The astute listener, especially one who is listening with the hope of arguing against the religion founded by Jesus’ disciples, will notice a disturbing trend in the Gospel lessons for Lent 4 and 5 in Year A. No, it isn’t that they are insufferably long, Lent 3 had that too, but that is an interesting conversation topic for preachers who visit this website with regularity. How does a six minute long Gospel reading impact the way in which a preacher prepares her sermon. Do we allow the text to tell more of they story, or do we, as TKT and I have done the last two weeks, just preach as long we always do and risk breaking the imaginary one-hour threshold for service length?
Like I said, that’s not the trend I wanted to talk about today. Instead, I’m troubled and seeking a good answer for two things that Jesus says in these lessons, both early on, that seem to require some unpacking. First, from last week’s lesson about the man born blind, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Then from this week’s story of the resurrection of Lazarus, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” It sounds like the old attack on God that he is arbitrary and capricious. God is in need of a couple of teaching moments for Jesus so twenty-some years earlier, he formed a blind baby in his mother’s womb and decides to strike Lazarus dead. At best, Jesus (or John) seems to be setting up faulty causation by suggesting that the man’s birth defect and Lazarus’ illness are predestined by God so that Jesus could perform miracles.
Perhaps I’m making something out of nothing here, but my preaching goal on Monday morning is to figure out what I think the average listener in the pew will be thinking about while I read and preach the gospel. Aside from looking the bulletin and thinking, “O MY GAWD! Could this be any longer!?!” I’m thinking that maybe some people will find Jesus’ reasoning troublesome. I’m thinking of the parishioner who has just undergone surgery or received an unwanted health diagnosis or has recently lost a loved one or has been unemployed for months on end. How do they hear that these words from Jesus? Are they hopeful words? Are they condescending words? Are they scary? Are they comforting?
No matter what, it seems to me, they both are and offer a tough touching moment. Or maybe they just get lost in the glazed over eyes of the long lesson. What do you think?