Has anyone faced a conundrum, or even an entire area of study, they have found really challenging, or difficult?
Despite spending most of my working life in the finance industry, at school I found maths really challenging. I just couldn’t get my head around the various and different forms of equations.
In theology one of the most difficult issues to understand is the notion that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. Over the next few weeks in the run up to Easter day we have the opportunity to ponder, or seek to work out, this theological equation.
In seeking understanding we could take one of two approaches. We could seek to work out the whole conundrum simultaneously asking philosophical questions as to what it means to be a) human and, b) divine. Or, we could look at each half of the proposition in turn and then see if the whole thing makes sense after having done so. This is the route I propose to take over the next few weeks. Staring with the claim that Jesus is fully human.
Of course in the gospel passage we have just heard Jesus claims divine status saying: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me though they die will live,’ but what in many ways impresses me more about the passage is Jesus sheer humanity, the fullness of which he shows through his care and compassion for his friend Lazarus and, which he will continue to show through the way he relates to those he loves at the Last Supper and, of course from the cross.
Jesus, through the entirety of his passion shows how deep his love and compassion are. He is the Messiah who cares about Martha, Mary and Lazarus, who doesn’t feel the need to judge Thomas, Doubting Thomas, who at this stage is seemingly prepared to walk with Jesus towards his own death, and who will wash his apostles’ feet and give his mother to his friend John from the Cross. Jesus’ humanity is without doubt of a radically different quality.
And, what are we to make of his friend Lazarus? Not much you might think for Lazarus in the overall scheme of things is a bit of a nobody. And, that’s the point Lazarus is a nobody. Or at least he is if status, achievement and rank are to be the measure of a person. Lazarus, I would want to suggest is hardly worth saving, if we measure his worth using worldly metrics. John Vanier the Roman Catholic philosopher and theologian who established the L’Arche communities for the intellectually disadvantaged is in no doubt that Lazarus had what we might nowadays think of as special needs. Why else, in Jewish society, would a middle aged man be living under the care of his sisters? And, yet despite his lack of prestige and worth Lazarus is Jesus’ friend, someone he cares deeply about and wants to spend quality time with. His friendship with Lazarus, who he raises from the dead, signifies that everyone is loved by God, and that Jesus own resurrection was to be for all believers.
Jesus willingness to go back to Bethany, a place where his opponents had previously tried to stone him, shows how compassion and courage often, as Bishop Steven believes, go together. And, of course when we arrive at the cross that it was what we see: courage and compassion in action.
The account we have heard today reveals the fullness of Jesus’ humanity: his compassion for his friends; friends who for many wouldn’t have seemed worth the effort, and his courage. The remarkable thing about Jesus is his concern for the unremarkable, the nobody’s of this world.
If you want to understand Jesus’ divinity, why not start by being fascinated by his humanity? Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown