“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.” (John 11:1-2)
Some gospels say she was the sister of Lazarus and Martha. Other says she was a different Mary. A not so socially acceptable Mary. It would interesting to know if it was one and the same Mary – the Mary who was socially acceptable, who sat at Jesus’s feet, and who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. But I digress – the focus is on Lazarus.
“So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” (Verse 3)
In the time of Jesus, any illness had the potential for being serious as medicine then did not follow the same regime as it does now. On with the story.
“But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Verses 4 – 16)
I want to insert briefly that Thomas meant die with Jesus, assuming that the Jews in Judea would be successful in killing Jesus.
“When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” (Verses 17 – 22)
Martha had faith in Jesus, and knowledge of who Jesus was (and is still). It was not then that Martha needed to be told and reminded of God’s glory and Jesus being part of that glory. Or at least not very much.
“Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.” (Verses 23 – 29)
I have in the past wondered what it was about Lazarus that made him worthy of being resurrected. But as I ponder on this passage, I am starting to think it was not Lazarus per se but when it Jesus’ ministry that Lazarus became ill and died. Lazarus was not the only person that Jesus brought back to life. Nor was Jesus the only one who brought back from the dead. Elijah did also. But it was at this point in Jesus’ ministry that connection between Jesus being Lord over life and death was made. Let us read further in this story.
“Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.
The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” (Verses 30 – 33)
I have to ask, and I would have to ask the writer of the gospel of John – why the difference? Martha says if Jesus would have been there Lazarus would not have died, assuming that Jesus would have healed him. But Mary says the same thing, and Jesus was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” The biblical commentators reflect two causes; being by the total scene of mourning OR being indignant at the false mourning and weeping that the Jews accompanying Mary were doing. There was such a profession as being professional weepers and mourners to give sound and numbers at funerals. The writer of the gospel John might have made note of such as these, and having Jesus react to them. Or, Jesus upon seeing the woman who wept for him, wept on her behalf. Let us continue the story.
“He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep.
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (Verses 34 – 37)
Criticism and cynicism noted by the writer of the gospel of John, and Jesus reacts.
“Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.” Verse 38)
I can see where the two interpretations to Jesus’ grief and disturbance came from. I should not forget that many times the writers of the gospel were also acute observers of the society of the time.
“Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.” (Verses 39 – 45)
Power over life and death. It is hard not to believe when you see such dramatic proof. But while some did believe, there were others who were angered (or perhaps more accurately, frightened) at the display/report of such power. The verses that follow this passage tell of the reaction of Jewish/Temple authorities and their fear. And the story of Jesus’ ministry moves one step closer to its conclusion.
These events of Jesus’ life are remembered and set down to explain what was to come. While each of the gospels might differ somewhat, they form a cohesive story of what Jesus did. And with these stories in hand, generation after generation has had to decide whether they believe or not.
While we are in the season of Lent, we are also in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary – the year of coming to new faith. In the early Christian church, the season of Lent and Easter was a preparatory time of coming to faith. May you use this time to ponder on your own faith, perhaps coming to new understandings. I pray that you faith in grounded in the strong foundation of who Jesus Christ was, and is to you. And the place of our Lord God in your life. Selah!