Sunday, March 09, 2008

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

What an amazing story this is. The man is dead. Really and truly dead. He's been in the tomb four days. He's going to smell. This is no 'oh he just seemed dead, but now he's better' kind of dead. When Jesus raised the little girl from the dead - he didn't even let the family really know what he had done. He just told them she'd been sleeping. They probably doubted their earlier judgment - maybe she wasn't really dead after all - but it sure seemed like it. But no one could doubt that Lazarus was dead.

This is of course why Jesus waited several days to show up in Bethany. If He'd gone while Lazarus was still on his sick bed and cured him (which, of course was what Martha and Mary were hoping for) there would be people who could have doubted. "I knew he was going to get better all along."

If He'd gotten there as soon as Lazarus had died and raised him from the dead people still would have doubted. "He wasn't really dead. People don't come back from the dead. He was just really sick and now he's been made well again."

But Jesus waited until there could be no doubt that Lazarus was really and truly dead. He'd been in the tomb four days. This was beyond the point of 'oh, maybe we made a mistake and he wasn't dead after all.' He was dead.

And then he wasn't dead any more. And there could be no doubt about why. People had come to be with Mary and Martha - and now they believed. A lot more people believed than would have believed otherwise.

However. Poor Mary and Martha. They don't know about Jesus' larger plan. They don't know that he needs to reveal himself to more people in a way that will get those people to believe, before he himself is killed.

They only know that their brother is sick. Very sick. And they call for their friend Jesus. And He was their friend. He stayed at their house often. He loved them. They had seen Him cure people and perform miracles. They believed in Him. Probably as much as anyone in those days; they believed in Him.

But where was He? They knew He could cure Lazarus. They had faith in Him. But He didn't come. He didn't cure Lazarus. He had let them down.

Like us they turned to Jesus in their time of trouble - but they didn't get the answer they were looking for. How often do we pray and not get the answer we hoped for? Do we then say that God did not hear our prayer? Or that he doesn't care? Or that he has abandoned us?

Perhaps that is what Mary and Martha thought. It would be natural if they did. But they did not know God's greater plan. Jesus did something even more amazing than curing their brother. He brought him back from the dead. It was his greatest miracle up to that point.

Jesus did not let them down. Jesus did not abandon them. And neither does Jesus abandon us; even when our prayers are not answered in a way we like. Mary and Martha understood the fullness of Jesus' plan for their brother within days of feeling let down. In some circumstances we may not understand God's greater plan for many years.

But God does not abandon us.

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