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You are the light of the world. Chapter Fourteen in The Alabaster Jar by Theresia Saers

You are the light of the world

Chapter Fourteen in The Alabaster Jar by Theresia Saers

As in the old Rabbinical schools Jesus teaches only by word of mouth. Repetition is a favourite teaching method; the disciples listen and learn. Yet Jesus’ teaching methods are original. Often he makes his point by using illustrations chosen from the physical world, birds, plants and flowers, farmers, moneylenders, women at work, a boy running away from home and some Pharisees foolishly gathering even the weeds from their little plots of land to make up what in their eyes they own as their tithes to the Temple. Every little story sheds a different light on the great truth of God’s love for the world and on Man’s duty to respond in kind. The disciples begin to understand the deeper levels of the Law laid down by Moses.

  • ‘The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in three measures of flour till it was leavened all through.’
  • ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.’
  • ‘I am the Light of the World’ But on another occasion,You are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.’

It is much easier to quote Jesus calling himself the Light of the world than to emphasise this other statement. That we are the light of the world is somehow harder for us to take in than to hear ourselves compared to the salt of the earth. Maybe that is because Jesus never called himself the Salt of the earth. He might have but he did not. In the matter of light, it seems so conceited to call ourselves that. It seems as if Jesus felt the embarrassment of the disciples, for he takes care to work out the implications of his equation. We are told that there is nothing for us but to shine, if we are to fulfil our mission on this earth.

Mary is a devoted disciple, who must have been shocked by the lack of response shown by the spiritual leaders of Israel. Maybe even, at times, by the other disciples. They seem to understand so little of what the Rabbi means. They quarrel about rank. About rank! Is not that unbelievable? (As is all the talk about rank there still is in the ranks of our present day church, and which is the basis for any refusal to take women into holy orders.) At least those early disciples were ashamed when they found out Jesus knew what they had been discussing on their way. They are shocked when they find Jesus speaking with women. She realises that it is only the poor and the illiterate that seem to really understand, the humble people who lead their simple lives. Their need seems to help open their eyes. Even notorious sinners, tax gatherers and prostitutes, respond gratefully to Jesus’ teaching and his generosity. Like in John’s day many common people gather to hear Jesus and change their lives and he eats and drinks with them, never holding them in contempt. He honours their invitations and they accept him for what he is, the long-awaited Saviour, the Messiah, the Anointed One, sent by the Most High.

Once Peter is their spokesman: ‘You are the Anointed One, the Son of the living God.’ He has a profound admiration for his Master. Mary, too, is growing daily in love and devotion to Jesus, and more and more ashamed of the leaders of her people, and sensing danger.

One day Jesus himself begins to talk about what he feels is in store for him and prepares the disciples for the confrontation with his enemies.

‘He took the Twelve to one side and said to them, Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans to be mocked and scourged and crucified; and on the third day he will rise again.’

Jesus apparently faces his inevitable fate with the same resignation and courage that we later see in countless others and in our own day in a heroic contemporary Dom Christian de Chergé , martyred in Algeria in 1996. After years of growing danger the latter writes in a letter to his mother that since he has come for the wellbeing of the Algerian people, he will not desert them in the hour of mortal danger. Jesus’ disciples on the other hand are not yet ready for the ultimate challenge and are hanging back. Why go to Jerusalem, if you know that disaster will follow on arrival?

It may well be that Mary and the women travelled ahead on account of what seems to have become their special assignment, namely the finding of board and lodging for their Rabbi. Anyway, Mary is in Bethany when Jesus bends his steps to the Temple for the last time. It so happens that her brother falls dangerously ill. When a messenger arrives from Bethany informing Jesus of the fact that Lazarus, his friend, is very ill, the Master does not set off straight away for Bethany, where an important event is about to happen. John has the story. It is interesting to note that in the telling he discloses the name of the woman that anointed the Lord, namely our Mary of Bethany. The circumstances of the anointing itself are only told by him at a later stage.

‘There was a man named Lazarus who lived in the village of Bethany with the two sisters, Mary and Martha, and he was ill. It was the same Mary, the sister of the sick man Lazarus, who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. The sisters sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill’. On receiving the message, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.’ Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days, before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea’. The disciples said, ‘Rabbi, it is not long since the Jews wanted to stone you; are you going back again?’ Jesus replied, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? A man can walk in the daytime without stumbling because he has the light of the world to see by; but if he walks at night he stumbles, because there is no light to guide him.’

He said that and then added, ‘Our friend Lazarus is resting, I am going to wake him’. The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he is able to rest he is sure to get better’. The phrase Jesus used referred to the death of Lazarus, but they thought that by ‘rest’ he meant ‘sleep’, so Jesus put it plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad I was not there because now you will believe. But let us go to him.’

Then Thomas - known as the Twin - said to the other disciples, ‘Let us go too, and die with him’.

When Jesus finally arrives, Lazarus has been dead for four days. Many Jews have come to Martha and Mary to sympathise over their brother. When Martha hears that Jesus has come she goes to meet him, but Mary stays where she is. Perhaps her frustration that Jesus, who has always been so quick to respond to other people’s cry for help has not seemed fit to come and heal her brother, has made Mary unwilling to go and welcome him. Perhaps she just has not been told. Who knows? So Martha is alone to greet him. Sadly she remarks, ‘If only you had been here, Master, my brother would not have died.’ Martha has not given up all hope even now. ‘I know that at this very moment you may ask God. Does not he always do what you ask him?’

‘Your brother will rise again,’ Jesus answers. Martha believes in the resurrection of all. But when will that be? ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day’, she stammers.

‘Martha, whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ Poor Martha does not quite know how to interpret what Jesus has said. Still, feeling the importance of the moment, she is quick to answer. ‘I know one thing for certain, you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who was to come into the world.’ It is one of the most profound professions of faith we read about in the gospel.

‘Go and get your sister.’ Martha runs home to where her sister sits mourning. ‘The Master is here and wants to see you’, she whispers into Mary’s ears. The message seems to give her sister wings. If the Rabbi is at the tomb asking for her, everything will be made well. A large number of mourners hurry after her, to be with her if she wants to weep at the graveside. From a distance Mary cries the very same words her sister has spoken to Jesus, ‘If only you had been here, Master, my brother would not have died’. There is no need for her to say more. After all has she not seen his greatness from the beginning, when she sat down at his feet to become his disciple? She just repeats what she and her sister must have repeated among themselves all the time. Words of faith, of ultimate trust. Why had Jesus stayed away? Why had he not come to Lazarus’ rescue?

According to John, Jesus was deeply moved. When the mourners saw his tears they naturally concluded that his friend’s death was the cause, but was it? Actually he knew full well that Lazarus’ death was ‘nothing more than a sleep’. It is quite possible that he had other reasons. That he wanted to set a sign by raising Lazarus from the dead, instead of just curing his illness. Some sign important enough to ignore the fact that it would bring about his own death warrant. Which, in its turn, would cause added suffering for these his oldest friends who had stood by him, when priests and Pharisees turned against him.

When Jesus orders the onlookers to take the stone away Martha cannot help warning him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day’. Jesus has to remind her of his promise. Quietly thanking his Father he calls forth all his inner powers and cries in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out! Unbind him, let him go free!'

It is an unforgettable moment. Sadly, it is also the beginning of the end. Those who have witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus are already running off to tell the Pharisees. They in their turn tell the chief priests. A meeting is called, and a death warrant is the result. The elders judge that Jesus is a danger to the Holy Place and the nation. Such is the atmosphere in Jerusalem at the time when the fateful dinner takes place at which Mary Magdalene will anoint the Lord.

‘From that day they were determined to kill him. So Jesus no longer went about openly among the Jews, but left the district for a town called Ephraim, in the country bordering on the desert, and stayed there with his disciples.

The authorities of Israel are planning a political murder against the Saviour whose coming they are supposed to abide. One of them considers that a meal might provide an opportunity for them to arrest him.

© Theresia Saers

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