Lent 5–John 11:1-45
Now 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.
I am intrigued with the interconnectedness of the people in this story. The friendships, the siblings, the affection and regard between the primary characters in John 11. According to The Women’s Bible Commentary (WJK, 2012-3rd ed), “This is a story about intimates … Jesus’ own future and the future of this family are inextricably linked.” (p. 523)
The passage begins with the sisters, Martha and Mary, felt free in their relationship with Jesus to send word to Jesus that Lazarus, their brother, was gravely ill. The language they used indicates the depth of friendship and affection between Jesus and the three siblings: “He whom you love is ill.” The subtext here is “Your dear friend is dying and you can do something to stop his death.”
And Jesus lingers for two more days until he announces to the disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” But the disciples tell him no, not back to Judea because they knew that Jesus’ life was in danger as the religious leaders tried to stone Jesus when they were last in Jerusalem.
Jesus tells the disciples “Our friend Lazarus is sleeping.” They understood Jesus’ words literally—Lazarus was taking a nap. To them, Jesus didn’t need to risk his death for a napping Lazarus. The disciples were worried for Jesus: Why should Jesus risk his life for Lazarus if he’s only sleeping?
Then Jesus tells them: Lazarus is dead. The verse says: “Jesus spoke plainly to them.” I laughed out loud when I first read this passage last week. Often throughout the gospels the disciples are portrayed as thick-headed and a wee clueless. I imagine Jesus saying something obscure and opaque and the disciples looking at each other, “Did you understand that?”
“No, did you?”
Even if the disciples didn’t always understand Jesus they loved him and they decide to go with Jesus and die with him.
As they approach Bethany, Martha meets Jesus out of town and speaks freely from her grief. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know God will give you whatever you ask of him.”
And Jesus asks her if she believes in him and Martha makes a beautiful statement of faith: “Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Martha returns to their house and whispers to Mary that Jesus wants to see her outside of town. Mary goes to Jesus, falls at his feet and weeps, and also tells Jesus that if he had been there Lazarus would’ve lived. Then we have a glimpse into Jesus’ emotions: He is troubled. Some translations say he was angry, others say troubled. Jesus asks Mary to take him to Lazarus’ tomb and, again, Jesus has strong emotions. The Women’s Bible Commentary suggests in this moment is the “… the intersection of the intimate and the cosmic: the pain of this family reminds Jesus of the pain of the world.” (p. 524)
At the tomb, Jesus calls for the stone to be moved. And the wonderfully sensible and practical Martha says: He’s gonna stink—he’s been dead for four days. But she trusts Jesus and has the stone rolled away.
Jesus then prays aloud: “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that sent me.”
He then calls for Lazarus. And the text says: “The dead man came out.” Not Lazarus but the “dead man” to underscore the magnitude of this miracle. Many believed in Jesus in that day.
Jesus’ conversation with Mary and Martha transform this story from a miracle story about the raising of Lazarus into a story about the fullness of new life that is possible to all who believe in Jesus. For John, the initiative of these women sending for Jesus, their bold and robust faith, the grief and pain that they bring to Jesus, their willingness to engage Jesus in conversation about life, death, and faith, and their unfaltering love for Jesus are marks for discipleship. (ibid)
The interconnectedness of all these people model faithful discipleship for all of us.