Monday, March 21, 2016

Because of Lazarus


Barely a week ago, we had the story of Mary anointing Jesus' feet with the costly ointment made of nard as our Sunday gospel lesson (John 12:1-8). Today, Monday in Holy Week, we get the same gospel lesson with an additional three verses. That's either a chance for the preacher to preach the other sermon she had written a week ago, preach the exact same sermon to see if anyone was paying attention, preach on one of the other lessons entirely, or preach on a little detail that is held in those extra three verses. I didn't preach on 5 Lent, and I'm not preaching today, but still I want to capitalize on the little bit that's added to this story.

Although you should read it here, here's the text of John 12:1-11 in summary: Jesus comes to his friends' house in Bethany, where Mary anoints his feet with a costly ointment, which raises Judas' objection as the ointment could have been sold for a great sum and the money given to the poor, raising Jesus' counter-objection that this was a preparation for his own burial and that the poor will always be with us. Make sense? And here are those last three verses that get added on in today's lesson: "When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus." On account of Lazarus!

If you asked me to name which of the pre-Easter miracles I found most compelling, Lazarus would probably be in the top three. Three-days-dead is a tough spot, and Jesus reversed it, bringing the dead man back to life. It's not my favorite miracle, but I must admit that it's pretty impressive. Still, given all of the healings and feedings and nature miracles and exorcisms, it wouldn't occur to me that the raising of Lazarus was the one that got everyone's attention...at least not at first. But this is John's account. And the whole gospel has been about signs that demonstrate Jesus' identity as God's Son. And, unlike so many of the other deeds of power, this one is personal. We know Lazarus. Jesus counted him among his close friends. He wept at his tomb. This was someone whose death and now miraculous resuscitation were known not only to the gospel reader but also to the wider Jewish community. This was the proof that, as John tells us, made it possible for anyone and everyone to believe in Jesus. Something had to be done.

Don't you relish those moments when someone misses the point the first time and then, in an attempt to solve the blunder, makes the same mistake twice? "Hey!" the Jewish authorities said to themselves, "This Lazarus thing is becoming quite a scandal. When we kill Jesus, let's go ahead and kill Lazarus, too." As if God's campaign to reverse even death itself could be undone by an effort like that. Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. Consider what that represents. No one raises the dead. That's God's work and God's alone. You think you can make that go away? Good luck.

This week we remember that in Jesus God is doing something unstoppable. No plot, no scheme, no tragedy, no murder can undo that. Lazarus was only the foreshadowing. The rest still lies ahead of us. Walk the road. Don't fear what lies ahead. God cannot be undone.

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