Funeral Lectionary: John 11:32-45

Prior to this section in John’s Gospel is Jesus’ encounter with Martha of Bethany. In the option below, we read of the dramatic raising of her brother Lazarus. I’m surprised this passage isn’t selected more often. In fact, I cannot recall a funeral in which it was chosen.

When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him,
  she fell at his feet and said to him,
  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
 
When Jesus saw her weeping
  and the people who had come with her weeping,
  he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said,
  “Where have you laid him?”
They said to him, “Sir, come and see.”
And Jesus wept.
So the people said, “See how he loved him.”
But some of them said,
  “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man
  have done something so that this man would not have died?”
 
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.
It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.
Jesus said,
  “Take away the stone.”

Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him,
  “Lord, by now there will be a stench;
  he has been dead for four days.”
Jesus said to her,
  “Did I not tell you
  that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone.
And Jesus raised his eyes and said,
  “Father, I thank you for hearing me.
I know that you always hear me;
  but because of the crowd here I have said this,
  that they may believe that you sent me.”
And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice,
  “Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out,
  tied hand and foot with burial bands,
  and his face was wrapped in a cloth.
So Jesus said to them,
  “Untie him and let him go.”
 
Now many of the people who had come to Mary
  and seen what he had done began to believe in him.

There is a lot to reflect upon here. I’m going to confine my commentary to just two aspects.

Where his people are concerned, God possesses deep emotions for us. I’m reminded of this passage from the Wisdom tradition. In our moments of anguish, we rail against God. We question. We rage. Even if we consider ourselves beloved friends of God. God’s response? Grief, compassion, and union. God becomes one with us through the shared emotion on the death of a loved one. Mourners may not be ready for this, but God’s presence remains a sacramental and spiritual reality.

Second, I observe a dynamic of theological reflection in this passage. Father Robert Kinast penned a book focusing on John’s Gospel as an opportunity to explore theological reflection. In other words, the evangelist presents his readers with an episode in Jesus’ life. The Lord takes the opportunity to teach the disciple something of significance which can be applied in her or his own life. The raising of Lazarus is such an example. On the occasion of his friend’s death, Jesus invites Martha and Mary to a deeper understanding of the mystery of death and resurrection.

Bad things, even catastrophic things, present opportunities for grace. In this passage, deepening faith in the Messiah and God’s clear intention to lift a fallen humanity out of death.

Perhaps it is not so surprising after all that this reading is rarely chosen. Jesus seems indifferent at the time of his friend’s illness and death. Perhaps the tears are unconvincing. This might be a better message for the mourners after some months have passed.

You readers, would you consider this reading? If so, why? If not, why not?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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4 Responses to Funeral Lectionary: John 11:32-45

  1. mikedenz says:

    I would not use it. I don’t think people would understand the deeper spiritual meanings, but only wonder why Jesus doesn’t raise their loved one like He did Lazarus. Does God not love or weep for them too? This was not just about Jesus raising a friend he wept for. It was Jesus showing those there that He had power over death. It showed this in a literal way and in a deeper way how Jesus has power over sin. Martha was afraid of a stench, which symbolizes sin. Jesus reminds her that He has power over sin. When Lazarus came out bound up, it symbolizes the bonds of sin and death. Jesus tells them to unbind him, because sin and death have no power when He is there.

    • frjimt9455 says:

      why would we want people to understand the deeper spiritual meaning?
      Someone Jesus loved died……..he wept……. when someone we love dies, we weep…..

  2. Liam says:

    This pericope omits the salient preceding encounter between Martha and Mary, and the encounters of Martha vs Mary in chapter 11 are bookends to the earlier story of Martha and Mary. In chapter 11, it is Martha who freely expresses faith in Jesus, while Mary withholds. The core statement of faith by Martha is “Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

    “Even now” is one of the most important statements of faith in the entire Gospels. It is to be understood to apply to all those times God does NOT intervene in natural processes and the working of human free will. All those most awful times when there is no magical reversal of those things. “Even now” is what we hope to say to God in the mid-afternoon of our own Good Friday.

  3. frjimt9455 says:

    i use it when it applies……………i used it for my sisters funeral, when she died in her 40′s….it was a powerful source of strength for us: 3 simple words: “and Jesus wept” ……. just 30 days before that we had buried my father (who died of a broken heart watching his daughter die).

    then to invite the 1.500 or so mourners (if you want a big crowd at your funeral die young, we would joke!)…….. to “unbind her and let her go.” as Jesus had instructed…….

    and to hear that strong masculine voice of Jesus cry out: Lazarus, come out! (see the connection in the new movie: for greater glory: stay to the very end and watch the credits and final notes)….

    remembering that, i just used it for the funeral of a husband married to his wife for 60 years…..and again it proved so appropriate……
    of course, both funerals were accompanied by 2 Tim. 4: I have fought the good fight, have run the race……

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