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.
“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?