Preventative Measures

Wednesday, September 10, 2013 — Week of Proper 18, 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 40, 54 (morning) // 51 (evening)

Job 29:1; 31:24-40

Acts 15:12-21

John 11:30-44

I have a reflexive mental habit when I hear any kind of bad news: Instinctively, almost subconsciously, I ask myself how such a misfortune or tragedy could have been prevented. Surely some degree of foresight, some amount of planning, some measure of wisdom could have kept this disease or divorce or disaster from happening. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right?

I try to regulate this habit, because I believe it is a form of judgment: If only so-and-so had done such-and-such, they (or we or I) wouldn’t be in this situation. By focusing on preventative measures, my mind gives itself the illusion that it is in control.

In today’s gospel reading, people try to push Jesus into this way of responding to tragedy. When Jesus’ close friend Lazarus dies, people try to convince Jesus that he could have prevented his friend’s death. Mary says to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Other people say to each other, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” They are convinced that if Jesus has the power to change things, then he also has the power to keep bad things from happening.

But in today’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t work by taking preventative measures. Instead of trying to imagine ways that he could have prevented death, Jesus is fully present to his grief: He is “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved,” and he weeps.

Also, instead of reconstructing a past in which he could have prevented loss, Jesus is fully open to what comes next. He asks people to roll the stone from the tomb, he calls Lazarus out, and he tells everyone present to unbind the dead man.

Unlike the other people in this story, Jesus does not focus on preventative measures. There may be some comfort in thinking we can prevent the onset of disease, the disintegration of relationships, the attacks of terrorists, and other forms of loss. And, of course, some good habits and wise insights can prevent some of life’s losses.

However, Jesus does not focus his own life on preventing death. Rather, in today’s gospel, Jesus is a companion in grief and an opener of graves. Our relationship with Jesus is not a preventative measure. Perhaps today Jesus can release us from our desire to prevent and to control, and instead open us to what is now and what may happen next.

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.

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