November 4, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: The raising of Lazarus

See John 11:1-44

We all know the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. It was Jesus’ most spectacular miracle and the one that, according to John’s Gospel, made the Jewish leaders determined to kill him.

It was the most spectacular miracle, not just because he raised someone from the dead. He had done that before: Jairus’ daughter (Lk 8:40-56) and the son of the widow at Naim (Lk 7:11-17). But they hadn’t been buried yet. Lazarus had been dead for four days and his body should have begun to decay. Even Lazarus’ sister, Martha, said, “By now there will be a stench.”

Jesus couldn’t have been more deliberate in what he did. After the messengers came to him where he was staying across the Jordan River in the province of Perea to tell him that Lazarus was ill, he purposely waited for two days, knowing that Lazarus had died. Not only he, but his Apostles, too, knew that going back to Judea was dangerous. They reminded him that, while he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Hanukkah, “The Jews were trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” Thomas, speaking for the first time in the Gospels, was only being realistic, as well as courageous, when he said, “Let us also go to die with him.” (Later, of course, he was to disperse as the rest of them did.)

Jesus knew about the dangers. He knew that what he intended to do would hasten his death. But his death was his Father’s plan for the redemption of the world and Jesus wasn’t going to run away from his fate.

Jesus also obviously still felt it necessary to perform a spectacular miracle so his followers would believe in him. He told them that he was glad that he wasn’t with Lazarus before his death “that you may believe.” And he told Martha that she would see “the glory of God.”

In his prayer before he called Lazarus to “come out” of the tomb, Jesus thanked his Father for performing his miracle so that the crowd “may believe that you sent me.”

Jesus also displayed emotion in this episode: “And Jesus wept.” He shed silent tears, prompting those present to say, “See how he loved” Lazarus. But he wasn’t crying out of grief for Lazarus. He didn’t weep because Lazarus had died since he knew that he was going to bring him back to life. Rather, he wept out of sympathy for Martha and her sister, Mary. He empathized with their grief even though he knew that he was about to wipe away their tears.

Thus, Jesus purposely and deliberately performed this miracle for the effect it would have on both his friends and his enemies.

For us, perhaps the most important words are those of Jesus to Martha: “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus promised eternal life to those who believe in him. †


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