John tells us that this inexplicable encounter of resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus is the final straw for the religious leaders. Many come to faith in Jesus because of it, and so those that don’t trust Jesus decide that death, his death, is the only way to silence him, focus the populace, and not lose control. But what is this about? Why would they want to kill him when he does such an amazing and marvelous sign? And hasn’t Jesus “raised” other people from death in the gospel, like the girl in Mark 5:21-43. So is this text just a metaphor? If it’s real, is Lazarus still alive,? Why didn’t Jesus hurry up to heal him?
It’s in this story that we most plainly see the authentic humanity and full divinity of Jesus. Love is the principal word to appear in the text and it’s the first time in the gospel of John that we hear of Jesus loving particular people. Lazarus is the one Jesus loved. Jesus loves Mary and Martha, who also love their brother. Jesus hasn’t even yet called those who follow him friends yet, they are only “disciples” until John 15:15. It’s the first time in speaking of Jesus, that John uses 2 of the 3 words for love in the Greek language: and agape: a love that searches and gives itself unconditionally for the good of another and philia: a similar love which is reciprocal and mutual.
Lazarus is the main character, and yet he’s absent as if he doesn’t exist. Famous theologian Jean Vanier (of the L’Arche community which works with severely disabled people in communities of love) wonders if Lazarus was disabled or had a severe handicap. Maybe that’s why his two sisters have given up their lives (seemingly) to care for him. Who knows? Yet the text insists upon the love Jesus has for each of the family members. Lazarus – the one who is sick, absent and dies. Martha – the sister who is quick to confess her faith, yet often distracted by the duties of daily life (Luke 10:40-42) and Mary, who is enthralled by the words and person of Jesus, who anoints the Teacher (John 12:1-8) and thus invites the condemnation of Judas and the others.
The religious leaders refuse to see, choose blindness, when Jesus brings he who was clearly dead (for more than the 2 days the time delay they thought indicated death in the day, and his body reeks of decomposition). They refuse to trust Jesus, and so cannot see, accept or receive the love of God known only in Jesus. They are in charge, but miss out on what God is doing. Jesus must go, as he doesn’t fit into the proper box. He’s much too wild & uncontrollable, like the God portrayed in Ezekiel 37:1-14.
Questions for reflection:
1. What word, phrase or image strikes you in this story?
2. What’s resurrection? Raising from the dead? Or living fully? Being fully awake?
3. What is this about? How does it relate to us?