“Now Jesus loved Martha and her Sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer…”.
is not what we would expect. We would expect Jesus to drop everything and go,
either to be with Lazarus when he died, or to heal him. Instead, Jesus waits
until Lazarus has died.
is, though, not just a scaled down version of Jesus’ death and Resurrection.
Jesus’ death was quite different from Lazarus’s. Lazarus died the ordinary
death of a human being. Jesus’ death was a battle with the Prince of Death, a
battle which Jesus won and so was glorified. Lazarus was brought back from the
dead to live a few more years on earth with his beloved Sisters. This was not
Resurrection in the Christian sense, for Lazarus would die again. Jesus was
raised from the dead by his Father in heaven and he would never die again; on
the contrary, he had initiated a new way of life of which we can be part, if we
choose. Comparing the story of Lazarus with the passion of Jesus helps us to see
more clearly the uniqueness of what Jesus did.
this story, as John tells it, the death of Lazarus was not a random event. It
had a purpose. That was true of Jesus too.
crucial point in the story of Lazarus was that Jesus loved him.
of us who know Harry Potter cannot but think of the moment when Harry offered
himself for Voldemort to kill since this was the only way Voldemort’s power
could be destroyed and the people Harry loved be delivered. That may be just a
story but it is a story which has been enacted many times in real life -
Maximilian Kolbe, Oscar Romero, Mother Maria Skobtsova are only some of the
great host of Christian martyrs who died for love of others and even the
tangled, ambiguous history of war can be redeemed a little by the courage of men
and women who died in them to save others.
can enter into this Resurrection that Jesus won from the Cross? Jesus tells us
“I am the Resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet
shall he live. Do you believe this?”. Martha says she does and then Lazarus is
raised. In fact, the word ‘believe’ appears seven times in this story. John
is really making the point that the story of Jesus’ own resurrection which we
are about to embark on is one that we must believe, even though it is so
extraordinary, because belief will give us the joy of eternal life.
story is not just a theological account of how Jesus saved the world. Like the
Passion itself it has its human interest. In a few deft strokes John gives us
pictures we can easily believe. Thomas, so often labelled a doubter, shows his
love for Jesus: “Let us also go that we may die with him”. That promise is
not kept any more than Peter’s later one: “Even if I must die with you, I
will not deny you”. Both disciples speak out of love, a love which has not yet
grown enough to embrace death but one day it will.
the raising from the dead. Here it is as if the details we know from Jesus’
own raising have been simply rearranged.
There we have what is perhaps the main point of this wonderful story. Lazarus is raised from the dead and comes stumbling blindly out into the sunshine and that is astonishing, showing the great power that Jesus has, which must come from God. Yet this is not Resurrection. John wants us to know that the Resurrection which comes with Jesus is far more than a calling back into life. It will be a whole new kind of life, a life going on with Jesus for eternity but what that means we can only start exploring in two weeks time.
Nicolas Stebbing CR