I am Thomas. Iím the one who doubted Jesus. But I donít anymore. Here I am in India these many decades ministry to the people here. It has been rewarding for me in this land of mystics and strange gods, and mysterious jungles and lost cities. But most of all I have found some people, often those who are out cast Ö almost literally since they are untouchables, who want to hear about Jesus.
I told my congregation here in Palayoor today about those days when I walked with Jesus in Judea and Galilee. I told them about that time when Lazarus died. I told them about Mary and Martha, his sisters and about Jesus too Ö how he loved Lazarus.
To this day I remember vividly the messenger sent by Martha and Mary to Jesus. He was a young boy from their neighborhood in Bethany. He was strong and agile and ran most of the way. The sisters were worried and anxious and wanted Jesus to get the message fast.
But he acted very strange when he received the message. He didnít run off to help Lazarus as he had done in the past. And he made that strange statement that Lazarus was sick to show off the glory of God. We were all startled by that, but we had learned to follow Jesus no matter what he did.
And he certainly didnít rush to help Lazarus. He hung around for two whole days. He seemed so relaxed. We, his disciples, spent two anxious days. Then he decided to go to Bethany. Why didnít he just heal Lazarus from afar? We knew he could do that. Why take a chance going into Judea now.† He had been challenging one cherish tradition after another and the people in Judea wanted him to go away. Going in to Judea was an invitation for trouble.
He told us that Lazarus had died Ö how did he know that? No messenger had come to announce Lazarusí death. He knew Lazarus intimately. Jesus knew that Lazarus had suffered most of his life. Few knew this. Lazarus kept it to himself Ö he didnít want people to believe he was possess of a demon. But he would have days and days when he just stayed in bed Ö a shameful behavior, leaving his sisters to fend for themselves. But something did possess him, because he was by and large a responsible and good man Ö when he wasnít in his dark times. Then he would be up and working day and night as if to make up for the lost time.
Jesus understood him. Jesus tried to heal him of this behavior. But for some reason Lazarus resisted. And Jesus could not help if he did not want to help. Think of all the cases where Jesus helped (http://www.bcbsr.com/survey/jmrcls.html). In all of these cases someone asked for healing or willingly accepted healing from Jesus. The leper asked for healing (Matt 8:2; Mark 1:40; Luke 5:12). The Centurion sent messengers for the healing of his servant (Matt 8:5; Luke 7:1). Peter asked for healing of his mother-in-law (Matt 8:5; Luke 7:1). Even the man with the withered hand (Matt 12:9; Mark 3:1; Luke 6:6) willingly stretched out his for healing. But Lazarus neither asked nor wanted Jesus to help him.
And again when Jesus told us Lazarus was dead he said something that seems so inappropriate. He said he was glad he waited so that we would believe. And I being naturally a doubter of miracles and healings thought we were all to join Lazarus Ö probably by lynching. But there was something about Jesusí demeanor that said to me, something great is at hand. So I spoke up that we should follow Jesus even at the risk of dying.
By the time we arrived in the vicinity of Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Before we entered Bethany, Martha came out to us. She was beside herself with her brotherís death and accused Jesus of being negligent in his ministry: if he had arrived earlier Lazarus would still be alive. Her only hope was in some miracle from God and she laid that on him tooówanting him to call upon God for a miracle.
Jesus again spoke strangely, ďI am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live even if he has died; and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.Ē I will never forget those words. We had been following Jesus around enough to know that there was always a deeper, spiritual meaning to his riddles. We also knew he wasnít talking about physical death. Lord knows we had seen many believers die in the normal course of living.
I donít know how much Martha understood of this. But what Jesus was saying was that ďEven if a person is dead in sin, even if, through the personís sins, the person lost all that makes life worth calling life, I, Jesus, can make that person alive again.Ē We were learning this as we followed, listened, and acted. Our lives had become so much fuller, richer, and beautiful. I think we all felt closer to God especially when were in the presence of Jesus. And through Jesusí teachings we had learned that God loves us and all people. We have learned to want to live our lives not because God judges us, but because God loves us and we want to please God. This is the spiritual resurrection Jesus offers. And as a result life is so much more meaningful and hopeful and bright even in the desperate oppressed conditions we lived in under the rule of the Romans. Even in the hungry times and the sick times there was always hope.
And Jesus promised that even when our bodies do die, that we will still live in the grace and love of God. Physical death isnít Sheol, a land of shades of gray: a place of vague, shadowy, strengthless, joyless ghostly existence Ė not living at all.† No, Jesus promised a life beyond this world that is joyous and wonderful.
But then Mary arrived. Like Martha she was distraught that Jesus had not come and saved Lazarus. She wept. With her had come all of her neighbors and friends who mourned with her and wept with her.
And for one of the few times, we saw Jesus truly and thoroughly affected by their grief. He also became distraught and made a move to embrace her, but thought better of it. It wasnít the right time to make a statement by touching a woman in public before so many traditional, orthodox people.
He wept when he was invited to go to the tomb. Even Jesus who probably knew what was going to happen found such an invitation deeply moving, deeply sad. And that other people also complained why he hadnít cured Lazarus, broke his heart.
Now Jesus looked around at all the people following him to the tomb. Yes, they would see the glory of God that was about to happen. But Jesus, the man, had never wanted to do any more than help people. He felt blessed that God had been so gracious as to give him the means to do so in ways no one had been able to do. He didnít want a big show of it. Thatís why he often asked the person he helped not to report it. But they always did Ö
But Jesus as God had known that would be the case Ė that the healed would rejoice and want to talk about their healing. Jesus as God had a more cosmic agenda. And when the good news was spread more happened than just a few people given the gift of life in the grace of God. The whole of society was being given the chance to heal and to find new life too. That was a cosmic agenda and that was too much for too many people to accept.
And in what he was going to do next, he knew it would be one more contribution to turning the world upside down. When he came to the tomb, he commanded the people to take the stone away that covered the entrance to the tomb. They hesitated because Lazarus had been dead so long. His soul having lingered the expected four days had probably fled by now. The stench was terrible, but also the spiritual emptiness of the tomb would be unbearable.
Jesus cried, ďLazarus, come out.Ē And Lazarus in his grave clothes had come out on his own two legs.
Now since that day, many have disputed what happened. I saw Lazarus come out. But was he really physically dead those four days? Some believed that he wasnítÖ and Jesus knew that. There was enough suspicion that the disciples who werenít there, such as Peter refused to accept what happened.
Just a few days ago, I was given the privilege of reading Markís newly written history of Jesusí ministry. A Jewish passenger on one of the many merchant ships that come from the Sinai coast had learned of the Christians. He was wealthy enough to contract with a copyist to make a copy for him from Markís original. Mark received most of his information from Peter and some from the stories floating around. Lazarusí resurrection was not in his writing. His community either didnít know about it or suspected it.
But I was there and I did see Lazarus come out of the tomb and I couldnít help but smell the stench. I donít know what happened for sure. Who knows what Lazarus had died of or if he had actually died. But I think that Jesus know there was death that was greater and more horrid than physically death. And I think Jesus knew that it was a creeping spiritual death that was destroying Lazarus soul and body. I think that Jesus knew him so well and had worked with him so long, he knew that Lazarus had reach a cleansing death. And when Jesus finally came and called to him, Jesusí voice and spirit re-lit his spark of life.
What I do know is that Lazarus from that day on was healthy and spiritually sound. He no longer had dark periods. He was always available to his sisters, his neighbors and especially the faithful. I understand now he is Bishop of Kittim on Cypus. He was appointed bishop by Paul and Barnabas.
But whether Lazarus had died a physical death or a spiritual death, I saw him resurrected. For all of my doubts, I could never walk away from Jesus after this. Judas wasnít there and he was a lost soul almost from the beginning. His doubts had become denial and cynical. Peter had momentary lapses. But he was always dedicated to Jesus. I supposed he didnít need a story of Jesus resurrecting a dead man to finally believe.
And maybe a resurrection from physical death isnít really the issue. Maybe the issue is that each one of us is offered by Jesus a resurrection from our spiritual dying. That if we reach out to Jesus, follow in his footsteps, and live as he lived, we will have new life and new hope.
Think about it Ö
Godís grace and love be with you Ö