The ‘Don’t category’ - March 29th 2020
Some passages from the Bible lend themselves well to current affairs. Others don’t. Today I have been reading the story of Lazarus, the friend of Jesus who died and got raised. It seemed to fall clearly into the ‘Don’t category.’
It starts off well enough: Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. You get the sense that Lazarus is not just anyone, he has a family, he has a place in his village and whatever happens to him is going to affect everybody. We get that, no problem. And then the very worst thing happens. He falls ill and dies. That’s what we are all afraid of.
Then comes the bit that jars in the current climate. Jesus has been told it would be politically very dangerous to go to Bethany which is near Jerusalem. So he has been self-isolating in a safe place. When Mary and Martha ask him to come and visit he does nothing for two days. When it’s too late, as far as poor Lazarus is concerned, Jesus ignores his disciples’ advice and leaves for Jerusalem, putting himself and others at risk.
Now if anyone, on the basis of that, were to decide that it is ok for us to ignore the advice that we have been given and not self-isolate when we’re asked to, then that would constitute a very strange abuse of the Bible.
Maybe it would be better to read this remarkable encounter in a different way. This isn’t about our self-isolating, which I am sure is absolutely the right thing to do in these extraordinary circumstances. It’s about God’s. Does he isolate himself from our predicament, stay in a safe place, and ignore us. Is that the kind of God we are dealing with?
Well, Jesus leaves the safety of his hiding place to answer the prayers of Mary and Martha, so the answer would appear to be ‘No’. Maybe that idea ought to go into the ‘Don’t category’ too.
What I pick up instead is a sense that God, far from being isolated, is ready to come alongside us in ways we never imagined.
John 11: 32-33
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Lord, I like the simple honesty of Mary’s prayer. I like the fact that you were moved and troubled even more. Stay with us Lord, abide with us. Amen.