Nothing We Can Do

Friday, February 28, 2014 – Week of 7 Epiphany, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 140, 142 (morning) // 141, 143:1-11(12) (evening)

Proverbs 8:1-12

Philemon 1-25

John 12:9-19

Perhaps I woke up with a dark sense of humor today, because the first few verses of our gospel made me laugh. The passage as a whole is not funny: The crowds are pressuring Jesus to act like a worldly king, and Jesus’ opponents are conspiring to kill him. All the events of Jesus’ last week on earth have been set in motion.

What got a brief laugh out of me was the absurd reaction of the chief priests to Lazarus. Apparently, great crowds of people are flocking to see not only Jesus, but also Lazarus, “whom he had raised from the dead.” So how do the chief priests propose to deal with the death-defying Lazarus? According to the passage, “the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death.”

There’s something oddly comical about people trying to halt the momentum of resurrected life with the flimsy obstacle of death. What makes them think that death will keep Lazarus down this time, when it didn’t work before? And hasn’t Jesus already demonstrated his power over death in the life of Lazarus? The chief priests really need some better ideas.

The opponents of Jesus in today’s gospel just don’t seem to get that Jesus’ kingdom is totally unstoppable. At least the Pharisees get it: “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!” They know a losing battle when they see one.

Of course, it’s good to get our laughs in now before the realities of state-sanctioned execution and mob frenzy unleash the powers of death on Jesus. Suffering and grief will have their say in this story, and they are nothing to laugh about. But the idea that we can stop change, contain our fears, or stay in control by wielding the power of death is the biggest joke ever played on humankind.

Our other Scripture readings remind us of the only ways to hold onto life-giving power. In our first reading, Wisdom tells us that “by me rulers rule, and nobles, all who govern rightly.” And in our second reading, Paul doesn’t want to order his friend Philemon around: “though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love.” He wants Philemon’s good deed to be “voluntary and not something forced.”

In the long run, there is nothing that can stop Wisdom, Love, and the Life that defies the powers of death. We can deny climate change, legalize discrimination, and impose brutal and deadly criminal “justice”, all with very real and damaging effects on people’s lives. Or, we can snap out of these absurdities and join forces with the wisdom, love, and life that hold sway in the irresistible kingdom of God.

Actually, there’s nothing else we can do.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Past Posts