What qualities make a good mate?
We Aussies treasure a good mate. In fact Australia was founded on mateship and mateship is what forges us as a nation. Mates on the sports field, mates on school grounds, mates at work. Without a good mate, someone to rely on, someone you can really trust, our lives can be very lonely and a lot harder to handle.
It is during the most difficult times in life, when the chips are down, that mates seem so important. In fact, have you noticed, it is precisely in suffering, a special bond between mates is made; in a time of disaster, people pull together and mateship is forged; the sort of mateship we remember most. The people of Nyngan endured a flood which engulfed their whole town, with most buildings over a meter under water and nearly everyone evacuated.
This happened nearly 20 years ago, yet even today, even though the people and the town continue to prosper, the thing they talk about most, is the flood and how they suffered together and how mates come together to see a mate through a hard time; mates who worked together to see this disaster through.
Yes, it is important to remember the hard times, the suffering and trials, and to remember mates who never gave up on us.
I often hear Christians say that the believer’s life is a life of victory, of joy and boundless possibilities; health and wealth gospel you could say. And many of the modern Christian songs of praise now reflect this thinking. Yes, while it is true, Jesus has won the victory over sin and death, and we should be joyful over this news, is that all there is to know about God? Is the God of victory and joy; the post-resurrection God, the only God we need to know? Is the resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus no longer the suffering Lord? No loner the one called Emmanuel, God with us, even in our suffering?
Let me pose you another question, is having mates all about the good times, the joy and victories? I think not. Mates are there for us also in the hard times, and the suffering. And if we can sing ‘What a friend we have in Jesus, well then Jesus needs to be our mate in suffering also.
The story of Jesus raising Lazarus is a story of mateship amongst suffering. And it is a story that all of us can relate to; Its about the hard times, about suffering and sorrow and its about death; It’s a story about how Jesus, a friend of Lazarus, a mate, came to those suffering ; to be with the people and to be a mate with them, even in death; topics, which most Christians rarely talk about; yet isn’t it ironic, that much of the bible is about God helping those in trouble and suffering.
As Christians, we need to recognise the reality of death and suffering, of family hurts and tragedies, because it is inevitable, and when it happens, we want to know that we have a God, who is not only understanding, but who is a friend who will be there with us, to help us, like a mate in a time of disaster.
Mary and Matha were in such a situation; distort, as Lazarus, their brother, was dying. They were helpless; what could they do? Who could they turn to? Immediately, on realizing Lazarus’ dire situation, Mary and Matha sent a message to Lazarus’ dearest friend Jesus. ‘Lord, the one whom you love is dying’, or in Aussie lingo, ‘Jesus, your best mate is dying’. Yes, they trusted that their mate Jesus could do something, they were not sure what, but they knew a good mate would always see it through; they trusted in him and believed he would help.
When Jesus arrived at the place where Lazarus lived, he was greeted with Mary’s tears of helplessness. ‘Lord, if you were here, my brother would not have died’. If you were here, your mate Lazarus would not have died.’ It is as if Jesus failed to be a good mate and didn’t see a friend through a hard time; Lazarus had died and Jesus was nowhere to be seen.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus let Lazarus die, and when he did finally turn up, why he didn’t just go straight to the grave to raise Lazarus, but instead, went first to those most desperate; to those suffering most? Why he came face to face with hurting mates?
Perhaps he did this to demonstrate his love; his willingness to share in the burden of a friend; to show that he is able to be called upon, even in the darkest hour, even when he has seemingly left them all alone.
Perhaps he did this to fulfil their deepest human desire,… to have God with them, amongst them in their hopelessness, amongst the tears, and in the midst of despair. Perhaps he did this so he can offer an amazing hope; and he did just that! Jesus stood among the suffering and said ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die’
And with these words still resounding in the ears of Mary and Matha, and those present, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the grave; raises him from the dead, to show that his words are not empty; to show that he is in deed a good mate; faithful and true to what he says, and always there in time of need. Jesus is among the dead and the mourning to be the resurrection and the life.
And can I assure you, he is among us still today, Jesus is Jesus and he is a friend of sinners, a good mate, still hang’n round those of us in need, answering our calls for help, coming to our aid and fulfilling our deepest desire;…to have Jesus with us. However, his aid may not be what we expect, or when we expect it, as Mary and Matha found out. Perhaps we too will call out ‘Lord, if only you were here’. But it just maybe, in allowing us to suffer, Jesus is giving us time to be with him, so that he can be amongst our hopelessness, amongst our tears, and in the midst of our despair, so that he can offer us an amazing hope.
Just as in earthly tragedies, which heighten our desire for a close friend to be with us, our trials and our struggles in life also heighten and reveal the true longing for God we all have; that desire to fulfil a need to be with God.
In trials Jesus comes to us, not to just fix up the problem, but to just be with us, to fulfil our longing for him, just as he did with Mary and Matha. Jesus fulfils our need to see and experience God; Jesus makes God personal; here is God face to face; here is God who we can know and handle, feel and name.
How is Jesus present with us? Simply when a fellow Christian visits and reads God’s word to us and prays with us, because Jesus has given as an incredible promised ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am also’. And he is with us bodily when we partake in the sacrament of Holy Communion.
And in Jesus just being there, amongst our daily struggles, whether we realize it or not, Jesus is calming our restless hearts; filling our yearning for him with the promise of hope and a way out.
Lent is a good time to remember that Jesus left the glory of heaven and suffered for us; a time to remember that through his suffering and death he forged a new mateship with us; and it is a time to ponder once again how he is with us in our need by his body and blood, in the bread and the wine, so that his word may continue to ring in our ears and splash on our lips ‘whoever believes in me will never die, but be raised to eternal life’.
He came through with Lazarus, and raised him from the grave; and he will come through with us, in this life, and in the life to come. So who better then, to have as a mate in times of suffering and strife than Jesus; who is not only he for us on earth, but here for us in eternity; yes what a mate indeed. Amen