Translation and commentary on John’s Gospel
JOHN 11: 17
Now when Jesus arrived he found that Lazarus had already been in the grave for four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away, and many of the Judeans had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was arriving went to meet him; but Mary remained in the house.
Martha said to Jesus, “If you had been here my brother would not have died; but I know that even now whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to him, ” I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who trusts in me, even if he dies, will live; and all who are alive and trust in me will never die. Do you trust in this?”
She said to him, “Yes Lord, I trust that you are the Anointed One, the Son of God who comes into the world.”
Having said this, she went off and called her sister Mary, saying in secret, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”
When she heard that she got up quickly and came to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village but was still in the place where Martha had met him. So the Judeans who were with her in the house comforting her, when they saw Mary get up hastily and come out, they followed her thinking, “She’s going to the grave, to mourn there.”
Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping and the Judeans who had accompanied her weeping also, his spirit was roused to indignation and his inner self was troubled, and he said, “Where have you laid him?”
They said to him, “Come and see, Lord.”
So the Judeans said, “See how he loved him!”
But some said, “Surely someone who opened the eyes of a blind man could also have kept this man from dying!”
In this part of the story, the two women take on the role of sacred guides in a ritual drama. Martha, the one whom Gospel tradition depicts as more active and less comprehending than her sister, goes out to meet Jesus and protest his late arrival. She is calmly schooled in the gospel by Jesus who tells her that the paraphernalia of the “Last Day Resurrection” has been replaced by himself: he personally is resurrection and life. She responds by declaring her trust in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God.
Although Jesus says no more, Martha goes off to tell Mary that the Teacher is calling her. Mary who has not needed to question Jesus but has remained in the posture of a disciple (the Greek literally means “seated in the house”) immediately goes to Jesus followed by Judeans who take the place of a Greek chorus.
Mary reproaches Jesus with the same words as Martha, the words which express the disappointed hope of a miracle, and she simply weeps at the fact of death. Jesus weeps too for Lazarus and for all the human beings whom he loves, because all of them will come to this. He, the One in whom God is present, weeps for the mortality of his friends which he cannot spare them. It is compassion which has brought him to this place, where he will share their mortality so that they can share his eternal life. It is important to use some English word suggesting anger for the Greek “enebrimesato”, rather than “deeply troubled” which is all too commonly used. Jesus’ compassion is fuelled by indignation at human mortality, matching my own indignation.
I was dreaming last night about the death of my best friend Bob Cummings almost two years ago now, when out of concern I promised to be with him in a couple of days time, but he died before I could get there. I still blame myself for not leaving other duties to be with him more quickly. Does this passage of John’s gospel help me to deal with his death? Not if it is a quasi realistic miracle story. Jesus was not there to call him from the grave nor any of my other dear ones who have died; and would I in any case have wanted some strange reanimation of their mortal bodies?
But if the story assures me that Jesus, God’s Son, has come to meet them and me in the place of death, and that he himself is life, well that does help, if I can believe it.