Today is our third and final article in this wonderful series by Shelley Maw.
Bible Contemplation – Meeting John the Baptist
We had been hearing reports about Jesus' cousin John for a couple of weeks now. Some from town had gone to see and listen to Him. Some of them had been baptized by John and now had a new spring in their step it seemed, a new peace about them. Of course there was a lot of talk - carefully - since everyone was afraid of the Romans.
I stop by the shop. I am surprised to find Jesus at work - but not building anything - he is busily cleaning all his tools, his Father's tools, and arranging them all carefully on the walls and side table. "Going somewhere?" I say cheerfully, "or just spring cleaning?"
He looks up and smiles. "Yep" he says. "I'm going." His eyes dance - he looks excited, in a calm sort of way.
"You are?" I am surprised. And then I look at him and feel goose bumps break out all over me. I grab a stool and sit down quickly. "You are?" I say again quietly. "Is this...did you...are you?" My heart starts pounding.
He comes over to me and grabs a nearby stool. "Yes" he says seriously.
"Yes what?" I say anxiously. "Yes an angel came? Yes I am going to organize something? Yes what?"
"Yes I am going" he says. "Yes I am going to do what my Father asks me to do. Yes I am going to talk to people - to tell them - show them who the Father really is - to bring them back to him after we all have been away for so long."
"Do you have a plan?" I say anxiously. I want to know it but I am afraid to hear it.
He smiles at me reassuringly. "I don't need one" he says "my Father already has one. Remember all the stories Mom told us?"
I nod. Yes, of course. But I don't know what to say - I can't picture any of this turning out well. I sit for a bit and watch him as he stands up again and continues cleaning his tools.
"Where are you going?" I ask suddenly.
He stops cleaning for a second and looks back at me. There is something different about him, I notice. His uncertainty is gone. He looks happy; his often furrowed brow has smoothed out. He is excited, I can tell, but peaceful too - like a child looking forward to going somewhere new with Mom and Dad - nothing to worry about and full of anticipation.
"To see John" he says. "Want to come?"
Yes I want to come. How could I not, how can I not? Who wouldn't want to?
But I know that going to see John is only the beginning. I know it is about to get complicated. Dreams are never as easy to walk out as they are to dream.
We leave a few days later to go see John. I notice his Mom holds him a little tighter as he reassures her he will be back soon.
I feel like a bit of a tag-along as Jesus strides off down the road like a man on a mission. I have to run to keep up - 'where's the fire, what's your hurry?' I myself feel like we can't walk slowly enough.
After a bit he slows down some and we settle in to a comfortable pace. I want to ask a million questions, but I don't want to ask any either, afraid that he will just smile and say it doesn't matter or that we will have to wait and see.
"Jesus," I say eventually "what am I going to do? I know you don't have a plan, but is there something specific..." I trail off. I should have kept my mouth shut - I was right, it did sound stupid.
But he looks at me appreciatively. "Nothing specific" he says kindly. "Just come."
"Oh" I say.
I must have sounded deflated or something, because then he says "Shelley, this is for you too."
"What is?" I say.
"The Father's plan" he says. "Come with me because it is for you too."
"But I want to help" I say. Yep, still sounds stupid.
He smiles and shoves me a little. I shove him back.
"Just come" he says again, "I want you to come. If there is anything to do, we'll figure it out. Let's just go hear John."
We walk a bit more, and then he says "A lot of what is coming you can't do, Shelley. A lot of what is coming I can't do either without my Father. I don't even know all that is going to happen. But I am willing to do it."
The whole thing feels surreal, two people walking down the road so normally, but talking like the future was about to unfold like some science fiction novel or something - all mysterious and dangerous and miraculous. Or something.
I am nervous and jumpy, he is not. The excitement and calm he had a few days ago is still with him. I start thinking again about what he had said before - about God being love and wanting to be with us; about how none of us are free. I certainly don't feel free, walking along all tied up in knots of fear and trepidation, like all my security is going to end - like my friend Jesus is going to be taken from me - like maybe he is already gone.
How in the world did he think he was going to set the world free?
I stop walking suddenly. "Why do you want me to come?" I demand. "I am scared, confused, useless, stressed out...I am not a help, I am a hindrance."
He stops then too and walks back to face me. "Just come" he says quietly. "It is for you that the Father is doing this. He doesn't need you to do anything, just come. He is the one doing things, not you. If he gives you something, take it. If he asks you something, think about it. If you see him do something cool...." he smiles "then you get to see my Father do something cool. Nobody is asking you to do anything Shelley. Just come with me, okay? Don't check out now, and don't muscle your way in and take over - just come."
I smile at that last part - as if. But then I remember how I had pestered him for his plans and bombarded him with questions about how he was going to defeat the Romans...
"Sorry," I say. "Do you know how hard it is to do nothing?"
"Yes" he says "oh yes."
He takes my hand then, and we walk down the road together like we did when we were kids. Now his hand is big and rough and it encloses mine. I am quiet now - I know he does know what that feels like - and I am going to cry - so I am quiet and we walk on together like that for quite some time.
I don't know why he doesn't hug me, wish me well, and send me back to Nazareth. I am sure he didn't need someone doing worst-case scenarios for him at this critical juncture. But he holds my hand and walks on purposefully like that thought had never crossed his mind.
"Gee" I think, "maybe Jesus will change the world."
This contemplation was very self-revealing for me. It showed me how I was feeling at the time about a role in my church I was serving in and feeling very anxious and inadequate about. The grace and welcome that Jesus extended to me in this imaginative scene, as well as his advice to me, really ministered to my frightened heart in my real life role.
Bible Contemplation – Lazarus Raised from the Dead
A messenger comes to us and tells us that Lazarus is sick - they have been sent by Mary and Martha to tell Jesus, no doubt so that Jesus will come and heal him. We are all worried though, because we just left Jerusalem. Some people have threatened to stone Jesus, so we left.
But will Jesus go back because of Lazarus? I know he will - but we are relieved when he says Lazarus won't die, and when we stay where we are.
But now two days later he tells us we are going. We remind him the Jews there have just tried to stone him so maybe it isn't a good idea, but just as we feared he doesn't seem worried about that.
But then he tells us that Lazarus has died, and that it is good for all of us that he hadn't gone to heal him. What?? I am totally confused. But if he has died, then of course we have to go. Mary and Martha and Lazarus have supported us and loved Jesus right from the beginning. They are family.
So, even though we are all afraid, we go. Who knows, maybe Jesus is mistaken and he isn't dead and Jesus can still heal him.
But when we get close to Bethany we find out Lazarus has been dead now for four days - which means that he died even before the messenger told us he was sick. So it had been too late all along. It is a shame...of all the people, strangers, Jesus has healed - Lazarus should have been one of them. He is a good man. I don't understand why the timing couldn't have been better, after all, Jesus is the Christ. Why didn't he know Lazarus needed him sooner?
Then Martha comes to meet us as we come down the road toward their house. She says what I am thinking "If you had been here, my brother would not have died." But then she adds "But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." What does she mean by that? Maybe she is just trying to soften her previous statement.
Jesus says to her, "Your brother will rise again." My mouth falls open, but then Martha says something about the resurrection and I snap out of it - of course.
She goes back to get Mary, and then Mary comes out to see Jesus.
Unlike Martha, she is not composed when she sees Jesus. She bursts into tears and falls down - grabbing his feet. She says "Lord, if you had been here, he wouldn't have died” but she says it so disappointed and a bit accusingly, certainly because of her grief. She is so emotional, and her friends with her, we all lose it, even Jesus.
He isn't upset about her accusation, I think he understands. We all do, although I do feel bad then that we have been reluctant to come at all over our own safety.
Jesus takes her hand, helps her up and asks her where the grave is, and so we go there. I hear some of her friends talking to each other as we go and asking the same thing - why hadn't Jesus kept Lazarus from dying? I want to defend him - do we all expect him to save everyone? But I don't say anything because I have the same question in my mind. Even though I know Jesus' safety is now an issue, I know it isn't necessarily an issue to Jesus. So that isn't it.
When we get to the grave Jesus horrifies and shocks us all when he says "Take away the stone." We are too late to pay our respects to the body - what is he thinking? Now I am really upset we haven't come sooner - even a few days sooner we could have taken part in the burial. Martha whispers her protest to him, but he says we will see the glory of God. What? None of us knows what on earth he means, but Jesus says things with such surety and authority it is impossible to argue sometimes.
So at Jesus' request and Martha's insistence that we do as he says, some men roll the stone back.
Then Jesus prays to the Father. All the mourners elbow each other and it is quickly very, very quiet, so that everyone hears him call out "Lazarus, come out!" We all just stand and stare, either at Jesus or at the grave. I have just exhaled because nothing has happened, when I catch my breath again so sharply that I choke - because Lazarus walks out of the tomb. Nobody moves, except a few people who faint. Mary grabs Jesus' arm so tightly I think he will have a bruise there - Jesus puts his hand over hers and says to her "Untie his grave clothes and let him go." There are still tears on his face.
The sisters run then and a few others, and help Lazarus disentangle himself. They hang onto him but he gently moves them aside after a minute and walks toward Jesus.
Jesus reaches out to him, and then they stand there and hold each other tightly like there is an understanding between them that no one else can share. My mind is blown, but more than that my heart is overwhelmed watching these two men embrace in this life and death moment like something I have never seen before. It is Lazarus who has been raised to life, but somehow I know that this moment is for Jesus too...They stand there and hold each other like two men who have gone through war together and are reunited. I watch them standing there, and I think I will never forget this moment, this connection.
Then they kiss each other and laugh and wipe each other's tears with their big rough thumbs and let Mary and Martha in on the kisses and hugs with them. Lazarus' friends line up and crowd around to touch him and hug him and slap him on the back in love and amazement. It is incredible, surreal.
Some people go into the tomb and look, as though checking for booby traps or something, or as though they think there might still be a body in there. More than a few go and stand and touch the stone like they just have to, looking over to Jesus and Lazarus and back into the empty cave with tears streaming down their faces. I see a few on their knees, and I think I know why Jesus has done this, not for Mary or Martha or himself or even for Lazarus - but so that more of us will understand and believe.
I can hear his words in my mind "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die".
I can still see Jesus and Lazarus standing there in the sun, holding each other so tightly, crying and laughing at the same time.
This contemplation really impacted me, because I saw the heart of the Father in this story in a way that I never had before, just reading it in the gospels. I saw how by raising Lazarus, God showed his fully human Son and his Son’s dear friends an actual resurrection from the dead, before Jesus had to give himself up for his own death. I saw a Father who understood our human fear and our very real human difficulty to see into the impossible and the unseen world. What a gift this must have been, for Jesus to see a real resurrection happen right before his eyes, to a dear friend as well, in advance of his own. And for the disciples to see that as well, before facing the death of their beloved Jesus.
This showed me a Father God who is loving and kind and understanding of our humanness, and yes, full of purpose as well. This inner picture I experienced, of the resurrected Lazarus and the soon to be resurrected Jesus holding each other tightly in the sun outside of the empty tomb has really stuck with me, as a symbol of the grace and love of a Father God who understood the magnitude of what he was asking of his now human Son. Now I know that if the Father should ask something very, very difficult of me that He will not abandon me to face that challenge on my own.