Monday, April 11, 2011

Reflection on John 11:1-45

1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Did you see that? Did you catch the significance of that? “After hearing that Lazarus was ill, Jesus stayed two days longer.” It is a hot, lazy middle-eastern day and Jesus will get around to the sweaty work of miracles sometime. This proves that Jesus would have felt right at home as a porch sit’n, banjo play’n Southerner on a hot day. He came from a backwoods town, grew up in a backwards area, and considered arriving sometime within the same week a mark of being on time.

Though I am literally not there with you, I can tell that joke did not quite fly like I thought it would. Or, maybe, God’s absence is just not amusing. When you are laying in bed late at night, staring up at the lazy moon, the worthless moon that just sits there in the sky and does nothing to still the fears of the mind, Jesus’ absence is not amusing.

“Where is Jesus?” Mary asked herself while her brother struggled through nights of fevers and chills and then death. “Where is He?” On such nights we desire Jesus to be a Wall Street Hedge Fund Manager; on time, ahead of schedule even, and attentive to every movement and manipulation.

But, God will do what God wants to do in God’s own time, and there’s nothing that we can do about it. Even in prayer we cannot make God do anything; Jesus may simply say, “No,” or “Not right now.” Perhaps, that perception is just a little negative. Maybe, God does do the right thing at the right time and we are just impatient? Maybe, God cares about this life too, not just the afterlife. But, that provides little comfort when we stare at the cold, uncaring moon at night.

Back to the story.

7 Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." 8 The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?" 9 Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them." 11 After saying this, he told them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him." 12 The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right." 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

Jesus does act on Jesus’ own time. As frustrating as this can be, we do see that once Jesus sets his mind to something, He will not be deterred even by threats of pain and death from his opponents. For Jesus, death is not an obstacle. Life will win.

I once playfully asked a fellow pastor friend if they would die for me. They looked me square in the eyes and said, “You rate just under my grandmother in importance in life, and I wouldn’t give a finger for that old bitty.” After the smile, he said in a serious tone, “but, Jesus would die for you, and the bible says that Jesus is in me. I think there’s a pretty good bet I would come through for both you and her.”

You can see the stirrings of Jesus and the life that He brings already inside Thomas as he sets off, into hostile territory with his Lord, undeterred by death.

Back to the story.

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." 23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." 25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life.

“And,” it is such a simple, yet important word. “And.” I am the resurrection “and” the life. Martha falls into a religious trap that so many of us do: that faith is only about life beyond the pearly gates. Martha tries to comfort herself with the idea that her brother will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.

Once a woman, with tears in her eyes, grieving over the loss of her husband said to me, “the only thing that is keeping me going in life is knowing that he is not in pain anymore and that he is in a better place now.”

Really, where else could this woman or Martha find comfort in such a situation? But, Jesus is concerned about both resurrection “and” life. Jesus does care that life spring forth in the here and now. And, the stirrings of new life have already begun with Jesus’ arrival.

Back to the story.

Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" 27 She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world." 28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you." 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." 35 Jesus began to weep.

“Jesus wept.” Need I say more? God may work in God’s own time, but God is not coldhearted. Suffering is suffering, pain is pain, and grief is grief even if you know it will come out well in the end. Jesus wept. As spring showers refresh the earth, sometimes tears are required for new life to spring up.

Back to the story.

36 So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" 37 But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." 40 Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." 45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Reflection on John 9:1-41

1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; but he is blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.

“I must have done something to deserve this.” “You must have done something to deserve the struggle you have been handed!” “Everything happens for a reason.” “What goes around, comes around.”

There is a famous psychological study that included two groups of people: a control group and the experimental group. Both groups sat in a dark room and watched the same video. It was a scene of a typical interaction between a mother and her son after school. The control group was asked to describe the mother. All in the control group said that she was nice and the interaction was appropriate for a mother and teenaged son. So far, there is nothing exciting about this study, until you look at the experimental group. The experimental group also was asked to describe the mother. However, there was one big difference. After the video was run, the experimenters told the experimental group that a week later the son tragically died in a car accident. To the experimenters shock, when asked to describe the mother the majority of the people in the experimental group described the mother as mean. Most were hyper-critical of her interaction with her son in the video. The conclusion: people inherently need to believe that people deserve what they get.

Did the blind man deserve to be blind? Did he deserve to be locked away in darkness for most of his life? Jesus answer is, “No.” No, he did not do anything. No, his parents did not do anything. “How about you consider this,” Jesus says, “maybe instead of assuming that someone deserves what they get, assume that it is simply a bad situation that God will use to work a miracle.”

Have you ever wondered not “Why did this happen to me?” but, “I wonder how God is going to use this one?” “Great, I lost my job. I wonder how God is going to use this one?” “Wonderful, heart disease; I wonder how God is going to use this one?” “Terrific, I won a million dollars, I wonder how God is going to use this one?” That last one touches me right here (touching the heart emphatically). We do not always see how there will be a good answer, but asking how God will use a bad situation is definitely a better response than one that assumes that we deserve what we get.

Back to the story…

4 [Jesus said,] We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes, 7 saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" 9 Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." 10 But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" 11 He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, "Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight." 12 They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know."

This story confirms the answer that every young child who plays in the mud knows to their mother’s question regarding mud. "God created mud to get things clean, of course." With plain old mud, Jesus cleans the eyes of the blind. With plain old water, Jesus washes away our sin. With plain old bread, Jesus feeds our souls for life. With plain old you God is going to…well Jesus is going to…well I do not know! I really do wonder how God is going to use pain old you and plain old me and my lazy second cousin on my mother’s side? “I wonder how God is going to use this one,” I ask pointing to the slob of a second cousin, knowing that God can and God will. If God can and will use mud, God can and will use even him, and you, and me.  (By the way, the second cousin on my mother's side thing was made up...I do not want any emails from second cousins on my mother's side!  Those on my father's side...well...)

Back to the story…

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, "He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see." 16 Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?" And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, "What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened." He said, "He is a prophet." 18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" 20 His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself." 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."

Whoever said that Bible stories set good standards for “family values” has obviously never read the Bible. I think that it is safe to say that these parents would never be nominated for a “parent of the year” award. “Let’s see, if anyone says that Jesus is a savior, the religious officials will make sure to strip away our entire social life including worship and community connections, thus putting job and family connections on the line, we will therefore decide to have them talk to our son instead." Yay, it is throw your son under the bus in order to save ourselves day! "Ask him if Jesus is the Messiah yourself;" thump, thump.

At least the Pharisees are asking questions. At least they are willing to at least try to see. The parents are happy to be blind to Jesus and what God has done for their son. You can say a lot about the Pharisees, but at least they are looking around.

Just as today, people can say a lot about those who say they are atheists, but at least those who say they are athiests are asking the questions…at least they are looking around…at least they are not denying what they know to be true.

Back to the story…

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, "Give glory to God! We know that this man [Jesus] is a sinner." 25 He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." 26 They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" 27 He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?" 28 Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." 30 The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." 34 They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?" And they drove him out.

“I once was blind, but now I see, but now it does not matter because I have been driven out of my synagogue, my community, and my family and there is no one left for me to look at.”

On a light note, the former blind man could move on to a very successful country music career…I lost my church, I lost my job, I lost my family, I lost my mule… But, this is not a light note. This is just the way life is, you just get something great, like your sight, and something else is taken away…like your entire life. You just get your relationship with your spouse or children back on track, and then you get cancer. This is not a light note for the blind man.  The man's miraculous healing (the thing that he has dreamed for his entire life) has not imporved his life, rather it has left him destitute.

"God what did I do to deserve this? God, why did this have to happen…wait…stop…take a breath…let’s start over. I wonder how God is going to use this one?"

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when [Jesus] found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" 36 He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." 37 Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." 38 He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him.

The formerly blind man was delivered from a life of blindness, a life with back stabbing parents, and a life with blind religious leaders who would drive you out of town, to a life with the one who loves you and would never drive you away; Jesus. Maybe, God could do something good with this one also.

39 Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" 41 Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, "We see,' your sin remains.

This is the way of God’s sheep. We do not know where we are being led. We also do not know where we are going, but we are not blind or stupid. The one who leads us also sees us, and we see the one who leads; Jesus the Christ. We do not necessarily know what God is up to, but we do trust that God is going to use whatever falls in our path for good.

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.