1999 03 – 5th Sun Lent (Prison Writings)

1999 03 – 5th Sun Lent (Prison Writings)

Cycle A

Jn 11, 1-45

(Wriiten by Frank Cordaro – Charles County Jail January 13, 1999)


The Raising of Lazarus John 11:1-44_

The story of the raising of Lazarus is the longest continuous narrative in the Gospel of John outside the Passion account. It is the last and most climactic sign in the Gospel of signs. It leads directly to the decision of the Sanhedrin to kill Jesus. The story can be divided into three scenes.


Scene One: “Lord, the one you love is sick.” John 11:1-16

Word is sent to Jesus that his beloved friend Lazarus was sick. Lazarus and his two sisters Martha and Mary were close friends of Jesus. The text tells us that it is Mary who will anoint Jesus’ feet and dry them with her hair later on in the Gospel (John 12:1-8). Jesus often stayed with them in Bethany when he was in the Jerusalem area. Bethany was no more than a couple of miles from the capital city.  Upon hearing of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus tells his disciples that this illness will not end in death, but will help glorify God and the Son of God. The word glory has a very specific meaning in John’s Gospel. Whenever it is used, it is referring to Jesus’ death upon the cross.  When Jesus said that Lazarus’ illness will lead to God and the Son of God’s glory, we are being tipped off that Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead will be the act that sets the trap that will lead to Jesus’ crucifixion.  After hearing of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus stays in the area. He was in for another two days.  Finally, he says to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” The disciples protest. In the verses just preceding this story in John, Jesus is almost stoned to death in the temple precincts. The disciples think returning to the Jerusalem area so soon after his nearly being killed there is a bad idea.  Jesus answers their objections with a short parable about walking in the daylight vs stumbling at night. Then he says that Lazarus has fallen asleep and he must go wake him. The disciples continue their protest about heading back to Judea. They say to Jesus if Lazarus is only sleeping, his life is in no real danger. They don’t understand why Jesus needs to risk his life if this is the case.  Jesus now speaks plainly to the disciples, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake, I am glad I was not there, that you may come to believe. In any event, let us go to him.” The scene closes with Thomas saying to his fellow disciples, “Let us go along to die with him.”

Scene Two: “Lord if you had been here, my brother would never have died.” _John 11:17-37

When Jesus was about to arrive in Bethany, he is told that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for five days. The home of Martha and Mary was filled with mourners, many of whom were from Jerusalem. Upon hearing that Jesus was arriving in Bethany, Martha left Mary and the other mourners and went out to greet Jesus before he reached the town. On the spot where Martha meets Jesus is where scene two takes place.  This scene can be divided into two parts. Each part takes place at the same spot where Jesus meets the two sisters outside the town. Each sister greets Jesus with the same words, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would never have died.” After her opening statement, Martha speaks to Jesus of her hope in him. Despite her brother’s death, Martha says God will give to Jesus whatever he asks. Jesus tells Martha that Lazarus will rise again. Martha tells the Lord she knows he will rise again, “in the resurrection on the last day.”  Then Jesus says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life: whoever believes in me, though they should die, will come to life; and who ever is alive and believes in me will never die.” Then Jesus asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” Martha says she does and professes her faith that Jesus is the Messiah.  After saying this, Martha immediately went to fetch Mary who was in their home with the rest of the mourners. Once in the house, Martha whispers to Mary that Jesus was outside waiting to see her. Mary got up to go meet Jesus without telling anyone where she was going. The rest of the mourners, thinking she was going to visit the tomb, got up to follow Mary.  When Mary got to the spot where Jesus was, she fell at his feet and greeted him with the same words that Martha did. And then she began to weep, along with all the other mourners who followed her.

Jesus sets an example for Grief Ministry

It’s not surprising that the story of Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead, especially the verses recalling Jesus’ encounter with Martha and Mary are often used at wake services and funeral masses. The way in which Jesus responds to Martha and Mary’s grief serves as an ideal example on how to minister to people who have suffered a death or loss of a loved one or family member.  Martha is the first to greet Jesus. Upon seeing him, she is moved to express her faith in him and her hope in the resurrection. Jesus greets her faith and hope with his proclamation that he is the reason and the cause for her hope in the resurrection and her faith in eternal life. When asked if she believed what Jesus proclaimed, Martha professed her belief that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.  When a minister contacts a grieving person, that grieving person often looks to the minister as the representative of their hope filled Christian faith. They therefore, need and deserve a strong affirmation of their faith in the resurrected Lord and life eternal. A minister must be ready to proclaim the hopeful message of our faith to a grieving person.  Mary’s encounter with Jesus represents the other side of human grief, the sorrowful and pained expression of human loss. A minister to a grieving person must be ready to respond in kind, with their own expression of grief and sorrow.  Balancing these two responses is never easy. Too much hope filled affirmation without a compassionate response to a person’s sorrow and pain seems to be uncaring and out of touch with the real human situation. Too much expressed sorrow and pain without the hopeful claims of our faith, leaves the grieving person in a dead end place without the benefit of our faiths hope filled message.

Scene Three: “Take away the stone.” John 11:38-44

Still troubled, Jesus approaches the tomb. He directs the people to take away the stone.  Martha warns the Lord that Lazarus has been dead for four days, there will be a stench. Jesus replies, assuring her that if she believed, she would see the glory of God. [There’s that word “glory”. I almost feel like ducking whenever I read it in John’s Gospel. It means Jesus’ crucifixion is not far away.]  The stone was rolled away and Jesus prays out loud. Heard at face value, Jesus’ prayer sounds very self-aggrandizing. He thanks God the Father for hearing him. He says that the Father always hears him, “but I have said this for the sake of the crowd, that they may believe that you sent me.” This is another of John’s peculiar dialogical perspectives. At certain times in John’s Gospel, Jesus seems to step out of his human character and speak in a divine voice, fully self-confident and self-conscious of a divine insight. On the human level, this way of speaking appears arrogant. It is not meant to be. It’s just a literary means to highlight Jesus’ divine connections. It helps to off-set the very human and vulnerable situation Jesus finds himself in throughout the story, especially towards the end.  After his prayer, Jesus speaks directly to the dead man, “Lazarus come out.” The dead man comes out of the tomb.- He is still bound and tied by his burial linens. Jesus says, “Untie him and let him go free.”  The raising of Lazarus is Jesus’ last and final sign. It is not a resurrection. It is resuscitation. Lazarus’ dead body is fully restored to its mortal life. It is indeed a first class miracle, no doubt about it. But it is not the resurrection to eternal life. That is something Jesus will initiate on Easter Sunday morning. Upon seeing this sign, many who were there came to believe in Jesus.

JOHN’S RAISING OF LAZARUS = Synoptic Temple Cleansing

We Christians are often apt to say that Jesus was the innocent Lamb that died for our sins and this would certainly be a truthful claim of Faith. It is also a theological claim. Criminally speaking in the world of human history, in the context of the socio-political arena of first century Palestine we could also say Jesus was as guilty as sin. The accounts of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple are the most damaging evidence of Jesus’ criminal behavior. Biblical historians point to the temple cleansing assault on the Temple as the action above all other actions that most likely brought Jesus into direct confrontation with legal authorities and got him convicted for sedition and rebellion. It would easily have merited the death penalty, the Romans routinely crucified people for doing far less.

In the synoptic Gospels the Temple cleansing assault is placed at the end of their Gospel stories, in the last week of Jesus’ life after “Palm Sunday” and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. John on the other hand places Jesus Temple cleansing assault at the beginning of his Gospel in the 2nd Chapter and has Jesus spending the rest of the Gospel avoiding the authorities who are looking to arrest him.  In place of the Temple cleansing event that forces the authorities in the synoptic Gospels to seek Jesus’ arrest, John uses the story of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus as the act that forces the authorities to set in motion Jesus’ imminent arrest, trial, conviction and sentence to death.

All four of the Gospels are theologized works of history. In telling the story of Jesus’ life they are more interested in making theological points than recording an accurate historical account of what happened. Where the 3 synoptic Gospels keep the Temple cleansing event close to the end of their stories, John puts the Temple cleansing event at the beginning of his Gospel and replaces it with the story of Lazarus raising from the dead as the key event that leads directly to the political and religious authorities decision to arrest Jesus. In the Gospel of John’s theologized version of Jesus’ life, his raising Lazarus to life is far more dangerous and a threat to the “powers that be” than was his assault on the Temple. Historically speaking I tend to agree with the Synoptic chronology of events and see the Temple cleansing witness as the event more than any other that put Jesus on the cross.


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