Monday, October 26, 2009

John 11:32-44 - The Gospel Lectionary Passage for November 1, 2009 (All Saints Day)

This is my own translation of the lectionary gospel lesson for Sunday. Please make any comments concerning the passage you want. Together, let's discuss the Word of God:


32Now Mary, when she came to the place Jesus was, she saw him and fell at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you’d been here, then my brother wouldn’t have died." 33Now when Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who were with her crying, he let out a snort of indignation and was deeply troubled. 34And he said, "Where have you laid him?" And they said to him, "Lord, come and see." 35Jesus wept. 36Now the Jews said, "See how he loved him." 37But others from them said, "He who opened the eyes of the blind is able to do something so that he might not die, isn’t he?
38Now again Jesus let out [another] snort of indignation within himself, and he went into the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the man who’d died, said, "Lord, already it smells badly; for it happen four days ago." 40Jesus said to her, "I said to you that if you might believe, then you will see the glory of God, didn’t I?" 41Now they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes upward and said, "Father, I thank you that you heard me. 42But I know that you always hear me. But because of the crowd which is standing around, so that they might believe that you sent me..." 43And after he’d said these things, he cried out in a great voice, "Lazarus, come out." 44The dead man who’s feet and hands were bandaged and who’s face was wrapped in a handkerchief came out. And Jesus said to them, "Release him and let him go."


  1. Graham Twelftree in his JESUS: THE MIRACLE WORKER at one point quoted one author as saying that the critics surround this passage waiting to do battle or something like that. I hope we as Pastors and lay people will not line up to do battle but to discuss this passage acknowledging that differences in experiences and different learnings will cause us to see it differently, but still remain friends.

    I have experienced at least one miracle in my life, so I believe in miracles. I begin that way so all will know one of my key assumptions about this passage. In addition to this, I have always been suspicious that Calvin and others compromised with the natural philosophers of their day by the Cessationist viewpoint that miracles ceased with the passing of the apostles (others thought it was when Christianity was secure, i.e, with Constantine.)

    I can see the viewpoint of those who believe John's Gospel is a book of theology rather than a historical Gospel. Or the viewpoint of others who believe the earlier synoptic authors were trying to protect Lazarus from the Pharisees, et. al. who might have sought his life, by not including the story.

    As we interpret this passage we also must put it in the larger context of Jairus' daughter and the Widow of Nain's son.

    Yesterday I received my copy of Sanjay Gupta's new best seller, CHEATING DEATH. Gupta, of course, is the medical correspondent for CNN and the NYTimes. (I have not finished the book yet, but have read parts of it.) Gupta talks about the line between life and death that we once thought was pretty well defined. What we are now learning is that there is a no man's land of shifting sand between life and death.

    (A trauma nurse I know used to come home from her work on the streets at night and tell her husband. "I brought another one back from the dead last night." A patient's heart had stopped and she, using artificial resusitation, had restarted the heart. In years gone by "no heart beat" was final. Death had occurred.)

    There is a very interesting chapter in CHEATING DEATH called "What Is a Miracle?" You will want to read this one. Gupta tells the story of one man John Pfenninger, whose son Matthew, was stricken with cancer. It was a long difficult ordeal for the family and the patient. The cancer was removed only to spread and return. Prayer and the advances of medical science were used. The patient survived. Was it a miracle or had the patient's natural defense system resources been mobilized to defeat the tumors?

    Gupta concludes this chapter with these words:
    "Whether we are a doctor or a patient, we tend to think that life and death are somehow under our control, and to an extent, they are. That's why we go to the doctor in the first place, to help us heal. That's what motivates doctors like Henry Friedman and the other medical mavericks we've seen in these pages. They push the boundaries of our knowledge. They try to shift that line in the sand between life and death, saving many lives in the process. But good as our science becomes, there may always be something else--beyond that science--that allows someone to recover and heal when all hope is lost." (pp. 241-2)

    Jesus moved that boundary between life and death for Lazarus (if you believe this story is more than a parable or theological illustration) as I believe God moved that boundary between life and death for me in 1998.


  2. As you work with this text, there are a few things that might affect your interpretation.

    First, in Greek, the "snorts of indignation" reflect anger. It's the word used for the sound a horse makes when it's mad. In this passage, Jesus is more than disturbed. The question is why.

    Second, John used two different words for cry/weep. What Mary did in v. 33 is different from what Jesus did in v. 35. The word used with Mary is always associated with grief. The word used with Jesus is generally connected to effort and concentration.

    Third, the "love" the people say Jesus felt toward Lazarus is "phileos." This word is used often in John and tends to be active.