A certain man, Lazarus, was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This was the Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped his feet with her hair. Her brother Lazarus was ill.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, saying, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This illness isn’t fatal. It’s for the glory of God so that God’s Son can be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. When he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was. After two days, he said to his disciples, “Let’s return to Judea again.”
The disciples replied, “Rabbi, the Jewish opposition wants to stone you, but you want to go back?”
Jesus answered, “Aren’t there twelve hours in the day? Whoever walks in the day doesn’t stumble because they see the light of the world. But whoever walks in the night does stumble because the light isn’t in them.”
He continued, “Our friend Lazarus is sleeping, but I am going in order to wake him up.”
The disciples said, “Lord, if he’s sleeping, he will get well.” They thought Jesus meant that Lazarus was in a deep sleep, but Jesus had spoken about Lazarus’ death.
Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died. For your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there so that you can believe. Let’s go to him.”
Then Thomas (the one called Didymus) said to the other disciples, “Let us go too so that we may die with Jesus.”
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was a little less than two miles from Jerusalem. Many Jews had come to comfort Martha and Mary after their brother’s death. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, while Mary remained in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you.”
Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha replied, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
She replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world.”
After she said this, she went and spoke privately to her sister Mary, “The teacher is here and he’s calling for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Jesus. He hadn’t entered the village but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were comforting Mary in the house saw her get up quickly and leave, they followed her. They assumed she was going to mourn at the tomb.
When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”
When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. He asked, “Where have you laid him?”
They replied, “Lord, come and see.”
Jesus began to cry. The Jews said, “See how much he loved him!” But some of them said, “He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”
Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”
Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”
Therefore, many of the Jews who came with Mary and saw what Jesus did believed in him.
This is one of those really hard passages, for me anyway. But it has some great highlights, too. Like when “Doubting” Thomas said, “Let us go too so that we may die with Jesus.” It seems that we always forget that part of Thomas’ story.
Another highlight is the conversation between Martha, Mary and Jesus. It’s another conversation the gospels record where Jesus and a woman actually talk. And, like Jesus’ conversation with Photine, Martha and Mary kind of puts Jesus in his place.
Now, some people may not like what I’m about to say, but, it helps me understand the passage from a “human” perspective.
I can see Jesus being a little overconfident with the disciples. He’s aware of Lazarus’ situation but also seems to know the outcome. So, the story comes across a little over-the-top.
Then they went to be with the family.
Martha, upon hearing that Jesus has come at last, runs to meet him and, in my ear, I hear her chide Jesus for being late. “If you would’ve been here, my brother wouldn’t have died,” she exclaims holding back her anger, I imagine.
Jesus gives her a theological response, “He’ll rise again.”
I can almost feel the hurt in Martha’s response. It seems she feels that Jesus has dismissed her sorrow for a theological conversation. “Yes,” she says holding back her anger and tears, “I know he’ll rise in the resurrection on the last day.”
Again Jesus responds with theology. It seems his compassion is not in the forethought.
Now it seems Martha’s response is cold. She seems deeply hurt. She leaves Jesus and goes to Mary, not wanting to deal with Jesus theological responses anymore.
I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of this same thing. At one time, when I was a Reformed Christian (that is, one who believes that G‑d predetermines everything whether good or ill), I had a “canned response” to horrible events. I would compare them to the slaughter of the innocents from Matthew’s telling of the Jesus story. My thought went something like this, “I’m sorry this has happened but ‘everything happens for a reason.’ When Jesus was born, Herod ordered the slaughter of all the male children in Jerusalem, two years and younger. This fulfilled the prophecy from Jeremiah. Perhaps there is something more to this; something that fulfills a great purpose.”
While I honestly thought I was trying to help, it was actually very hurtful. It now seems so completely callous. And objectively theological and not pastoral at all.
That’s how I read this exchange between Jesus and Martha and Mary. Jesus just seems so academic.
Then Mary shows up and Jesus sees the pain — feels the pain.
When we’re hit with the plight of humanity — the pain of humanity, the injustice of it all — our academia starts to crumble. And we begin to soften. If our theology isn’t met with humanity, it’s as cold and lifeless as Lazarus in the tomb.
At one time in my life, I was sitting in the front seat of a friends car with him and another friend in the back seat. We were all crying and praying and snotting and cursing about the sheer misery of what I was going through. Through bleary eyes, I said, “Guys, all of our years of study don’t mean anything. I’ve got to be like the woman with issue of blood. If I can just touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. I know I’ll be okay. Everything else just doesn’t matter.”
Our theology must address the injustice around us. Only then, by the power of the Spirit, can we speak to power and infuse life into the situation and say, “Lazarus, come out!” Only then can we bring G‑d’s Realm to that area of pain and say, “Untie him and let him go.”
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC