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Reflection on the Gospel, November 4, 2012

John 11:1-45

11Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But 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.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus 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. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 28When 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.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The 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. 32When 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.”

33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus 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.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I 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.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The 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.”

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

What I am Learning:

First a note:  The word "Jews" in this passage do not refer to all Jews, rather it should have been translated "the Judeans" referring to the leaders of the Jewish nation at the time of Jesus who lived in Judea. This is a lot like referring to our national leaders and the US government as "Washington" or "the beltway."

In John 10:33 those who were in the leadership of the Jews, the Judeans, tried to stone Jesus. When this passage ends, the highest ranking of these leaders decide to kill Jesus.


Many of the Jewish people hoped for a messiah. This messiah would establish God's Way of living for all the nations on the earth. He (sadly they probably could not have conceived of a woman doing this, but that is culturally determined not God determined) would do this by healing the sick, making the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, the dead to rise and would preach good news to the poor. Most folks understood that the Messiah would kick out the Romans and then establish God's Way of living first in Jerusalem and then it would spread to all the nations of the world (see Isaiah 25:6-9).

This meant that the Messiah was a direct threat to the Judeans - that is to those currently in power in Jerusalem. In Jesus' day, if you had power in Jerusalem you had power because the Romans put you there. The High Priest was chosen by the Roman Governor, and could be deposed by the Roman Governor. Deposed or killed, whatever worked best. And if the didn't keep the rabble quiet they got deposed or killed more quickly.

If Jesus got the rabble excited, that was bad for the "Beltway Boys" and so they wanted him out of the way. The disciples know this, and Thomas, who later would doubt, tells them to go to Jerusalem and die with Jesus - Thomas is no wimp it seems!

So Jesus goes to Bethany, just 8 miles from Jerusalem, and resurrects Lazaraus and turns up the heat on the Judeans. Now Jesus has fulfilled all the work of the messiah, except establishing his new government and God's Way of Mutuality in Jerusalem. The rabble are getting excited and the Judeans find themselves between the crowds and the Romans. Execute Jesus and they can move on to the next challenge - done and done.

Jewish people generally thought the soul of a person hung around for 3 days. That God, at Jesus' request, would raise someone from the dead at 4 days emphasized the point that there was something powerful going on here - that Jesus really was the messiah.

It is ironic that in giving new life to Lazarus Jesus puts his life at risk. It is emblematic of his love that he risks himself on behalf of others.

This is not out of a desire to die. Nor does it represent a hatred for life.

Jesus risked his life because life is beautiful, and to restore the beauty of people and the creation.

Lastly, the ancient Hebrews did not think much about life after death. We don't know exactly why we and they are so different. It could be because they were more focused on the life of their family and their tribe than we are. We tend to think of ourselves as distinct individuals and they as parts of a larger whole. As they began to focus more on life after death, the Jewish people found themselves occupied by other nations. They longed for God's Way of life but had live as the Greeks and Romans lived. But what, they asked, happened to people who lived faithfully but never God to experience God's Way of Peace?  Their answer was resurrection. Later they said that the Messiah would bring resurrection to the faithful departed, that they could experience life as God intended it - and that this would take place on the earth.

This is quite different from the notion I grew up with: going to heaven when you died if you were a good girl or boy.

But that is okay.

I think that a God who creates sentient beings has a responsibility to them when they die. It is just that the Hebrew people believed that life after death would happen on a restored earth, with restored people.

That sounds better than okay with me.