The Rev. Joseph Winston March 9, 2008
Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 Over one hundred and ﬁfty years ago, James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps penned the following poem for children: Solomon Grundy, Born on a Monday, Christened on Tuesday, Married on Wednesday, Took ill on Thursday, Grew worse on Friday, Died on Saturday, Buried on Sunday.
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3
That was the end of Solomon Grundy. These thirty-three words organized into ten short lines give us the entire story of Solomon Grundy. After learning his name, we hear that he was born on a Monday. The rest of this little poem continues with this same alarming trend. Life is rapidly handed out to Solomon. Without asking what he thought, his family gives him the name “Solomon Gundy” on Tuesday. Wednesday comes with a spouse. The world gives him an illness on Thursday. Now, everything is taken away from Solomon just as quickly as it was given to him. His health rapidly goes down the hill on Friday, he dies from his illness on Saturday, and now that his life is lost, no one remembers him at all after his burial on Sunday. After all these years, this poem continues to have an amazing ability to accurately describe our own lives. None of us made any request to come into the world. Likewise, no one here asked to be given their name. Today, we might select our own husband or wife, but the fact pointed out by the poem still remains. Life goes by all too fast. The ending to the story has not changed either. We also will grow sick, weak, and ﬁnally we all will die. Given this dreary description of what life holds for each of us, is there any wonder why people are looking for answers that explain their lives? We want to know, “Is this all to life? Are we just born to die? Or is there something more?” Maybe this is why we have been given today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus wants to tell us that we have been called to live a life that is different from all the Solomon Grundies of the world. 2
Before we take a look at what Jesus has commanded us to do, we need to clear up a common misconception that we often hear. All around us are people who tell us that when one is an authentic Christian then God will give them what they ask for. It might be health, it could be wealth, or it is possible that they ask for an authentic relationship with someone. While God can and does give us these types of gifts, today’s Gospel lesson also states something that stands in stark contrast to the idea that God gives us what we ask for. At the beginning of today’s lesson, Mary and Martha send Jesus a short message, “Lord, he whom you love is ill. (John 11:3).”2 Their request is really a prayer for Jesus to come and give them what they want most in the world for their brother. Mary and Martha want Lazarus to be well. The answer that Jesus gives to this request may surprise you. He stays away from Lazarus and due to the deliberate delay on Christ’s part Lazarus dies.3 Not only does this decision by Jesus cause extreme pain for Mary and Martha, something that they did not ask for, but it also points out why we are not called to be yet another Solomon Grundy. Jesus then states to His followers that, “This illness does not lead to death (John 11:4a).”4 The disciples do not understand what Jesus is trying to say. This point is illustrated a bit later in our text. Jesus states, “Our friend Lazarus has
Since the sisters were not married, they depended on the care of other men in their lives such as Lazarus. 3 Out of love, Jesus stayed where he was. ?, . This shows us that we cannot measure Jesus or His actions using our limited knowledge. ?, . 4 This entire verse is a summary of this lectionary lesson. ?, .
fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him (John 11:11).”5 Confused by why Jesus would go and wake a sleeping person in an area that has already been hostile to Him, they respond with, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right (John 11:12).” It is crystal clear that Christ’s followers do not yet see what it means to believe in Jesus when He tells them, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe (John 11:14b-15).” The ﬁrst part of Christ’s response to this group is fairly obvious. Jesus plainly tells everyone that Lazarus is dead. It is the second part of this quote that often causes us problems. Since we already know that Jesus will raise Lazarus from the dead, when we hear that the disciples do not believe, we might assume that Jesus means that faith comes through the witness of miracles. And if we are honest with ourselves, we might grieve that we have not seen our share of miracles. But this is not what Jesus is telling us at all.6 We know this for a fact because the disciples have already seen their share of miracles and they still do not believe. There were with Him when He changed the water into wine, when He fed the ﬁve thousand, and when He healed nobleman’s son, the lame man at the pool, and the bind man. What will one more miracle do for them? Instead of relying on all of these extra-ordinary signs, Jesus wants us to have faith because we see the ordinary, everyday light that He brings into the world.
Some scholars think that Lazarus was the beloved disciple. ?, . Faith in Jesus is not faith in one who works miracles. (John 2:23-25; 1:49-51; 3:1-11; 4:25-26; 6:25-27; 7:31.) ?, .
Jesus brings the light into the darkness surrounding the death of Lazarus when He states, “I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25a).”7 We do not understand this phrase for two reasons. First, the translators of today’s text have done us all a disservice by having Jesus say “I am” in English when that is not what He said at all. The other two instances in today’s Gospel where Jesus says “I am” are not times where Jesus is stating that He is the Lord God. Instead, He is doing something in that sentence. Jesus does not say “I am going there to awaken him.” Rather the Greek tells us that, “I go wake up Lazarus (John 11:11).” Nor does He say, “I am glad I was not there” instead Jesus states “I rejoice that I was not there (John 11:15).” Secondly, because we do not speak Greek, we cannot listen to what Jesus is really saying. By uttering the words, “I am,” He is making the argument that He is God. In fact, He is the same God that gave His name as “I am” at the burning bush. He is the One named “I am” who puts ﬂesh on the dead bones in the ﬁrst lesson (Ezekiel 37:6b; 37:13a). When we know that Jesus is making the argument that He is God, this phrase reads, “God: the resurrection and the life.” There is something rather strange with this group of words. There are no verbs in this phrase. All we have are three nouns, two direct articles, and a conjunction. Because of this fact, we do not know when the attributes of “resurrection” and “life” are to be applied to God.8 We have to make this decision using faith.
This is the only γώ ε ι formula in the chapter. There is something else odd about this formula, which appears in John. Resurrection only occurs after death. Did God’s attributes change after sin entered into the world? If we answer yes, this gives concern for those individuals who speak of God’s “immutability.” If we answer no, then we have to deal with fact that God created us even though God knew we would sin and need
Did God give resurrection and life in the past? Yes. God is currently the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Does God give resurrection and life today? Yes. Look around and see how God is working in this place. Will God give resurrection and life tomorrow? Yes. We trust that God will continue to save us. This is how we are to understand, Christ’s Words to Martha, “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25b-26a).” What Jesus is telling you is, “Even though all believers close their eyes in death, God, the resurrection and the life, never forgets them. They will live due to Christ’s relationship with them. Do you believe this?” This way of describing God as the One who has always given resurrection and life, who currently gives resurrection and life, and who will always give resurrection and life means that we are freed to do other things with our lives. This is what makes us different from Solomon Gundy. We have been called to live life to the fullest by taking care of others. We need not care what the cost might be to us because we believe in the God who gives resurrection and life. Unfortunately, this often does not happen. Some of us refuse to see the God who gives resurrection and life. We are the ones described in Solomon Gundy. We are born, we live, and we die without any impact on our neighbors. Others of us take advantage of God’s attributes. We trust in God’s grace but refuse to do God’s will. We are the ones who stuff ourselves with all the pleasures that this life has to offer while ignoring those people who need our help.
These problems of ignoring God or God’s laws are not new. Even the disciples who lived with Jesus suffered these same illnesses. This knowledge did not stop Jesus from trying to show us the God who gives us resurrection and life. This is beautifully illustrated in this chapter from John. Jesus goes to help Lazarus even though everyone knows that this action will potentially cause problems and it does (John 11:8). The text that follows today’s readings states:
but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus
had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council, and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.
If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the
Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to
them, “You know nothing at all;
you do not understand that it is
expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they took counsel how to put him to death. (RSV) If you want, you can be just like: Solomon Grundy, Born on a Monday, 7
Christened on Tuesday, Married on Wednesday, Took ill on Thursday, Grew worse on Friday, Died on Saturday, Buried on Sunday. That was the end of Solomon Grundy. There is another way that you can take. Use the life that Jesus has given you, gives you, and will give you by going into the world. There amid all of the troubles that the world has to offer do His work, knowing that you cannot loose your life because Jesus has always held it for you. “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”9
Francis J. Maloney, S.D.B.; Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., editor, The Gospel of John, Volume 4, Sacra Pagina Series, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1998).