bible blog 1283

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news.


Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu

John 11:30-44

King James Version (KJV)

30 Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him.

31 The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.

32 Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.

34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!

37 And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?

38 Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.

39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

40 Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?

41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.

42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.

43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.

Vincent_Van_Gogh-_La_Résurrection_de_Lazare_d’après_Rembrandt44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go!”

For this culmination of the Lazarus story, I’ve chosen the King James Version, as in comparison with it in this instance, all other versions are  pathetic in their polite evasions and inept additions to the Greek original. I indicated yesterday that I do not think this story is historical. It has been created as a dramatised parable of the whole of Jesus’ ministry. It represents the memory of Jesus and his ministry held by John’s sources. So for example, if I’m right, Jesus did not actually weep on this occasion, but the believers’ memory of him is of a man who wept. Indeed his “weeping” is an expression of the sorrow of God’s Son as he experienced the  mortality of friends and his own dying.

For John is telling in this parable the story of God’s rescue of human beings from death by his venturing in his Son into the place of death, to call human beings out into everlasting life. Death is not seen as a mere physical fact, it is a spiritual power that can capture living men and women. Mortality is not annulled by Jesus’ death and resurrection; it is overcome. Lazarus is a symbol of living believers who are called out of the power of death into a life where physical death is still to come.

It is for this reason that the physical facts of death are forcefully depicted: “By this time he stinketh.” The brute fact of bodily extinction remains for all. The trappings of death will be upon us but we shall hear the voice of the Son of God and walk into new life. Our liberation will be completed in the command, “Loose him and let him go!” ( How literally do I  mean this? Of course it’s beyond my comprehension but not wholly so. As far as I can mean anything literally I mean that although worms will destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.)

Jesus words about seeing the glory of God remind me of St. Irenaeus’ saying, “The glory of God is the living man and woman.”

The love of Jesus for Lazarus, that is, for all mortal men and women, including his own mortal self, is expressed in words that indicate a profound labouring of God’s creative spirit, similar to the word of God which came to Isaiah, “Now I groan like a woman in labour, panting and gasping” (Isaiah 42:14). In the moment when the Son of God enters the cave of death to rescue his fellow mortals, the world is changed and a new humanity is born. As the prologue to this gospel tells the reader, “To them he gave the power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of a man’s will, but of God.”liberty

God saves people from the power of death wherever that power is evident; in tyrannical government, in the poverty that kills, in the prejudices that make other human beings disposable. I say he saves, but only in his human Son and his other human children. Into all these places of death God will only go in his suffering children and those who come to their side, so that they can confront the powers of death with courage. God desires to rescue his children not only from their own sin but also from the sin of others. This faith is well-attested by Desmond Tutu who with great courage opposed the death squads of Apartheid; and yesterday issued a stinging rebuke to the President Museveni of Uganda who signed a bill which will oppress gay people in his country. Tutu sees no difference: wherever the power of death afflicts human beings God will be with the oppressed calling them towards life; God’s voice will be the one which says, “Loose and let go.”

It turns out therefore that I’m wrong to say this story didn’t happen. It happened and still happens, in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus the Child of God.



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