9th March 2008 (Lent 5)
John in his gospel includes a number of 'signs', miracles which point to something about Jesus. This chapter tells of the raising of Lazarus, which showed that Jesus has authority over death - an authority which belongs to God alone. The story brings out other aspects of Jesus; as we notice them we need to remember that Jesus is the Son of God; so, for instance, as Jesus weeps it is the Son of God who is weeping. He is the 'Word made flesh'.
Let us focus on Jesus' relationship with Martha and Mary. Verse 5 tells us Jesus loved them; but despite that he allowed them to suffer grief, by delaying his arrival until after Lazarus had died. His love for us does not mean we are spared suffering; conversely, when we suffer that does not mean that Jesus' love for us is any less. Why did Jesus delay? We are not told. It could be that Jesus delayed while he prayed about the situation, until he got the go ahead from God the Father. Jesus must have known that any trip to Bethany would have put him in harm's way, with enemies just a couple of miles away who were after his blood; was it really necessary to go there? It may be that Jesus deliberately delayed in order to allow Lazarus to die, so that this miracle could publicly display his authority over death. However, a miracle such as the raising of a dead man would give his enemies a semse of urgency, and would in a sense be signing his own death warrant; maybe he knew that this was the time. When he finally went, he knew that it would be life for Lazarus, eventual death for him.
When Jesus arrived he met first with Martha, then with Mary. Jesus took the opportunity to grow Martha's faith. It was already strong; she still believed God would answer Jesus' prayers. What did she hope Jesus might ask for when she said what she did in verse 22? Perhaps she was simply reaffirming her continuing faith in him. She already believed Lazarus would rise again - that was a common Jewish belief at the time. So Jesus told her that resurrection depends on him (vs 25, 26) and asked her if she accepted that; she answered with one of the strongest statements of faith found in the Bible. Often our greatest spiritual growth happens in the darkest places.
Mary's grief did not allow such a conversation. Jesus did not try - there is a time to speak, a time to refrain. Jesus suffered with Martha and Mary - he too wept (verse 35), even though he knew that in a few moments Lazarus would be alive again and restored to his family. He knows all the answers to our problems, all the reasons why things happen; but that does not stop him suffering with us.
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. That was not resurrection in the full sense of the word, for Lazarus was brought back to the same life he had left. True resurrection brings us forward into a brand new life, the life of the age to come where death and suffering are no more. That was what Jesus brought into being through his own resurrection: his was the prototype, the pattern for ours. But first, he had to die.
1) What aspects of this story do you find disturbing, and what aspects do you find comforting?
2) What does this incident teach us about Jesus?