32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 40Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’
Translation: Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw him, she fell down at his feet, she said to him, "Lord, if you were being here, my brother had not died." Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the ones who came to her, Judeans, weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply troubled, and he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept. Therefore, the Judeans said, "See how he was loving him."
But some of them said, "Was this man not able--the one who opened the eyes of the blind--to do so that this man might not have died?" Therefore, Jesus, again greatly disturbed in himself, came into the tomb. But it was a cave and a stone was lying on it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the one who had died, said to him, "Lord, already he stinks, for it is four days."
Jesus said to her, "Have I not said to you that, if you might faith, you will see the glory of God?" Therefore, they took away the stone. But Jesus lifted up the eyes and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always heard me, but because of the crowd, the ones standing by, I said, so that they might faith that you sent me."
And he said these things. He cried a loud voice, "Lazareth, come out!" The one who had died came out, bound hands and feet with graveclothes, and his countenance bound about with a napkin. Jesus said to them, ""Loose him and let him go."
Background and situation: The lection is part of a longer story which begins with Jesus distant from Jerusalem. The Judeans were planning to arrest him, but he and the disciples went "across the Jordan," presumably to escape them.
While "across the Jordan", Jesus received word from the two sisters, Mary and Martha, that Lazarus was sick. The fourth gospel wants us to know that Jesus "loved" Lazarus (11:3) and that he also loved Mary and Martha (11:5). Yet, he stayed where he was for two additional days.
Then, Jesus announces that they are returning to Judea. The disciples are quick to remind him that Judea is dangerous for them. He tells them that Lazarus is "asleep" and he is going to wake him.
The disciples, no fools, say that if he's merely sleeping, he'll be all right. Jesus announces flatly, "Lazarus is dead," but also tells them he's glad not to have been there so that they, the disciples, might believe. Thomas, not without reason, thinks they're all going to die.
Quiet trip to Bethany: Jesus goes near Bethany, but appears to have stopped short of actually entering. Martha went out to meet him. Martha appears not to have told Mary that Jesus was near, or, if she did, Mary agreed to stay behind.
Meanwhile, people from nearby Jerusalem show up at Mary and Martha's house to console them. They are rather ominously identified as "Judeans"--"Judeans" oppose Jesus in every which way throughout the fourth gospel--though, in this case, their purpose appears benign. They are there to comfort.
Still, their presence could be why Jesus did not go to Mary and Martha's house. "Judeans" are not people he wants to run in to right off the bat in this foray onto "Judean" turf. (Bethany is only a few miles outside of Jerusalem.)
Martha tells Jesus that if he had been there, her brother would not have died. Nevertheless, she affirms Jesus' power even in the face of death. Jesus tells her Lazarus will live. Yes, she says, at the resurrection on the last day. (Martha reflects the conventional pharisaic view of resurrection.)
Jesus tells her that he himself is "the resurrection and the life"--zoe in Greek, the life principle--and that those who "faith" will live. He asks Martha, "Do you faith?" She responds with three major titles for Jesus: Messiah, Son of God, "the one coming into the world."
Martha goes back to their house and calls for Mary. She tells Mary "privately" that Jesus wants to see her. Martha must speak privately because she doesn't want to tip off the Judeans that Jesus is near.
Now, finally, we are told that Jesus is not actually in the village. Martha apparently wants to keep the Judeans from knowing that he is nearby. This works, except that the Judeans, apparently intrigued by Mary's sudden departure, decide to follow her. Unwittingly, Mary leads the Judeans to Jesus.
"Enraged in spirit and agitated with fear": Mary says exactly the same thing to Jesus that Martha had said: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
Jesus responds differently to Mary than he did to Martha. Here, Jesus does not engage in high-level theological discussion as he had with Martha.
Instead, surrounded by death and mourning, he was "greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply troubled." Enebrimesato has its root in the sound of a horse snorting, and expresses great anger. Etaraxen relates to fear and dread. Another possible translation: "He was enraged in spirit and agitated with fear."
Nevertheless, this is a necessary confrontation. True life and resurrection cannot deny the reality of death. Sorrow is a part of human existence. In response to the grief and sorrow he sees, Jesus is overcome by grief and sorrow himself. Out of love and compassion, he shares fully in the sufferings of life.
Suddenly, the conversation includes "they." No longer is Jesus talking with one person, either Martha or Mary, but now, when Jesus asks where "you" (plural) have laid Lazarus, "they" say "come and see."
This is ironic. The phrase "come and see" has been used to bring people to Jesus. Now, it is used to bring Jesus to face death. Confronting death, sorrow, and grief directly, Jesus weeps.
Jesus anger and agitation continues as he comes to the tomb. "It was a cave." In mythological language, caves are places of spiritual mystery and are symbolic of the womb. Going into a cave upon death is symbolic of return to God as Mother.
It is also a way of saying that new life can emerge only out of the death of the old. This is mortificatio, a word which appears often in Christian mystical writings.
His sheep hear his voice: Martha, identified as the sister of a dead man, speaks to the ghastly reality of death. "Lord, already he stinks." Jesus reminds her that if she "faithed" she would see the glory of God. (Jesus had not actually said this to Martha. He had said it to the disciples in verse four.)
The stench of Lazarus is a sharp contrast with the story which follows in chapter 12. There, Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus' feet with "pure nard," and the "the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume" (12:3). The "stench" of death is mentioned in chapter 11, but no one is said to actually smell it. In chapter 12, the "aroma" of life, you might say, permeates everything.
"Raise up the stone," he says--arate ton lithon. "They raised up the stone, but Jesus raised up his eyes upward." Jesus speaks directly to God, the first time he does so in the fourth gospel. His prayer recalls the prayer of Elijah in 1 Kings 18:37: "Answer me, O Lord, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back."
Jesus cries out "with a loud voice," "Lazarus, come out!" "The dead man came out." His sheep hear his voice! (10:27)
Lazarus--"the dead man"--is still wrapped in the garments of death. Jesus tells "them" to "unbind him, and let him go." The major work of raising Lazarus is done, but the work is not completed until those who hear Jesus' command "unbind" Lazarus and free him from the restraints imposed by death.
Image: All Saints' Day 1911, Wasily Kandinsky