Lent V, Year A
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord."
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, `Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act," says the Lord.
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." But 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." Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?" Jesus 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. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them." After saying this, he told them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him." The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right." Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."
When 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." And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The 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. When 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." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus 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." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. I 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." When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The 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."
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
“For those who think that supernatural intervention by a personal/transcendent God is impossible, profitable discussion must begin elsewhere than at this narrative.” D.A. Carson The Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991)
I was tempted to begin these reflections seeking to articulate a post modern paradigm of faith in the light of quantum theology. However, that has been done often enough on this site so that Carson’s statement can stand as a presupposition. There are aspects of the narrative today that are far more illuminating and profitable than a discussion of whether miracles can occur (or do occur). They occur for those who see them.
We begin by noticing that the raising of Lazarus occupies the same place in the FG (Fourth Gospel) as the Cleansing (sic) of the Temple does in the Synoptic. If, for the Synoptic tradition, it is Jesus’ action in the Temple that provokes the authorities to take action against him, in the FG it is this astonishing revelation of power, eschatological power, ultimate power. In raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus has thrown down a gauntlet to the reigning principalities and powers. How so?
There is a delicious irony in the text. It is to be found first of all in the term doxa (glory), second in the term embrimaotai (be deeply moved/be angry) and third in the note regarding the plot to assassinate Lazarus in 12.9-11.
We have noticed that doxa is a term in the FG that refers to the kavod YHWH of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is used this way in the Prologue for example (along with skenao). But like hupsao(to exalt/to raise up) it has its most important referent in the cross or death of Jesus. It is in the death of Jesus that the glory of God is truly revealed. God is exalted in the humiliation of the Son. When Jesus says (vs 4) that the death of Lazarus occurred “for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” we might suppose that Jesus means that it will be the display of power that will bring him glory. But on the Johannine level, it also refers to the death of Jesus. The resurrection of Lazarus will eventuate in Jesus’ death.
More than that, the raising of Lazarus while culminating in a plot against Jesus also culminates in a plot against Lazarus. This wonderful ‘display’ of eschatological power causes the death mechanism of the principalities and powers to be engaged. Death will have nothing to do with life and death-dealing gods will have nothing to do with the God of Life or the One who is ‘the resurrection and the life.’
Finally, commentators have struggled with the meaning of the verb embrimaotai. What could Jesus have possibly been angry at? Was it anger at death, or more specifically the death of his friend? Then why does he delay his coming to Bethany when he has already accepted Lazarus’ death? Is Jesus angry at those who mourn Lazarus’ death? If so, then why does he weep himself? We would like to suggest that this reference to ‘being deeply moved in spirit’ is the Johannine ‘version’ of the Synoptics story in Gethsemane. In both stories Jesus is aware that his life is about to end, in the Johannine version, Jesus is ‘deeply moved in spirit’ aware that this ‘miracle’ (semeion) will bring about his death. Yet he still raises his friend from the dead, he literally gives his life for the sake of his friend Lazarus. This I think is the Johannine direction of the narrative.
Further proof might also be found in the misunderstanding of Thomas (vs 16). Thomas thinks that Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die, that is, to participate in the ultimate revolution, the final battle between Messiah and Rome, the fight between the children of light and the children of darkness. Does Thomas think Lazarus is the ‘first’ fatality of this engagement? It seems so. The battle has begun and Jesus and the disciples will now proceed to Jerusalem to join the fray. In typical Johannine fashion, like Nicodemus, e.g., Thomas is both right and wrong. He is right in that Jesus will die, he is wrong in the manner in which that death is conceived. Jesus’ death will reveal God’s glory, the glory of peacemaking, forgiveness and triumph over the principalities and powers.
For the FG, the raising of Lazarus is the penultimate sign. It is the sixth of seven semeia, the final ‘sign’ being the death of Jesus, the cross upon which Jesus is exalted. By tying these last two semeia together the FG also implicitly gives us a glimpse into the way God’s interaction in the world is interpreted by the ruling authorities. These two events are brought together in the ‘prophecy’ of Caiaphas who asserts that this miracle can only lead to death, the death of Jesus ‘huper tou ethnous.’
All in all, it seems to us that we must recognize that when God works in the world it will be misunderstood by those who have chosen bia (violence, power, biological existence). Zoe (life) and bia (life) are qualitatively different. Bia is grounded in desire (I John 2:15-17), zoe is of another character altogether grounded in agape. The disjunction between the two is often confused in modern Christianity but the FG opens the door for us to see their distinctive differences and their different spiritualities.
By far some of the best exegesis of this text can be found in C.H. Dodd’s The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (pages 363ff). Our mimetic theoretical approach owes much to the insights of Dodd’s comments. For example, ‘the narrative before us is not only the story of the dead Lazarus raised to life; it is also the story of Jesus going to face death in order to conquer death.’ We have simply sought to explicate observations like this in terms of mimetic theory.
What is life? Does life consist in bios, in that which is possessed (possessions), or grasped? Jesus brings life from death, but his life is zoe, eternal life, God’s life. We bring life from death when we find succor and peace in our victims, our enemies death, the demise of those who threaten our safety. These two ways are radically different but too often confused. There is a life, a false life, a pseudo existence which we can derive from exploiting sacrificial mechanisms, but it is a life doomed to death, an ever ending spiral of taking, grasping and killing. There is also a life, a true life (Jn 14:6), a real existence which we can derive from exposing sacrificial mechanisms, but only as the innocent forgiving victim! This exposure occurs when we forgive our enemies and do not seek redress or vengeance. Thus it is difficult for us to understand how so many of our contemporaries can continue to act as though the current state of terror and war in our world can be overcome by the application of greater violence (bia), even violence in the service of liberty, freedom and free markets. We still manage to kill innocents, create poverty, strangle justice all in the name of our life (bios), and we miss the real power of Jesus’ life (zoe). Jesus still weeps.