‘What a friend we have in Jesus.’
Today’s gospel reading is a very long reading, forty-five verses, and yet it contains the shortest verse in the bible, a verse that contains just two words: ‘Jesus wept.’
I want to keep my homily short today and focus on what I see as the bare essentials, or the long and short, of the reading. The long and the short of it is that in forty-five verses, what we get to see is the fullness of Christ as both fully human and fully divine. We see the very best of humanity held within the glory of Jesus’ divinity. What we get to see is the offer of the deepest and most enduring friendship. We see the Jesus who is deeply relational; the Jesus who has friends beyond his immediate circle of co-workers, or apostles. We see the Jesus who relates to Martha, Mary and, of course, Lazarus.
Now Lazarus is an interesting character, a character that we can only speculate about. Why, we might ask, did Lazarus live with his sisters; why wasn’t he the head of a household? Well, we don’t really know, but what we can say with certainty was that theirs was a highly unusual domestic set up. Perhaps Lazarus was what we might now term a vulnerable adult?
Whatever the reason for the unusual domestic set up in the household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, the long and the short of it is that we are presented with the Jesus who cares, the Jesus who has compassion, ‘is all compassion,’ and the Jesus who clearly relates to others beyond the boundaries set by norms and protocols, and we see the Jesus who ‘wept.’ We see the Jesus who is characterised not just by compassion but also empathy. We see the Jesus who knows what it is to suffer loss; we see the fully human Jesus.
As we reflect on this passage, we are invited to pause and think about Jesus anew as not just Messiah, but as friend; ‘what a friend we have in Jesus!’ The friendship we are offered with the ever compassionate, empathetic Jesus, isn’t a here today, gone tomorrow friendship, but an eternal friendship, for as Jesus says to Martha ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’
After he has described himself as the Messiah – the eternal friend – Jesus asks Martha whether she ‘believes this,’ and she replies, ‘yes Lord, I believe that you’re are the Messiah.’ The ever compassionate, always empathetic Jesus is asking the same question of us today; do we believe that Jesus is the Messiah? And if we do, what are the implications of such belief?
For me, the long and the short of it is simply this: friendship. What you and I are invited into is an eternal friendship with Jesus. Not a friendship that is to start at some unspecified time in the future, but a real friendship, one that starts in the here and now, and as the hymn writer John Scriven stressed, ‘what a friend we have in Jesus.’ The long and the short of it, at least for me, is that in these difficult, challenging and isolating times, one of the things we could usefully do is to reflect on the eternal friendship we are offered by Jesus and to then spread something of that friendship, through word and deed, with others; ‘what a friend we have in Jesus.’