- Posted on Mar 27, 2012
Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who has called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” John 11: 14-16
Serving Jesus means following Jesus. And, according to the writer of the gospel of John, following Jesus means following him to Jerusalem. It means following Jesus to die. This message is underscored by John again and again in his Gospel. It’s not a message that is easy to hear, but as we approach Palm Sunday and Holy Week, it’s time to hear it again.
This past Wednesday at the Lenten Ecumenical Series at Noon, Pastor Grady Yeargin preached about the story of Lazarus which is found in Chapter 11 of John’s Gospel
Most of us know the story of Lazarus—who was dead in the tomb for four days. Jesus, after delaying for a time, came to Bethany at Martha’s request. He asked the crowd to roll the stone away from Lazarus’ tomb. And he calls in a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man comes out wrapped in bands of cloth. Jesus says, “Unbind him and let him go.”
This part of John’s Gospel is often read on the Fifth Sunday of Lent.
But the story of Lazarus coming out from the tomb at Jesus’ command was not what Pastor Yeargin preached about. Rather, he spent his time on the beginning of Chapter 11—and the beginning of the Lazarus story. It’s an easy part of the story to forget with such a dramatic scene at Lazarus’ tomb. But it’s crucial to understanding what Jesus is asking us to do when we follow him.
Although it is unclear just how far away Jesus is from Bethany—he is somewhere across the Jordan River at the end of Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel…it is clear that there is some fear of Jesus going to Judea—to Bethany, to Jerusalem once again.
In verse 7, Jesus says to his disciples: “Let us go to Judea again.” But the disciples say: “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”
Jesus says to them: “ Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
And then Thomas says the words that the gospel writer John wants us to understand, “ Let us also go; that we may die with him.”
Following Jesus means dying with him. It means going to the cross.
Because the only way to new life is through death. That is Jesus’ message—most clearly underscored in John’s Gospel.
So, what does this disciple death look like?
Walter Wink has suggested that there is “a myth of redemptive violence.” That violence is the way to peace and wholeness. The myth of redemptive violence is the primary myth by which our world, our culture operates. (quoted in Charles Campbell’s Exegetical Perspective in Feasting on the Word for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B, David L Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors)
According to this myth, the way to bring order out of chaos is through violently defeating “the other.” The way to deal with threats from enemies is by violently eliminating them—as the world of 1 century Palestine will seek to do with Jesus.
We see it today. Not only in video games and movies like the Hunger Games. We see it in the death penalty and in our response to terrorism.
We see it every day.
Doesn’t this myth of redemptive violence lead to situations like Staff Sargeant Robert Bales who was charged on Friday with 17 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of assault and attempted murder in connection with a March 11 attack on Afghan civilians including 9 children.
Doesn’t this myth of redemptive violence lead to situations like we have in Florida where a “Stand Your Ground” law allows citizens to act in self-defense not only protecting their home but in public. Did that law—or the state of mind behind the law—shoot first and ask questions later—lead to the death of an innocent young man, Trayvon Martin?
So, what does a disciple of Jesus do to follow Jesus in a System that lives by the myth of redemptive violence?
Our call is to expose this myth as a myth, as a destructive myth, as a myth that is not redemptive but a myth that breaks apart our world and our humanity.
Martin Luther King, Jr. knew about this myth of redemptive violence. A myth that led the powers that be to turn hoses and dogs on non-violent marchers. At one point, he said, “Let them get their dogs and let them get the hose…it is necessary to bring these issues to the surface, to bring them out into the open where everybody can see them.” (see Campbell article, p. 145)
John’s Gospel is all about Jesus exposing the myth. At the Temple. With the Woman at the Well. At the Cross.
The Cross is showing the depths that humanity will sink in its belief that violence will make all well.
Our work as disciples is to uncover those systems. TO debunk the myth,.
And that involves going to our Bethanys, to our Jerusalems. To dying to self for the Kingdom of God and for humanity and the world.
To be the servant of Jesus, we go to the cross. We go there again next week. Holy Week. Let us go to Jerusalem together. Let us go, that we may die with him.