But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” John 11:49-50 | ESV
But among them stood one man with a clearer head: Caiaphas (“hollow beauty”) who happened to be sitting in the big chair that year, head of the priestly hierarchy. He piped up: “You’re all idiots – you don’t get it at all! The answer is staring you in the face and you can’t do the math! The sum of the nation’s welfare is greater by far than the life of one man – better for him to die than the whole people to perish!” MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
The high priest.
The one who bore the sins the people before God once a year, risking his life as he risked exposure to the holy; the one who bore the names of the people over his heart; the one who stood in the gap for them, holding the line between life and death, blessing and judgment.
Perhaps Caiaphas thought that’s all he was doing when he suggested the death of one man to save the people from destruction at the hands of the Romans. He was just standing in the gap for the people. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. Just doing his job protecting the many.
But the fact is, the people knew better.
By the time of Jesus, the high priestly office had become such a chess piece on the board of Judean politics that few who heard a sentiment like that in Hebrews that the high priest is “able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness” could manage much more than loud guffaw. “Gentle” and “high priest” did not exactly go together.
More politician than priest.
More systems manager than minister, keeping his eye on the ball rather than God.
And rather than leaving the ninety-nine to go and seek the one sheep that was lost, he worked from a different equation: the one is always sacrificed for the many.
There’s a bit of debate over the meaning of the name “Caiaphas.” Some insist we don’t know; others say it means “beauty” while others posit a crater or depression, something hollowed out. So I combined the meetings. The high priest wore vestments “for beauty and for glory.” How fitting to call such a pragmatic, calculating one wearing garments for beauty and for glory “Caiaphas” – “hollow beauty.”
Definitely smaller on the inside.
And how wondrous that in Christ we do have a High Priest who does sympathize with us in our weaknesses, one who has been tempted in all points like we are, one who is approachable, one who not only bears our sins, but who bears us – and leaves the ninety-nine to do it.
Has your experience of church and God been more an experience of “Caiaphas” or of “Christ”? Why?
Lord, deliver me from the hollow beauty of empty religion. Let me see afresh the real beauty of your face, and let that be what flows through me this day. Let me do for the one what you would do for the many. Through Jesus.
So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” John 11:47-48 | ESV
An emergency session of the high council was gathered – the priestly and religious hierarchy – and they began their panicked deliberations: “What are we going to do? This man keeps performing so many impressive signs! If we do nothing and just leave him to it, everyone will buy into his act, then comes revolt, then come the Romans, then comes ruin – we’ll lose everything, our people, our place, our nation – everything!” MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
It’s what we all do.
If we do this, then this will happen, which will lead to this and this and this and then that. And then, with all our postulations and calculations, we set out our grand strategies for achievement or containment, fancying ourselves as chess masters in the game of life.
We can immediately bristle at the accusation. It’s just good business, we insist. We need to look ahead, to figure things out, to lay careful plans. Even Jesus commends such calculating plans, doesn’t he?
“Who builds a tower without first counting the cost?” Right?
Oh to observe the line between prudent planning and calculating scheming.
Perhaps it all comes down to what we are doing with our hands as we plan – that open or closed hand thing. And while we still might be shrugging our shoulders saying “What’s the big deal? So we’re planning and calculating? Is that a sin or something?” James doesn’t let us off so easy. What we would praise as good old-fashioned drive, initiative, and common sense, James calls “arrogance” “boasting” and “sin”:
And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.” You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”As it is, you are full of your grandiose selves. All such vaunting self-importance is evil. In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for you, is evil. James 4:13-15
And there is the line between prudent planning and calculating scheming: “If the Master wills it” versus “full of your grandiose selves” and “vaunting self-importance.”
Oh for the grace to plan well as needed but to live even better, at all times, and trust Him with all outcomes, rather than trying to arrange them ourselves.
Are you a careful planner or a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” kind of person? Why? To what extent would you say you are able to trust God with all outcomes? How can you grow in this area?
Abba, teach me that balance between planning and trusting you with all outcomes. Keep me from harmful calculations tabulated by my grandiose, self-important ego. Keep me wide open to your purposes, your plans. Through Jesus.
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. John 11:45-46 | ESV
In the light of these arresting developments, many of the local Jerusalem crowd who had come with Mary and who from their front row seats had seen Jesus’ actions did just that: they came to a place of trust in him; while others of them ran off to the Strict Sect types who were calling the shots and told them what Jesus had done. MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
This week’s text takes us away from mourning sisters and weeping friends, away from their sudden shock and awe at seeing the dead man walk out of his tomb after four days, away from that resulting circle of jubilation to the halls of calculating power, politics, and religion. All they had to do was run one lap over the hill to Bethany to be in the presence of a miracle that could make the most skeptical of observers believers.
Lawrence Kushner shares:
Jewish tradition says that the splitting of the Red Sea was the greatest miracle ever performed. It was so extraordinary that on that day even a common servant beheld more than all the miracles beheld by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel combined. And yet we have one midrash that mentions two Israelites, Reuven and Shimon, who had a different experience. Apparently the bottom of the sea, though safe to walk on, was not completely dry but a little muddy, like a beach at low tide. Reuven stepped into it and curled his lip. “What is this muck?” Shimon scowled, “There’s mud all over the place!” “This is just like the slime pits in Egypt!” replied Reuven. “What’s the difference?” complained Shimon. “Mud here, mud there; it’s all the same.”
And so it went for the two of them, grumbling all the way across the bottom of the sea. And because they never once looked up, they never understood why on the distant shore everyone else was singing songs of praise. For Reuven and Shimon the miracle never happened. Call it the difference between epistemology and piety. In epistemology if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear, it may or may not make a sound. In piety if a miracle happens and no one notices, it did not happen. Each miracle requires at least one person to experience the miracle, even if…only in retrospect.
At the tomb of Lazarus, those who looked up saw the Resurrection and the Life. Those who looked down and out only saw the mud of messy political upheavals and potential fallout from a Messianic wannabe getting significant air-time during the impending Passover season.
Amazing how the angle of our view can impact the ways in which we view the same event.
The question is: from what angle do we see?
How about you? With Reuven and Shimon, do you tend to look down and see and complain about all the muck, or are you joining the circle on the shore praising God for parted waters?
Abba, I confess. I see the muck and I spend more time cursing it than blessing you through beholding the wonders surrounding me every day. Lift my gaze to see higher realities of your wonders in the midst of the lower, lesser, messier realities I am currently slogging my way through. Lead me into the dance of praise and celebration happening on the shore. Through Christ.
Reflection 140 of 240
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:38-44| ESV
Deep anger rising up once again within him, he finally comes to the tomb entrance – it was a cave with a huge, heavy stone rolled over its mouth. Jesus says, “Remove the stone.” The deader than dead man’s sister, Martha interrupts, “Lord, it’s already a putrid stench in there – it’s been four days (((you’re a bit too late for a viewing of the body!)))” Jesus replied a bit sharply, “Didn’t I tell you that if you will trust you will see God wonders beyond your dreams?” So they moved the stone. Standing before the yawning mouth of death, Jesus then looked up and then spoke this prayer: “Abba, thank you for hearing me. I have always known you hear me, but I say this now simply for the sake of those standing around me, so they can recognize your calling card in what happens now, and learn to trust.” And after his prayer, he yelled into the gaping tomb at the top of his lungs, “Lazarus, come out!”
And out he came.
The deader than dead man appeared hobbling at the mouth of the tomb, bound hand and foot the way bodies were wrapped for burial, a cloth wrapped around his face. Jesus says to those standing by, “Untie him and let him go.” MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
Love the Old Testament story: A group of Israelite men were carrying a departed friend’s body to its final resting place, when they were surprised by a marauding band of Syrians. In their panic they threw his body into the first available tomb and then proceeded to high tail it out of there. But it wasn’t just any old tomb. It just happened to be where Elisha’s bones rested. And no sooner had the corpse touched the prophet’s long dried bones than the dead man sprang to life and joined his brothers in their flight (and no doubt his brothers at that point were running from more than the Syrians).
It’s what happens when death comes in contact with even the faintest echo of Life.
And with Jesus there is no faint echo here.
Life bellows into the shadow of death, and the deader than dead man (my tongue in cheek rendering of a repeated perfect passive Greek participle in this text – “the one who has died [and remains dead]”) steps from the shadows into the light. Or more likely, hobbles, since his body had been wrapped with burial cloths, mummy style. There was no arm wrestling match, no harrowing descent into the abyss.
The Resurrection speaks into death and darkness, and Life emerges.
While we would keep the stone in place hiding the stink, Life rolls the stone away, and speaks into the darkness. While we too often remain bound in the grave clothes of our own grief, Life orders the cloth bonds loosened and for us to go free.
And that so beautifully captures the divine intention for all of us.
“Untie him and let him go.”
He longs for us to be untied, unbound, unhindered, and finally, fully, set free. And he longs to usher us into the ensuing reunion and celebration. Death is but a stop along the way to the ultimate destination of Life.
And that, as Gandalf would say, is a comforting thought.
Where in your life are you needing to experience the Resurrection and the Life right now? Where do you need to have the courage to roll the stone away, smell the stench, and allow God to bring life?
Author of Life, you came “to destroy him who holds the power of death, and to deliver those who through the fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Let this liberation of Life seep into all the corners of my existence, setting me free from mere existence into real, abiding, deepening life. Give me the courage to approach the caves of my life that have died long ago. Allow me the strength to roll the stone aside and step back trusting you to bring life into the shadows of death. Through Christ.
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”- Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” John 11:33-37
Jesus stood there, watching her convulsive sobs. Then he looked up and saw those tears mirrored on the faces of the local Jerusalem crowd standing behind her. Anger built up inside him that he released like the snort of a bull seeing red. He let himself feel it – all of it. Calming himself a little, he asked, “Where have you put him?” They replied in unison, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus followed along, tears streaming down his face. Some in the crowd, noticing that, muttered loud enough for him to hear, “He can open the eyes of the blind man, but he can’t make it so this man didn’t have to die?” MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
Standing on the edge of our pain as an open invitation to approach when we’re ready.
And then we come.
Perhaps like Martha we affirm our faith in the midst of our disappointment; perhaps like Mary we just collapse at his feet with our tears and registered complaint. Perhaps we only have the tears.
Now observe what he does.
No “How dare you question me” moment.
He stands with us in the moment.
He takes in our complaint, hears our distress, absorbs our grief.
He lets himself feel all of it with us.
Let’s get this straight.
The Resurrection and Life has shown up in the presence of death to reverse it miraculously (sorry, spoiler!), and Jesus doesn’t tell these women or this crowd to stop crying, that it’s going to be okay as he strolls over to the tomb and produces their living brother right before their teary eyes? He’s here to raise Lazarus from the dead as a display of the beauty of God in this dark world, but instead of rushing to it he takes time to enter into their pain – and to allow it to enter his own heart?
He honors them.
He honors their pain and heartache.
And then he lets himself feel it with them.
He allows himself to feel it so deeply that he snorts.
That’s more or less the picture conjured up by the word translated “deeply moved.” One translation renders it “he snorted like an angry bull.”
So that’s what Life does in the presence of death and pain.
I always thought the “last shout” before the final resurrection was going to be a happy, triumphant one – and I’m sure those elements will be there. But encountering Christ in this text tunes my ears to an equally pained and anguished cry over all the waste and destruction of death.
“Creation groans in the pains of childbirth, waiting for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed…and we also groan…and the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings that words cannot express.”
This is what God does at funerals.
He isn’t just cracking jokes or leading us in “No Tears in Heaven”;
he doesn’t try to suppress our grief any more than he suppresses his own.
He doesn’t just move the stone from the tomb,
he helps us roll away the one in front of our own hearts.
When have you experienced this kind of “absorbing” presence from God or another human being?
When have you been this for someone else? What did this look like?
Lord, you tell us to “weep with those who weep.” Thank you for modeling this with me. Thank you for absorbing my grief and pain rather than simply insisting that I “get over it” or look at the bright side of things. Thank you for walking with me to the tomb, and for rolling away the stone covering my own heart. Through Jesus.
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:28-32 | ESV
And with that said, she turned and left. She went back into the house and whispered to her grieving sister Mary, “The Rabbi is here and he wants to see you.” Mary didn’t slip out quietly, she created quite a stir by rushing out, quickly making her way to him. Jesus, meanwhile, hadn’t moved an inch towards the village. He stayed right where he was when Martha met him. Seeing her get up and rush out like she did, the local Jerusalem crowd who had been staying with her trying to console her thought for sure she was hurrying to the tomb in grief to weep more there.
Mary made a beeline to the very spot where Jesus still stood, and when she saw him, instead of giving him a piece of her mind, she collapsed at his feet, sobbing Martha’s same line, “Lord, if you were here, my brother wouldn’t be dead!” MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
So there he stands.
On the edge of their village, the edge of their grief.
Waiting now for them.
What does this awkward meeting look like?
What do we say and do when we come face to face with the God who has so bitterly disappointed us?
Martha, mature, responsible, sensible, seems to put a good face on her disappointment.
“You’ve let me down, yes you have. But I still trust you. I still believe that God listens to you, that you are moving in his kingdom rhythms, that you are the One.” Faith is affirmed. She says the right things, but behind them lies the painful words of her bitter disappointment: “If you had been here my brother would not be dead.”
Translation: Where were you?
Yes I believe, but you sure haven’t made it easy for me. Where were you?
It’s clear she hasn’t come out expecting a fix or solution, looking for a mortified corpse to be reinvigorated with resurrection life. Oh that will happen, one day. But not now. She’s not stepped out of her circle of grief still looking for a miracle. She steps out because there is nowhere else for her to go.
And after her comes Mary.
Passionate, impetuous Mary who could get lost sitting at Jesus’ feet with the guys, forgetting all other responsibilities much to her older sister’s chagrin. Mary comes too.
Did she go to scream at him?
To give him a piece of her mind?
To give him a quick kick in the shins?
Whatever she might have had in mind, all she can manage is collapsing at his feet in grief.
No faint affirmation of faith, no claim to continued trust and affection.
Only tears and the heartbroken confession/complaint: “If you had been here my brother wouldn’t be dead.”
Where were you?
Oh the things we can learn from two heart-broken sisters…
If Jesus were quite literally to show up like this in the midst of your greatest loss, what do you think you would have said and done? Why?
Lord, thank you for waiting, for standing on the edge of my pain, inviting me to come when I am ready – to scream at you, to ask you why, and ultimately to collapse at your feet and simply weep. Thank you for not being the God of quick fixes – even though I long for those much of the time. Thank you for making space at your feet for me. Through Christ.
So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” John 11:20-27 | ESV
Someone had slipped in among that somber crowd and whispered to Martha that Jesus was almost there, and as soon as she heard that, she quickly left the house, while Mary stayed put.
It wasn’t exactly a happy meeting.
When Martha intercepted Jesus en route, the first thing out of her mouth was, “Lord (((where were you???))) if you were here, my brother wouldn’t be dead right now! But I still believe, I still know that whatever you ask, God will be right there on the spot with an answer.”
Jesus responds, “Your brother will rise from the dead.”
“Of course he will,” Martha replied, “at the end of time, at everyone’s resurrection.”
“I am the resurrection and the life, period! When someone trusts in me, puts it all on the line for me, death is but one stop before the final destination of life – and death will never, ever keep anyone with such a heart of trust in me from that ultimate destination of life. So what about you, do you believe this – do you trust it?”
“Yes, Lord, I do!” she insists, “this is where I’ve taken my stand – that you are the Messiah, the Chosen One, the Son of God, making your grand entrance into the world.” MAV
Friends flocked to the side of the two grieving sister hearts, consoling, comforting, trying to make them (and no doubt themselves) feel better. But it’s Life showing up on the corner that draws the sisters out, one at a time.
What could this meeting be but awkward?
What do you say to the Lord who has so deeply disappointed you?
What do we say to anyone who has deeply disappointed us?
It speaks volumes that the sisters did get up and go to him.
And isn’t that interesting: He stood on the edge of the village waiting for them to come to him.
He could have made a grand entrance.
He could have raised Lazarus first and then presented him alive with a divine, “Tada!”
But he stands out there on the edge of their grief.
Come when you’re ready.
Once again, the one who was entitled to the Messiah complex is the only one who doesn’t have it.
Christ doesn’t barge into our grief and loss, tidying us up and fixing it, fixing us. He stands on the edge of our grief, leaving the initiative with us, his very presence there inviting us to step out of our circle of grief.
But when we are ready, and not before.
Oh the things we can learn from Christ…
What is the deepest, most profound grief you have experienced? How did you process it? Who was present to console you? How did you (if you did) experience God in the midst of your grief?
Abba, I tend to look for you with a splash right in the middle of what is going down in my life, hopefully with a ready fix in hand. Make me aware of your presence on the edge of my life, inviting me to step out.