Dead Man Walking; the raising of Lazarus – 5th Sunday of Lent – Year 1- John 11: 1-45
Lazarus is dead! Jesus is late by four days but reading it I don’t seem worried. The problem with this narration lies in the fact that we know the end of the story. But imagine if you did not; imagine yourself to be Martha or Mary, disappointed that the Lord did not act in time. What’s the point of having Jesus as a friend, if He does not come to our aid when we need Him?
God’s delays are not denials. Take that in for a moment. He has a plan and a purpose. Let’s place this gospel in context. Chapter 11 is bang in the middle of John’s gospel. This is the last sign that He will perform; a foreshadowing of His own death and resurrection.
From Chapter 13, Jesus will begin His ‘farewell discourse’; a private discussion with His disciples. Until now, He has been teaching everyone in public. In John’s gospel, this sign is the turning point in the life of Jesus. The other three gospels (called synoptics), the cleansing of the temple was the reason for the Jews wanting to kill Him. But here in the gospel of John, the Jews want to kill Him because He raised Lazarus to life.
Jesus delays this trip; in a way it seems to be a bit cruel to the ones He loved dearly. After all He worked miracles for those who did not even ask for it, like the cripple. These were people He loved; so why did He delay? Was it because at the end of chapter ten we are told that the Jews wanted to stone Him? Not at all! In John 11:8, when He announces His intention to go to Bethany, His own disciples dissuade Him, for fear of the Jews.
Jesus was no stranger to raising people from the dead. He had raised Jarius’ daughter and the only son of the widow of Nain. But both these had died the same day they were raised to life, and the sceptics had it going that the soul had not left the body, which means that Jesus had not ‘really raised them from the dead’ because they were ‘merely in a coma’. Strange as it may sound, this was a Jewish belief.
The Jews believed that the soul did not leave the body for four days; it kind of hovered around the body hoping to get in again. Jesus, knowing the mind-set of the Jews, decided to make it clear that the Lazarus miracle is to be a sign that Jesus really is the power of life, evident in the resurrection.
The faith of Martha is now seen over the crowds who merely follow Jesus for His deeds. Martha, who expresses her disappointment in the Lord’s delay, now professes ‘faith in Jesus that has recognized that God is the source of Jesus’ power’ (JBC). Jesus now declares the last of the ‘I Am statements’ found in John’s gospel. ‘He is the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in Him, though they die, will live; and everyone who lives and believes in Him will never die.’ Jesus has clearly declared that death is just a change of residence!
Often people will call the ‘raising of Lazarus’ as the resurrection of Lazarus. That is theologically incorrect. Lazarus was resuscitated; life was brought back into his body; only to die again at a later stage and then be resurrected. This incident is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ resurrection; and in resurrection we die no more, for death is conquered.
What’s our takeaway this Sunday? Among many, I want to dwell on the most commonly experienced one. Why does the Lord delay our pleas for help? Jesus does not work signs and wonders for our benefit. He simply does it so that “God may be glorified” (verse 4). The Lord indeed loves us, but that does not mean He has to hear our every cry for help in the way we want it. In His time, He makes all things beautiful. If only we believe this; for God’s delays are not necessarily His denials. Think about it, God is not late, maybe I am early!
Written on behalf of the Holy Spirit- References from the Jerome Biblical Commentary.
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