6 Apr 2014
“When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, but Mary sat at home.” (John 11:20) In the name …
A few months ago the physicist Brian Greene was interviewed on the radio program On Being. (http://www.onbeing.org/program/brian-greene-reimagining-the-cosmos/6118) This is a program that delves into all sorts of topics, but the perspective of the spiritual is usually hovering close by. Toward the end of the interview people from the Columbia University audience were invited to ask questions. One of the questions directed to Brian Greene was from a member of that school’s theology department, and in his answer this extremely intelligent man responded to the theologian by saying that he found God to be uninteresting. The debate between a scientist and a theologian about whether or not God exists was not a topic he wanted to spend time on. Instead, he said that even if there is a god, that God doesn’t help him understand his life or his world any better. God doesn’t answer any of the questions that matter to him. In other words, God is uninteresting. And I think that summarizes the imagery of Passion Sunday
On Passion Sunday the church directs us to shroud the images of Jesus. The starkness of our Sanctuary symbolizes the point in Jesus’ life where He was forced to go into hiding. This was a tactical retreat. Jesus needed to try one last time to prepare His followers for what He now knew was inevitable. While He secluded Himself with His disciples, the world was left without Christ. That’s the message of the shrouds. And I think an equally pertinent symbol for this absence of Christ is the words of Brian Greene, that God is simply uninteresting, to many people that God is not an answer to any of life’s important questions or quests. Jesus isn’t so much denied as He is ignored. And I think that may be the real shroud in our world today.
This talk of the absence of God may sound strange with so many God-films coming to theaters. How can God be uninteresting if movie companies drop hundreds of millions of dollars to make a film like Noah and millions of people will go to see it? It’s because Noah is an interesting story. As a matter of fact it’s so interesting that basically the same story was being told in ancient Babylon some thousand years before Noah was even heard of. The Babylonians told the exciting story of a man who was ordered by a god to build an ark, and to then fill it with the building blocks of a new creation because his present world was about to be destroyed by a flood. It even includes information like grounding on a mountaintop and sending out a raven and a dove to find out if the earth had dried out enough to release the animals. These are exciting stories. That’s why we’ve told them to each other from around camp fires when civilization was young to blockbuster computer animated movies today. Russell Crowe may be a cool Noah to watch at the movies, but I don’t see that movie changing a person’s life. It’s entertainment, but for the big and meaningful questions that can keep us up at night, I think we’re back to Brian Greene’s “uninteresting.”
Uninteresting is even worse than not believing. Some people can become angry with the thought of God and refuse to believe. Surprising as it may sound though, that is not as far from God as uninteresting. I know of, and I know, a lot of people who do not believe in God because they feel betrayed by the very idea. These are people who are deeply offended by how much suffering and violence there is in the world. They oppose the idea of God not because God has no answers, but because God seems not to answer. Take Mary in today’s Gospel. She is especially close to Jesus. She may be the woman of whom Jesus said “she has shown great love.” (Lk. 7:47) She may be the woman who sat among the disciples listening to Jesus’ words rather than helping her sister prepare a meal, and of whom it was said “she has chosen the better part.” (Lk. 10:42) Today we hear that Jesus loves Martha, Mary and Lazarus, but when the sisters ask Jesus to come and heal their brother, Jesus hesitates instead. Lazarus dies. When Jesus finally shows, only Martha goes out to see Him. The Gospel says pointedly, “But Mary sat at home.” (Jn. 11:20) Martha has an eloquent confession of Jesus as not only the Messiah, but the very Son of God. Mary, on the other hand, is ticked-off at Jesus.
He didn’t come, and her brother died. What kind of Saviour is this, she wondered. It’s not that Jesus wasn’t important to her. It’s not that she didn’t love Jesus and was inspired by Him. She felt betrayed by Him. She is all of the men and women throughout history and today who will not believe because they can’t. It’s almost like they have a moral reason for not believing. To them God is not acting enough like God for them to be able to believe. I’m running out of time so I can’t go into it, another plug here for Bible study on April 29th, but while the miracle of Lazarus isn’t going to happen for any of us, the other event that changes Mary are those two words of the Bible’s shortest verse: “Jesus wept.” He did care. And maybe that’s enough sometimes for people who are so angry with God that they can’t believe. I think most people can accept that miracles are extremely rare and that tragedy is the exact opposite, but some people take this to mean that God doesn’t care. That’s where the message of “Jesus wept” opens the door to dialogue and the possibility of belief.
But we’re still left with Brian Greene’s “uninteresting.” The only response that may register is us. As people of an active faith, our example has the chance to prove that Jesus does make a difference in the way we think and live, that church helps us to find our way and gives us a community of support. But we have to really believe that. We have to work hard to build and foster enthusiasm, commitment and excitement in the faith. In the Passiontide we are given the chance to think what our lives and our world would be like without Jesus. Hopefully that thought of Jesus not being there reinvigorates our sense of how much it means that He is with us. Then just maybe our example may make God interesting. And for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo