When Fezzik and Inigo Montoya bring Westley to Miracle Max, they are sure that Westley is dead. They do not know so much, as Max explains, “It just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.” It seems that Michael Goldman, who wrote The Princess Bride, is a student of the Torah.
As good Protestants in the tradition of Luther, we tend to frown on the law as an oppressive force in conflict with the freedom we find in Christ. We tend to see it as a black and white set of rules. However, the law not only requires interpretation, but it has an assumed framework that is anything but black and white. That is, the law assumes that we are always living somewhere between life and death and its goal is to describe for us what it means to move toward life and away from death. Bleeding often moves us toward death, so we want to fix that, we want to account for it in some way and move a person back toward life. By the same token, poverty tends to place people closer to death, so we want to mediate that. We might quibble with some of the specifics of what the ancients thought was death-dealing rather than life-giving, but I hope we can mostly agree with the principle that we should prefer the latter. The good news, then, is that we are rarely all dead; we can almost always be brought back.
As much as many modern Christians dismiss the law as irrelevant – except when needed to beat somebody up – we also tend to ignore the prophets, with their silly cries for justice. In the same way we might think that Jesus trumps the law, Jesus is also the ultimate prophet, so why bother with the inferior ones? Out with the old and in with the new! However, much of what Jesus did and said was exactly the same as what the other prophets did and said. It would be fair to say that Jesus gained a following, not because he was unique, but because he was exactly what his culture had come to expect from one who spoke for God, one who tried to move his people from death to life, one who held the people of Israel to account for the law, especially its requirements for social justice.
The stories we have in the lectionary this week profess the same ethic of life and death, one about the prophet Ezekiel and one about Jesus. Their common thread is that they radically expand our range of mostly dead. In the law, there is a point at which one is, in fact, all dead. It’s a little farther down the road than we think today – three days down the road, in fact – but still, dead is dead. But God, like Miracle Max, says to us, “Look who knows so much.” In Ezekiel’s vision, he sees a valley filled with dry bones, clearly dead. But with the word of God, the bones are covered with flesh, and breathe again. In the story of Lazarus, Jesus waits more than three days to raise him from the dead, clearly dead in the ancient imagination. Jesus, the Word of God, commands him to come out of death and into life. And he does. No matter how dead we feel, no matter how bad things seem, we are only ever mostly dead, and mostly dead is slightly alive with the possibility of living fully.
Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about death, new life, coming out, and true love.
Grace & Peace,