I was an English Literature Major in college. No, not because I wanted to become an English teacher, that is a completely different degree; I have no desire to mold young minds. I’ll leave that to my husband and other equally
crazy special people.
My days were filled by reading multiple novels at once and writing huge papers that used literary analysis to delve into different theories, themes and ideas on the work. All four years were spent looking for ideas both large and small, and then finding clues within the text to create, support and defend arguments about the work. I loved it. I still love it.
Lately, I’ve enjoyed applying this process to the Bible. While I believe the Bible is not a work of fiction but non-fiction, it is also a beautifully written piece of literature. And for me, looking at the Bible through literary analysis has helped me go deeper in my understanding of the text.
Yesterday in my church’s Easter service, we read the story of Jesus raising Lazarus. One thing struck me about this story, and it came at the end:
John 11:43-44The Message (MSG)
43-44 Then he shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And he came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, and with a kerchief over his face.
Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him loose.”
As I read this, I was reminded of another one of Jesus’ miracles. A story of a man paralyzed his whole life. When he and his friends heard Jesus was in town, this man’s friends carried him to see Jesus in the hopes that he could be healed:
Mark 2:11-12The Message (MSG)
8-12 Jesus knew right away what they were thinking, and said, “Why are you so skeptical? Which is simpler: to say to the paraplegic, ‘I forgive your sins,’ or say, ‘Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking’? Well, just so it’s clear that I’m the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both . . .” (he looked now at the paraplegic), “Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home.” And the man did it—got up, grabbed his stretcher, and walked out, with everyone there watching him. They rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”
What struck me about both these accounts are Jesus’ instructions. In both cases, the men who experienced the miracle were not responsible for removing the physical evidence of their death and paralysis. Others helped Lazarus remove his bandages, while the paralytic was told to carry his bed with him, not leave it.
Take the case of the paralyzed man, for instance. If you simply saw a man walking down the street, you wouldn’t think once about how he came to walk. We take our physical bodies and their abilities for granted. We assume that most people are born able to walk, move, etc. But if you saw a man walking down the street pushing an empty wheelchair, you might pause to wonder why. You might even stop to question him:
You: Can I help you sir? Are you walking to pick someone up with the wheelchair?
Man: No, thank you. The wheelchair is mine. Well, was mine.
Man: Yes. You see I’ve never been able to walk until about a half hour ago, when I met Jesus and he healed me.
Jesus told him to get up and walk, and carry out his bed that he had been living on for his whole life. His bed – the physical evidence of his deformity – was now part of his story even if it was no longer currently a part of who he was. Though he was healed from his paralysis, his story now included both his deformity and his healing. His healing did not take away the years of being unable to walk; it didn’t become something to be ashamed of or something he needed to hide. No, just the opposite. The story of who he became, was only possible because of the story of who he was.
Go back to the story of Lazarus. Jesus commanded him to come out of the tomb, and then asked his family and friends to remove his burial clothes. Lazarus was neither responsible for the power it took to transform his physical body, nor was he responsible for removing the evidence of his death.
I don’t talk a lot about my faith on this blog because, quite honestly, modern Christians embarrass me as a whole. I have a wonderful community of Christians in my church family, and admire a whole host of Christians who preach, speak and write books. But there are so many other Christians out there who give the rest of us a bad rep. I heard someone say once: “There are a lot of crazy Christians out there. If you’ve never met one, then it’s YOU.”
So no, I don’t write a lot about my faith here because I prefer to have conversations in person where I can meet people right where they are, as individuals, living their unique life and experiencing their own unique questions, fears and frustrations about God.
But as I was thinking about these two stories yesterday, I was reminded of how good God is, and how terrible we are at representing him. Christians are the best at tearing down, judging and being down right awful to fellow human beings – Christian or not. We expect perfection. We expect instant change. We try to regulate/legislate/force/coerce people into looking and acting a certain way. We fight and defend certain ways of living. We take a God who came to give freedom and love and reduce him to a list of rules and regulations.
You want to know why there is so much disagreement, arguments and confusion about the Bible? Because we try to reduce it to something simple; something easily consumed, distributed and assimilated. But if we could slip God on and off like a pair of new shoes, he wouldn’t be God; we would be.
There are plenty of truth’s about God though. For instance – that he loves you, and wants you to know him.
And the story of Lazarus and the paralytic man remind me of another truth, one that we as a Christian culture have seriously screwed up: meeting Jesus can transform you. It will, transform you, if you come into contact with him. But the responsibility of that transformation lies in his power, not our own. Yes, Jesus told Lazarus to come out of the grave, he didn’t go into get him. So while it’s important to recognize that we have to be willing participants in this transformation, it is categorically untrue to think that we have the power to transform ourselves. Even after raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus didn’t make Lazarus take off his own burial clothes; he had his friends do it.
You aren’t in this life alone, and you don’t have to transform yourself or move forward alone.
And then the paralytic man. How wonderful of Jesus to command this man to keep his bed – the proof of his past. Life with God is a journey, full of ups and downs because we are in fact human. But these struggles, hurts, and mistakes aren’t things to be ashamed of or hide – they are unique and wonderful parts of our story that speak of a God that loves us and uses us. All of us. Every last bit. From our victories right down to our darkest of moments.
Thanks for reading today. I hope this post encouraged you. If it wasn’t your thing,that’s ok. I promised that this blog would be representative of who I am and what I’m thinking at any given moment. And for today, this was what was on my mind. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. 🙂
Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter!