, “The Jews will find out where he is. They have been watching him. They know who his friends are. They know where Martha and Mary’s home is. This is foolishness. We need to convince him not to do it.”
Jesus knows his earthly ministry is coming to an end. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us that “Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem” after walking through Galilee teaching and preaching. He knows Passover is on the horizon. If we take a closer look, there are a number of decision-points that take place that give insight into the thinking processes of Jesus’ and the disciples.
First, the only certain thing in life is death. Our earthly time is a cycle of birth, life, death, and resurrection. Jesus is well aware of the risks he is taking, but he takes them because he knows this is his last hurrah. He knows that there is precious time left to be that missioner for God here on earth.
Second, the disciples are stuck in a cycle of perceptual distortions. They doubt. We all doubt. I think that is a human quality. The disciples are not living with big faith. We know this because they have not recognized Jesus despite being Jesus’ closest friends and companions. But they are also stuck in analysis. Their thinking is governing their emotions and actions. They see violence ahead with Jesus being stoned. Jesus, on the other hand, sees possibility and opportunity.
Third, Jesus knows that his friends are grieving. In fact, the Scripture reads, “He wept.” Some commentaries suggest that maybe Jesus wept because of his regret for not getting to Bethany fast enough. While that might be a possibility, personally I just don’t know a Jesus who engages in self-criticism or beratement. So I disagree. The fact that that Jesus wept is a demonstration of the human condition. I choose to take this statement as an demonstration of Jesus’ humanity which he displays to the throngs around him. I believe he weeps for his dear friend who has just passed. He is genuinely sad.
Fourth, Jesus understands the restorative factors of the resurrection of Lazarus. He understands that raising Lazarus from the dead will be the beginning of the end for him and will set into motion the events of Holy Week. He understands that Lazarus’ resurrection is a foretelling of his own death and resurrection but this resurrection is set very much in the present. For Lazarus’ friends, this is his last day. He is already placed in the tomb. Jesus knows bringing Lazarus back to life allows for the Son of God to be glorified through this act, but all the glory is given to God.
Lazarus’ resurrection is so familiar to us not only because of the lectionary cycle, but because we can relate to the story. We all know of family and friends who have died. And yet, this story is so well known to us that we do not see the deeper messages. We are blinded by the familiar. This story reveals our own human condition.
- Jesus is God’s missioner, yet how often do we tell others what we believe.
- Jesus see possibilities and opportunities, yet we make decisions that are not open to the possibilities and opportunities.
- Jesus cries, yet we choose to not to reveal our authentic self.
- Jesus’s restores life and glory is given to God, yet we get stuck in the here and now because we do not move out of the way.
The story of raising Lazarus from the dead requires that we take off our dark glasses if we are to experience the power of God in our lives.
 Matthew 19:1; Mark 9:30-32; and Luke 9: 51-56.