This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
IN HIS (YANUKOVYCH’S) HOUSE WERE MANY MANSIONS
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
17-20 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the grave four days. Now Bethany is quite near Jerusalem, rather less than two miles away, and a good many of the Jews had come out to see Martha and Mary to offer them sympathy over their brother’s death. When Martha heard that Jesus was on his way, she went out and met him, while Mary stayed in the house.
21-22 “If only you had been here, Lord,” said Martha, “my brother would never have died. And I know that, even now, God will give you whatever you ask from him.”
23 “Your brother will rise again,” Jesus replied to her.
24 “I know,” said Martha, “that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25-26 “I myself am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus told her. “The man who believes in me will live even though he dies, and anyone who is alive and believes in me will never die at all. Can you believe that?”
27-31 “Yes, Lord,” replied Martha. “I do believe that you are Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into the world.” Saying this she went away and called Mary her sister, whispering, “The master’s here and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this she sprang to her feet and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet arrived at the village itself, but was still where Martha had met him. So when the Jews who had been condoling with Mary in the house saw her get up quickly and go out, they followed her, imagining that she was going to the grave to weep there.
This is the last of Jesus’ great signs according to John: the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The trouble is not that it’s impossible to believe but that if it’s “fact” then the whole relationship of God to his creatures is put in question. Does God intervene in this instance to bring a man back from the dead; and if he does, why doesn’t he do so more often? Like, always. And what’s the point of death if we get restored to this life? And if we’re talking about “facts” what on earth did Jesus mean that those who were alive and believed would never die? Presumably by the time this was written, countless believers had died and others were dying daily. It seems that if we take Jesus’ words at a factual level they turn out to be nonsense. So, can the words be interpreted in a different way?
I think Jesus meant that dead believers would be raised to new life, and that this new life would never be subject to death. It would be eternal life. But Jesus was also teaching that believers would not have to wait until the “last day” for eternal life; it could begin immediately, through their relationship with Jesus. The story of the raising of Lazarus is not “factual” but is rather a brilliant representation of the whole of Jesus’ ministry. He comes into a world of death and grief; he himself goes into the place of death so that he can call those bound by death into new life. Death is a spiritual power before it is a physical fact and some will hold to it rather than to Jesus. Indeed the whole episode is set in the midst of the threat to Jesus’ life by the religious authorities, the agents of death.
This is what God does, according to John; in his Son, God goes into the darkness of death to destroy its power and rescue its prisoners. The mission of God in his son is therefore not first of all about religion or morality; it’s about life over death. In this, John, the last of the gospel writers has links with the first, Mark, who also portrays Jesus as the personal presence of life in the face of death. When Jesus says, I am the resurrection and the life, he speaks not only of what he says and does, but of what he is. The personal trust exhibited by Martha and Mary in the story is intended to be a model for believers in the gospel writer’s churches.
All this leaves many questions unanswered, such as: who made death in the first place? John would have had to say, “God.” So why does He now want to unmake it? Firstly however we have to receive the full story of the raising of Lazarus, which will be on our menu, tomorrow.