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Unbind Them!

Here are some thoughts I shared with the people of St. Timothy Lutheran Church on the gospel for All Saints Sunday.


John 11:32-44

32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
 38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

There are two things that stand out for me in this passage from John’s gospel. I think of them as one of those big two-pronged forks we use in carving meat. In this case, they help us understand the meat of God’s word. The first is in verse 35, “Jesus began to weep.” Now there are all kinds of ideas as to why John included this and what it means. Some say it shows Jesus’ emotional side and his close relationship to Lazarus and his family. After all, the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But in John’s gospel, it is this group that opposes Jesus and so why would we look for an understanding of Jesus’ words from them?

Others note that the surrounding verses show Jesus’ anger, whether it was at the lack of faith of Mary or whether it was because of the Jews, who in this case were professional weepers, who were not necessarily invested in the life of the family. Was it this hypocrisy that made Jesus weep? Ultimately, we do not know, but what we do know is that Jesus loved and cared very much about Lazarus and his family. 

Jesus cares very deeply about us as well, even in the middle of division, hardship, ugly public discourse, illness—you name it. Our loving Lord cries with us. God was there in Pittsburgh as worshippers were shot, God is with those going to the Mexican border, longing for freedom, God is with the hungry. Jesus was not simply a miracle worker, but a real flesh and blood person who laid down his life for his friends. 

The second prong involves the final words of this gospel text. Jesus tells the people standing around who had observed the miracle of Lazarus being restored to life, “Unbind him, and let him go” (v. 44). God has worked in our lives, setting us free from “sin, death and the power of the devil” (Luther’s Small Catechism). That’s great. We’re all set, but what about our neighbors? What about those on the margins of our society? Jesus speaks to us as he did to the crowd, “Unbind [them], and let [them] go.” This Sunday we will do this through the Auction for the Honduras mission. We do this when we give to the 5 and 2 Ministry and in any other way that we share the love of Christ with all we meet. 

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