John 11: The Death of Lazarus
A Favorite from August 28, 2009.
This is a bittersweet story if we believe in the resurrection. Each time I read it, I linger over verse 35: Jesus wept. As a child I believed that the Christ wept because his good friend had died. As I grew older I believed he mourned the fact that he knew he was calling this friend back from a beatific place. Now when I read this verse it seems to me that Christ cries out of his humanity; he cries at the tragedy of our human fragility. As I continue to grow I am guessing that I will have other perspectives, other reasons for Jesus’ tears. This is what is so wonderful about the message of the Messiah: each time we read it, we come away with something new, something surprising, something healing. This is why, I believe, God came to walk among us . . . so that we might number our sorrows with his. When we cry out to God, he can honestly tell us that he experiences our pain.
There is another point which always intrigues me about this story. Hard on its heels arrives the story of the plot to kill Jesus. I am always struck with the vigor of the jealousy and venom of his enemies. Some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing miracles, many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy the holy place and our nation”. This narrative continues to verses 53 and 54: So from that day on they planned to put him to death. Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews. And this chapter ends with . . . Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
When I put myself into this story, I wonder where I would fall. Am I among the Pharisees, the priests, the followers who report Jesus? Am I one who succumbs to jealousy and revenge? Am I one who believes and follows? Do I understand that the “death” of Lazarus is really the initiation rite of his new life? Am I willing to enter into the hope God offers us when he frees us in the person of Jesus? Do I comprehend the joy I might experience when I unite with the Holy Spirit to carry the message of freedom to others? Am I willing to accept surprise in my life? Am I willing to hand myself over to a belief in something I cannot see? Am I ready to accept a new way of living?
There is much newness to think about as we read this old story. What appears to be death might actually be life. What seems to the end of a story, may actually be the beginning. What is apparently a handing over of self in obedience can be a surprising release into a full liberty of expression. We will only know when we choose to follow.