Archive for January 9th, 2009
Jesus Undoes Death
Genesis 5, Luke 6
Something that has always bothered me about the daily paper is the obituaries. I understand why the obituaries exist, but I have not so much a fascination with them. Some people make a habit of reading the obituaries—its like it’s part of their religion and if they don’t read the obituaries they might somehow be struck down by Thor or Zeus or whatever god they profess to worship and follow. I have found that older folks are especially fond of reading the obituaries. Some have jokingly said to me in the past, ‘I read them to make sure I’m not in them.’ It’s always a good laugh we have together.
Reading through Genesis 5 is difficult to say the least. It’s like reading through a 4,000 year old obituary and not knowing a single soul or caring that they died. Frankly, it’s a terribly depressing chapter of Scripture and one might wonder why such a chapter would be included.
Fact is, there are many chapters like this in Scripture. They are genealogies and they necessarily are obituaries. Each generation passes on to the next. People live, people die. The overwhelming message about man in the Bible is that man (people) die. Nothing can stop it. Nothing can halt it. Nothing can prevent it. Nothing can slow down man’s onward march towards the inevitable.
So, in a sense, when we read Genesis 5 we do know the people we are reading about and we do care that they died: They are us. We see in their lives and in their deaths our own march, our own date with inevitability. We see our own destiny in the flesh: Death. We see a refrain that reminds us, as a good refrain does, over and over again, that the problem is death and that everyone is subject to it. The world, chapter 5 reminds us, had become a place ruled by death. It’s grip inescapable. The breadth of its dominion, wide and deep. Death works hard to control, gather a congregation, and attain more and more power.
In Genesis 5 we see death’s power growing and gaining. Genesis 5 is our early and present history. Death reigns.
Then we come along to our other reading today from Luke 6 and we meet again this person named Jesus. In particular, verses 1-11 of chapter 6 relate specifically to Genesis 5. In my reading, Luke 6:1-11 is about far more than Jesus undoing the Sabbath and undoing the anally retentive sour-pusses who watched his every move and criticized his every step. Yes, the Sabbath teaching was important, but more important, I think, I Jesus’ undoing of the chaos of death; undoing the degeneration of the human life, flesh. Here is Jesus reversing the effects of death.
You see it there? There was a man with a shriveled hand. He could have been young, or old. I hardly think it matters. What matters is that there was a man in the synagogue who had a shriveled hand (I’m reading the English, so there might be a more specific connotation in Greek) and Jesus heals him. I think the best part of the entire eleven verses is this one: “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” Just picture that! Jesus wanted everyone who was in the synagogue to see what he was about to do. He wanted everyone to see the man with the shriveled hands. He wanted everyone to see the disfigured, shriveled, useless hand.
Jesus stuck it right in their faces.
Jesus wants those people to see that it is He who has the power to halt the effects of the curse. Jesus made the man’s hand new again, useful, alive. If Jesus can do this to a mere hand, how much a whole body? If Jesus would do this to a mere hand, how much more can he prevent the same effects in the whole being? That is, if he cares this much for a hand, how much more the whole person? But Jesus’ power is too much for them. They are unwilling to see that this is power come upon them. All they can see is a violation of sabbath. Jesus gave them an advance sign and they missed it. He stood that man up so they would not miss it, and they missed it. The essence of a pathetic life is missing the obvious; ignoring the God who makes himself known.
They were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus. The essence of a miserable life is being so angry at when and the way people do things that we miss what the person has actually done. They were so consumed with the sabbath, they missed the miracle; they missed the advance sign.
Death reigns and the apostle makes it clear that the last enemy to be defeated will be death. Until that time, we can continue to hope that someday, hope against hope, the obituary pages will finally be blank. In the meantime, we continue to hope against hope that because Jesus lives, so also shall we.