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s016g11  Lent 5  10/4/2011

Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  John 11.21

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter

Twice in our gospel Jesus is accused of not being where he ought to be and that Lazarus had died as a result.   First Martha, then Mary accuse Jesus of neglecting his duty towards his friend in his hour of need.  And it is quite true, Jesus stayed two days longer where he was rather than immediately going to the aid of Lazarus.   So the first salutary lesson for us as ‘christians’ is that our friendship with Jesus does not guarantee Jesus’ undivided attention - even when our needs are indeed pressing.   The fact that Mary had anointed the Lord with perfume, and that Martha had provided a scrumptious meal for the disciples and the Lord made not a bit of difference.  (We are not told that Lazarus was present when these things happened.)

Secondly I note that both Martha and Mary ask for their brother, not for themselves.   And ‘christians’ have made a virtue of praying for others and not for themselves.   I have sometimes thought when I’ve been asked to visit someone else - well I’ve got to do it because it is for someone other than the person asking.   Somehow this makes our petitions OK.   But of course, the person asking has a relationship with the other one, as Mary and Martha ask for their brother Lazarus.   And I wonder if by asking Jesus, they think that they have fulfilled their duty towards their brother.   One wonders if they had consulted Lazarus about his desire to be raised to life prior to his death, and to have to experience death twice rather than once!   More than once I have been asked to visit someone who I’m sure wasn’t aware that I was being asked.   Some ‘christians’ exercise their ministry to others by telling the vicar to visit those others!   Is this actually treating others with respect?   Are other people children, that they can’t contact the vicar themselves?   Is the kingdom of God going to come by being secretive, surreptitious, and manipulative?

I must admit I find it incongruous that some traditional Catholics and Anglicans believe that a person must make a confession, be anointed and receive holy communion just prior to their death, in the light of Jesus’ unwillingness to be there when Lazarus died.   It seems as if some clergy have to be a part of everyone’s lives.   People can’t even die without their  priest’s presence and permission!   This seems to me to be the height of arrogance.  

And I have to ask that if this really is the case, what happens to the souls of all those who are not traditional Catholics or Anglicans when they die?   If the percentage of people who are churchgoers is say 10%, then perhaps 1% actually receive extreme unction before they die.   If there are 6000 million people alive today, that means 6 million get extreme unction and 5994 million people don’t.   Do they go to hell?!!

Jesus says that: ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it’ and we blithely assume that this is referring to Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from death.   This only indicates how ego-centric ‘christianity’ has become.   God’s glory is that God is concerned about others, not just those who have a special personal relationship with Jesus or who worship God.  The glory of the Son of God is that Jesus shows God’s concern for all in his day to day life.

If we don’t get this message that God is concerned for others, then we are dead to the gospel, we are dead to the world, and it is we that have to be raised to life.   And some ‘christians’ deny God’s concern to confer dignity to people other than themselves, and are equally dead even as they praise Jesus.

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