Saturday, 31 October 2009

I Am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11)


The story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11) reveals the the humanity of Jesus in a narrative form that is of a piece with the deepest theology of the Gospel of John. (E.g. John 1:1-5, 14) Here we see a vulnerable, human Jesus, full of love, and therefore overcome by grief at the death of his friend Lazarus. This is the same Jesus who, in, for example, the Farewell Discourses of Chapters 13-17, will reveal (admittedly in more structured prose) the heart of God. But even so, John 11 can't be matched for the sheer vulnerable humanity of Jesus.

Lazarus is the friend of Jesus. (11:11; also 11:36) We will wait until 15:14-15 before we hear Jesus call his disciples friends. There is something special in the relationship between Lazarus and Jesus. Yet, Lazarus is strangely absent in the Gospels. We meet Mary and Martha in Luke, but not Lazarus. And in John Mary and Martha speak to Jesus, but Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, says nothing. He is resuscitated, and in John 12 the chief priests decide that Lazarus must die as well as Jesus. (John 12:9-11; see 11:45-57) Jean Vanier says that Lazarus seems to be a "nobody" in comparison to the rest of the characters in the story. Like the disabled people Vanier has lived with in L'Arche. In John 11 Lazarus is sick. The Greek word is asthenes, and Jean Vanier says that this can mean not just sick, but disabled. This supposition on the part of Vanier would explain why Mary and Martha are still at home with Lazarus, and why Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, seems absent in the text. He was, as Vanier says, a "nobody".

People wonder why Jesus did not leave immediately to heal Lazarus when he discovered that he was sick. (11:6) The flow of the text gives the answer. The death of Lazarus will allow Jesus to work another "sign" (John 2:11; 4:54), signaling who Jesus is ("I am ..." John 11:25-26) , and the overcoming of death that awaits those loved by Jesus. (As is all Christology, this story is about soteriology, not just speaking of the status of Jesus.)

Jesus arrives and after some dialogue with Mary and Martha is directed to the tomb of Lazarus. Here we see the raw and intense emotion of Jesus, shuddering and disturbed in his own grief at the death of his friend, and deeply moved by the grief of those weeping for Lazarus. (11:33-35, 38) Jesus wept. He does not avoid his grief; resurrection does not make human emotion and the loss of death empty. Jesus here touches the horror of death, and its sheer deadliness, feeling and expressing the anguish and pain we feel when stung by death and its forces. Vanier says
"Here he (Jesus) weeps in front of death; he touches the horror of death, the void created in hearts when someone who is loved dies... This is the only place in the gospel where Jesus reveals his deep, human emotions. when he met the Samaritan women (sic) he was tired, but here something is broken in him." (Jean Vanier, Drawn Into the Mystery of Jesus Through the Gospel of John, p.199)
But more than this, Jesus here confronts his own mortality. (Yes, mortality, the point of the picture above, with a dead Jesus, gangrene spreading in his tomb.) He is human, and he will die. The blackness of death awaits him, and the horror of death encompassing a loved one awaits the mother and friends of Jesus. Christian hope in the resurrection of Jesus is not an avoidance of death. I will die, you will die, those we love will die. There is no immortal 'bit' in us that avoids death. There is only hope in the God of Jesus who brings resurrection. Indeed, without entering the full horror of death and the cross there is no resurrection. This is not one more example of the spiritual principle of death and rebirth. This is the brokenness, failure, and absolute end that is the prerequisite for grace, the tomb of resurrection.

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