Jesus raises Lazarus in John 11

In the Sunday gospel lectionary reading for Lent 5 in Year A, we come to the last of our for explorations of Jesus’ encounters with individuals that formed a catechumate in the early church in her raising of Lazarus in John 11.1–45. Next week, on Palm Sunday, we will return to our gospel of the year, Matthew, in the lead in to Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

This remarkable extended narrative forms a turning point in the Fourth Gospel. The gospel is commonly seen as being in two halves, the so-called ‘Book of Signs‘ running from the prologue until now, and the ‘Book of Glory’ which runs from chapter 12 to the end. (In a previous scholarly generation, these were understood to reflect two different [written] sources behind the final form of the gospel; but we don’t need to have this obsessed with sources to note that there is different language, a different emphasis, even a different ‘feel’ in the first half and the second half of the gospel.) The seven signs in the gospel are most commonly understood to be:

  1. Changing water into wine at Cana in John 2:1-11 – “the first of the signs”
  2. Healing the royal official’s son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54
  3. Healing the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-15
  4. Feeding the 5000 in John 6:5-14
  5. Jesus walking on water in John 6:16-24
  6. Healing the man blind from birth in John 9:1-7
  7. The raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-45

There is some debate here, because they are not each explicitly identified in the narrative as a ‘sign’, so some readers see the feeding of the 5,000 and the walking on the water as one, combined, sign, making Jesus’ own resurrection the seventh. However, the signs are quite clearly depicted as partial revelations which point forward to ultimate reality, and it makes more sense to see each of these seven pointing forward to the eighth, the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, which (if ‘seven’ signifies this age, with its seven days of creation and rest) depict this as the beginning of the new age to come.

The narrative itself is vivid and compelling, full of arresting detail and emotion. Jo-Ann Brant, in her Paideia commentary, observes:

The principal action is a reversal—the dead one lives—but to the simplicity of this reversal, John adds the complexity of emotion, allusion, report, reaction, and counterreaction. Grief and censure turn to an expression of gratitude—the anointing of feet—that in turn comes to signify a funerary rite. Jesus raises Lazarus to life, and the authorities plot to take both their lives. John plays with epithets and allusions to underscore that Lazarus’ story foreshadows Jesus’ death and resurrection in a variety of ways (p 170).

Some modern translations smooth out the opening introduction, but the text actually talks of a ‘certain man’, who is ‘Lazarus of Bethany’. This is a common way of referring to a man, the alternative being to refer to his occupation. The narrative refers to Mary and Martha whom Jesus’ met Luke 10.38–41 (the only place outside the Fourth Gospel where Martha is mentioned), but assumes only that we already know Mary; her name is mentioned first here, whereas elsewhere Martha is mentioned first, indicating that she is the older sister, and in fact her name is the feminine form of the Aramaic for ‘master’. Since we have not yet read the account of the anointing of Jesus by Mary, since it comes in the next chapter, the narrator is assuming we have read it already in Matthew 26 or Mark 14. (These parenthetical explanatory asides are characteristic of the Fourth Gospel, for example in John 1.38, 41 and 3.24.)

(There are four accounts of a woman anointing Jesus’ feet, in Matt 26.6–13, Mark 14.3–9, Luke 7.36–50, and John 12.1–8. The accounts in Matthew, Mark and John correlate, though only in John is the woman named as Mary, and Luke’s account is of a ‘sinful woman’ and takes place in the north of the country early in Jesus’ ministry, not in the south and late. Unfortunately, popular reading (and some scholarship) has conflated the two events, then further conflated the woman with Mary Magdalene, none of which is really justified.)

The sisters send a message to Jesus, which although it is a statement of fact, is an implicit request for help, just as in John 2.3 Jesus’ mother states ‘They have no wine’. Because Lazarus is ‘the one you love’, a minority of commentators have suggested that Lazarus is the narrator’s Jerusalem source, described from John 13.23 as the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved.’ But there is little narrative sense in naming Lazarus here, then obscuring his name later, so this is not really persuasive.

Rather than focus on the problem, Jesus’ response it to look to the ultimate resolution of the situation, which will result in demonstrating God’s glory—this future focus exactly paralleling his response to the disciples’ question about the man born blind in John 9.1–3. The narrator is careful to juxtapose the comment of Jesus’ love for the family with his apparent inaction; in response to petition, his apparent failure to act is not a sign that he does not love them. Rather, his love will be shown in the final resolution of the situation, even if that comes later than expected.

Judea has already in the narrative become a place of danger for Jesus, and the mention of the threat of death by the disciples anticipates what unfold later in the narrative—though the disciples themselves (typically) do not understand that yet. The mention of ‘walking in the daylight’ again connects this episode with John 9, but here Jesus is telling his disciples that he knows what he is doing and is not making a misstep, even if he actions cause offence to those who will not receive his message and will not accept who he really is.

The exchange about Lazarus ‘falling asleep’ as a figure of speech for dying in verses 11 to 13 is yet another example of the Fourth Gospel’s double entendre, where the difference between literal and figurative meaning expressed the difference between Jesus’ understanding and the failure to understand of his dialogue partner. Thus Nicodemus fails to understand ‘being born again/from above’, and the woman by the well fails at first to understand ‘the living/running water’. The real question, in each case, is whether Jesus’ hearers will emerge from the confusion with understanding so that they will place their trust in Jesus.

The narrator once again assumes we know who the Twelve are (from reading one of the other gospels) and that Thomas is one of them. ‘Thomas’ is actually derived from the Aramaic for ‘twin’, so, rather than being given a name and a nickname, we are being given the same nickname in Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek (didymus). Once more, the gospel alludes to the fact that its very existence is due to missional expansion, where the story has to be translated from one narrower social, cultural and linguistic context (that of Israel) to another broader one (that of the wider Roman world).

Once we reach verse 17, the scene now switches to Bethany. The fact that Lazarus has been in the tomb ‘four days’ is important, since according to the Mishnah it at this point we can be sure that a person is dead—and in fact the body will have decayed enough (in the warm climate) to prevent confident identification, a gruesome reality that practical Martha points out in verse 39. The proximity of Bethany to Jerusalem means that the holy city is just a short walk, only just beyond the horizon over the Mount of Olives, just as Jesus’ own death and raising are just over the narrative horizon. The company of Jews who have come (from Jerusalem itself?) shows that Lazarus was respected, and they also function as witnesses of what is otherwise a private event, just as the servants have done in the miracle at Cana (John 2.9).

Martha, now being the senior member of the household, comes out to greet Jesus. Her opening words ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’ are ambiguous, highlighting the complexity of the emotions surrounding grief. As the conversation unfolds, it becomes clear that for Martha these words are a statement of fact, perhaps even faith, that contain a further implicit request. When the same words are repeated by Mary in verse 32, they have the sense of a grieving rebuke. (It is interesting to note that the different characters of Mary and Martha, as shown by their different reactions, correlate with their different characterisations in the unrelated episode in Luke 10.)

In response to Jesus’ promise of hope, Martha articulates a common Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead at the final Day of the Lord. But, as he has done earlier in this gospel, Jesus claims that this eschatological future hope has become real in the present in his own person and ministry. This is exactly the same configuration of hope that we find in Paul: the future of creation has been made real in us as we live resurrection life (Rom 8.19), since the new creation that we long for is already experienced by those who are ‘in Christ’ (2 Cor 5.17).

Jesus’ challenge to Martha leads her into greater trust, and she expresses her belief in Jesus as Messiah in a way that parallels the Samaritan woman in John 4.25, 29. Women are silent in Mark’s gospel, and have some role in Matthew. They are prominent in Luke, though do not say much. But in the Fourth Gospel, women have significant speech and prominent roles, and provide vital Christological insights through their modelling of faith as ideal disciples. It is no accident that it is in this gospel Mary Magdalen becomes the ‘apostle to the apostles’ as she testifies to the Twelve that Jesus is risen.

Whilst Martha goes to greet Jesus out of social duty, Mary only rises to meet him out of personal response, when she hears that Jesus is asking for her. Where Jesus has met Martha’s statement of half-developed belief with an invitation to believe more fully, he now meets Mary’s emotion with emotion of his own. In this gospel, whilst Jesus is more clearly ‘divine’ as the Word who was with God, and the one who has ‘come from the Father and is going to the Father’, he is at the same time more explicitly human and vulnerable than in the other three gospels. Verse 34, where Jesus ask where Lazarus has been laid, is the only time in this gospel where he asks a question to which he appears not to know the answer. It is clear, as he walks to the tomb, that he walks closely alongside those who feel the grief at their loss. It is no wonder that those who allocated the verse divisions in our New Testament decided to give the simple expression of grief and calamity its very own verse, the shortest in the whole Bible: ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11.35).

Once more, ‘the Jews’, referring to those who have come from Jerusalem, function to express the ambiguity of reaction and division that Jesus provokes. Some see his compassion, but others, who appear to believe that he really did heal the man born blind in chapter 9, are still sceptical.

Lazarus has clearly been buried in a rock tomb with a stone disk rolled over the entrance, which needs to be moved away by those present. Jesus will experience the same in death—but for him, no human agent will be required to move the stone. For a brief moment, Martha’s faith has once more been overwhelmed by her practical concerns.

Jesus in his prayer (Jewish prayer would normally be out loud) addresses God as Father, common both in John and Matthew. It was not unknown in Jewish devotion, but in the context of confession and request for forgiveness. The intimacy with which Jesus addresses God as Father is distinctive—and for Paul becomes the new-birthright of all who trust in Jesus (Rom 8.14–17).

Jesus cries out, addressing Lazarus by name. It has been quipped that he had to specify the one he was addressing—otherwise all the dead in that area would be raised and come out of their tombs. Verse 44 contains my favourite phrase in all the New Testament: ‘the dead man came out walking’! Dead people don’t walk—unless Jesus has spoken new life into them! And the only qualification for experiencing resurrection is to be dead in the first place.

Although presented here as a narrative of what happened, like all John’s writings, it is rich in symbolic second meaning. Paul talks in Ephesians 2 of us having been ‘dead in our sins’. It is as if, in calling Lazarus out, Jesus calls each of us out of death into new life:

‘Ian Paul, come out! Come out from the tomb of your own self interest, emerge from the darkness of your insecurities and petty jealousies! Come out into the sunshine of God’s grace and breath again the air of life where there is no fear of death! Unwrap those signs of death and defeat which constrict you and prevent you living life in all its fulness!’

In doing this, Jesus is not just showing understanding of the human condition—he is demonstrating his power in remedying that condition.

The details of the grave clothes—the keiriai which have been wound around his whole body, including his hands and feet, and the soudarion round his head, and under his jaw to stop his mouth falling open—will be mentioned once more, in John 20.7. Here they are removed by those going to Lazarus; in John 20.8 the fact they are still in place, but Jesus has been supernaturally raised by God, leads the beloved disciple to his first step of belief.

This story of the raising of Lazarus is one of the most popular in Christian art—just search online for images of it, and you will be amazed.

You start to notice this focus on Lazarus in the earliest centuries of Christianity through the art. In the Roman catacombs alone there are over 55 paintings of Lazarus’s resurrection. Roughly an equal number exist of Roman sarcophagi, the marble caskets in which nobility were buried, depicting this life-affirming story relayed only in John’s Gospel. And then there are the dozens more depictions of Jesus’ friend rising from his grave–on ivory, glass and metal objects that didn’t have anything to do with funerals.

Perhaps all these artistic renderings of Lazarus’ emergence from his tomb three days after his burial are the reason behind historians’ belief that the raising of Jesus’ good friend, made a deeper impression on early Christians than almost any other New Testament text…

John 11 and the following chapter of John 12 act like a literary bridge between Jesus’ ministry with others and his own final demonstration that God indeed provides eternal life. The Lazarus story lays down a bridge of faith and understanding that we can walk across to understand more the Master’s own death and resurrection.

…and, I would add, to understand our own participation in that as we begin to live Jesus’ resurrection life for ourselves.

For a video discussion of these issues, join James and Ian here:

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33 thoughts on “Jesus raises Lazarus in John 11”

  1. There is a lot here to chew on but one thing stands out for me, Jesus asked where they had put the body. I think Jesus only knew things when the Spirit informed Him. We know the Spirit arrived and remained at His baptism. So, was the Holy Spirit of Wisdom holding back at this point? Was Jesus experiencing, for the first time since His baptism, a sense of being alone; left to feel loss? A little of what it was going to like to experience separation from the Spirit on the cross? Jesus cried out to His father in faith not having the inner conviction He usually had.

    • These are issues that Kenotic Christologies attempt to address, Steve.

      Moreover, how the human and Divine aspects of the earthly Jesus interacted is still something of a mystery. Peter calls Jesus ” a man ” in Acts 2:22 :

      “Men of Israel, hear these words : Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – “; (RSV)

      However, by the standards of later, Chalcedonian Christology, Peter’s statement that Jesus was ‘a man’ would be reckoned heretical. Jesus was now considered to be ‘Man’ (i.e. He assumed impersonal, human nature) , but not ‘a man’. This doctrine is known as ‘anhypostasia’.

        • Thanks for the comment, Ian.

          Does not Chalcedonian Christology commit us to the belief that because Jesus did not have a human ego or self, then he cannot strictly be described as ‘a man’ ?

          The ego of the earthly Jesus, the single centre of his personality, was God. Thus, the human element in the earthly Jesus, could not be another ego or self. Consequently, his humanity was really ‘impersonal human nature’. ‘God the Son’ assumed impersonal human nature, and was manifested on earth as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’.

          • “the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He was parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ”

            I’m not sure it’s true to say that Christ had no human ego: he had a human ego because he was human, to quote Weinandy, who is summarising chalcedonian orthodoxy, ‘Jesus is one ontological entity, and the one ontological entity that is Jesus is is the one person of the divine Son of God existing as a complete and authentic man’ – Does God Suffer p. 174

          • Sometimes people have to open up to more of themselves and who they are.

            Did Jesus fully know he was the living God, one of the persons of the Eternal Trinity, when he was a tiny baby?

            Or when he was a young boy, playing on the hillside with friends, just being a boy?

            I agree that all that time the divine presence was within him, sometimes precociously so.

            But he was also a baby, a child, then a man. He lived all that experience from within who he was. His mother, after all, was a human woman.

            We don’t all know the whole of who we are when we set out in life. Sometimes it takes courage to open up to things in our own being, and that journey can be evolutionary and progressive.

            I believe Jesus of Nazareth was both man and God, and assumed yet more of that divinity in his ministry, his sacrifice and devotion of himself, and his resurrection.

            We are, after all, children of God, and created in the image of God. So his humanity was consistent with his divinity, though his divinity pre-existed it if we look at things in a temporal order. Though of course, in eternity, time may not work quite like that.

            I don’t find it difficult to suppose that Jesus lived a very human boyhood and young adulthood, with more and more recognition breaking in on him along the way.

            I don’t think the child was omniscient about all history, all science, though God-filled with the lambent presence of the eternal personhood of the Trinity. I think he was a boy. And grew up to be a man. The best of men. But a man all the same.

            Just my thoughts. My comments on the Lazarus passage are posted in the parallel article with the video. Jesus was one of the people. He loved, and cared, and ate, and wept with the people. He lived man with man and man with woman. And yet he was (and is) the living God.

            What Holy Mystery.

        • Responses to Thomas (Pelham) :

          (1). One has to recognize that the Roman Catholic scholar, Thomas Weinandy, is not always terribly orthodox. He believes, for example, that Jesus Christ completely shared in our fallen (postlapsarian) human nature. (See : ‘Christ’s Humanity in Current and Ancient Controversy : Fallen or Not ?”, by E. Jerome van Kuiken, p.160 ff).

          (2). The Council of Chalcedon effectively teaches that Christ had impersonal human nature (i.e. It teaches the doctrine of anhypostasis). If the Jesus had two egos, or two selves – a human ego/self, and a Divine ego/self, then He would be two persons. But Chalcedon teaches that Jesus represents one person – and that one person is the Divine Son of God [‘God the Son’], who assumed (impersonal) human nature. Jesus, therefore, has Manhood (i.e., He is ‘Man’), but He is not, strictly speaking, ‘a man’ – because He didn’t have a human ego/self. To have two selves/egos, is to be two persons.

          This is the doctrine of anhypostasis

          • I’m not entirely sure whether we are arguing here or not. Firstly, it doesn’t matter whether Weinandy is always orthodox or not – the question is whether in this case he is orthodox or not, and to me he is summing up Chalcedonian Christianity well.

            There are a number of potential heresies to steer clear of: Nestorianism – two persons divisible; Docetism – only a God person; Arianism – only a created person. Honourable mention to adoptionism – Jesus became God the Son. To plot a line between these we can say that God the Son became incarnate as a true human – he did not posess a bundle of cells, which would be a pre-natal form of adoptionism – but he became a new human from scratch , a new creation, a new Adam, entering into the form of a servant. This is what impersonal means.

            I don’t know whether your language of egos is helpful, isn’t it a technical freudian term? but if you mean self, he had one self which was The Son of God existing as a particular human, and it would be proper to talk about that as ‘a man’, not as some sort of generalised Man. So Peter isn’t contradicting the two natures in one hypostasis by calling him ‘a man’.

        • To Thomas.

          We never argue, Thomas, we only discuss.

          Heinrich Heppe effectively summed up the consequences of the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE), thus :

          ” The humanity taken up into the person of the Logos is, then, not a personal man but human nature without personal subsistence [personal, individual existence] ”

          (‘Reformed Dogmatics’, p. 416).

          I think you’re going to be struggling, Thomas, to find a textbook on ‘Systematic Theology’ that states that the ‘Council of Chalcedon’ in 451 CE, asserted that :

          ” Jesus was a man, and the Only begotten God.”

        • Thomas :

          The Roman Catholic scholar, Thomas N. Hart, reviews Chalcedonian Christology, thus :

          “Jesus is called man in the generic sense, but not a man. He has a human nature but is not a human person. The person in him is the second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Jesus does not have a human personal center. This is how the Council [of Chalcedon] gets around the problem of a split personality.”

          (“To Know and Follow Jesus”; 1984; p. 44)

      • Thanks Pellegrino,
        I see Jesus and the Holy Spirit as ‘the two witnesses’ of Revelation. They worked as a pair on everyday specifics. but that’s for some other thread!
        BTW I like the idea of pilgrim fizzy water!

      • If I’d been there at the time, I think I could have got as far as something like “wow, God has given this man a remarkable prophetic ministry, very special in some way”. I think it would have been post resurrection before I could begin thinking of that man as divine/God the Son.

        I don’t think he knew everything as a man because he’d ’emptied himself’. Because of that, I don’t have an issue with later questions.

        • You make some good points, Dave, but the best thing to do is to concentrate on the Lord Jesus’ own explicit teaching within John’s Gospel, especially verses John 17:1-3; 14: 1-11; and 10:33-36. This is why John stated in the original conclusion to his Gospel (chapter 21, is a later, added Appendix) :

          “Jesus performed many other miracles in the presence of his disciples, but these are not recorded in this book. The ones recorded here are to persuade and convince you to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing this you may gain life in Jesus’ name.” (John 20:30-31)

  2. Jesus calls us out of the tomb of our sinful life. However, he also calls us to take up our cross daily – advertising that we are heading to the cross – and follow him. This gives the two sides of baptism: the death to the old life and the rising to the new life in Christ.

  3. Can I suggest you passed a little quickly over v33? Contra the video, the language here is different from Jesus in Gethsemane, although English translations can seem similar. Mark 14:33 has Jesus “being distressed” (ἀδημονέω) and “being troubled” (ἐκθαμβέω in the passive). John 11:33 has Jesus “being agitated” (ἐμβριμάομαι – a verb which is used to describe a horse snorting) and “troubling himself” (ταράσσω in the active with a reflexive pronoun.) This is response to him seeing Mary and those with her weeping.

    This is more of a response of indignation or anger than grief on his part. Despite him knowing that he was to restore Lazarus to them, he is furious about the effect of death. Death is defeated, but it is still an enemy, still a terrible disruption of life. We should be angry at death, despite the assurance of resurrection. Death is not “nothing at all”.

    • Thanks, David.

      You say : “This [John 11:33] is more of a response of indignation or anger than grief on his part.”

      I notice that Sir Anthony Buzzard’s online translation of the New Testament renders John 11:33 as :

      ” When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was indignant [f.n. 639]. and his spirit was deeply moved.”

      Footnote 639, reads : “Perhaps indignant at the manifestation of Satan’s kingdom of evil.”

    • Indeed. In Gethsemane he was distressed at what he knew was going to happen to him in a few short hours. With Lazarus he was distressed and angry at what death had done to his friend and the effects on his loved ones left behind. Righteous anger. Within charismatic circles I have heard of instances on occasion where disease has had a profound effect on someone’s life and when being prayed for healing, the pray-er becomes angry at the situation. I suspect that is the Spirit showing what He thinks of the matter.

    • whether different words are used – Jesus tells his discples not to tarasso in Jn 14 even though a quick study of John’s gospel shows he was more tarassoed than anybody else! check Jn11,12,13

  4. Ian – 2 questions:

    How do you explain the lack of this account of Lazarus’ raising in the other earlier Gospels, particularly Mark? Does it not seem odd that none of them mention it, particularly as Luke, for example, clearly states he relied on eyewitnesses when compiling his gospel? And it seems there were plenty of eyewitnesses for this outstanding miracle.

    And how do you explain the continued disbelief of the majority of the Jewish authorities despite apparently being witness to this amazing miracle?

    Thanks, Peter

    • PC1 :

      (1). Every Canonical Gospel has some material which is unique to it. Also bear in mind the statement in John 21:25.

      (2). God was manifested in Jesus, and light came the world. Yet people loved darkness (John 3:19-20), and so they did not recognize their own God, manifested in Jesus. They consequently, completely mis-categorized Jesus under Deuteronomy 13:1-5; and failed to see His fulfilment of Deuteronomy 18:18-19 (cf. John 1:45).

  5. It would be worth pondering how John uses what might appear to be a trick from a modern novelist – he introduces Martha and Mary who haven’t appeared yet. Which either means he expects the listener to know the story from the other gospels – isn’t that rather a huge assumption? Or he is confident to introduce characters and reference a key narrative ahead of time. Through the account of the raising of Lazarus the listener now knows that Mary poured perfume on Jesus feet and wiped them with her hair (a surprising story if you haven’t heard it before) but has to wait until John 12 before the perfume story is actually told. Worth considering how a piece of prolipsis works within the narrative. both stories reference a burial – the first that of Lazarus the second that of Jesus. Rather than treat this as a clumsy error it can be seen as a narrative device.

  6. To Thomas.

    We never argue, Thomas, we only discuss.

    Heinrich Heppe effectively summed up the consequences of the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE), thus :

    ” The humanity taken up into the person of the Logos is, then, not a personal man but human nature without personal subsistence [personal, individual existence] ”

    (‘Reformed Dogmatics’, p. 416).

    I think you’re going to be struggling, Thomas, to find a textbook on ‘Systematic Theology’ that states that the ‘Council of Chalcedon’ in 451 CE, asserted that :

    ” Jesus was a man, and the Only begotten God.”

  7. 1 The link adds to the discussion that Pellegrino
    has injected into Ian’s article suggested is closed ( to which there has been no rejoinder).
    2 No doubt much more has been written and I certainly don’t have Sanders books nor specialism.
    3 If I’m not mistaken much has been written in on- line debate over ESS and EGS over recent years. For one, Alastair Roberts has contributed on his blog.
    4 My underlying purpose was not to extend the discussion here, to show that there was more to the question and that there were reformed positions supporting ERS, contrary to P’s claim that there weren’t held by Sytematicians, but mostly to bring it to a close, to get back to Ian’s article on the lectionary reading.

  8. Thank you again, Ian and James for your helpful comments.

    However, I am here in defence of Martha.

    Although I am strongly on Mary’s side in Luke, it seems to me that here in John, Martha is displaying a development of faith and understanding that outstripped most, and was certainly equal to that of the most prominent disciples.

    Why must her comment be compared with the woman at the well? That woman’s faith was certainly wonderful, and growing, but it was nevertheless expressed as a hopeful question.

    Surely Martha’s words, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, are more like the confession of faith Nathanael exclaimed in 1 : 49, that Peter articulated for the twelve in 6 : 68-9, and the Angry Thomas capitulated to in 20 : 28.

    Why must her response be called ‘formulaeic’? Perhaps she was the first to articulate it precisely this way, and these words became the prototype of the formula!

    Certainly Martha was the practical type. Perhaps Mary’s few words in 11 : 32, precisely the same as Martha’s in 11: 21, do indicate that she was more of a listener to Jesus. Her outpouring of emotion in chapter 12 demonstrate her depth and her faith, but this followed the restoration of her brother Lazarus.

    But let us not downplay our Martha. Her significant conversation drew Jesus’ life-giving statement, I am the resurrection and the life! Her knowledge of the Christ, the Son of God, was about to growing exponentially once more. She was open to it! Her objection to the opening of the tomb confirms that she could not immediately predict the astounding miracle that was about to take place, in spite of her previous declaration of belief in who Jesus is. Did anyone? How precise would be our theology in the midst of such tumultous events?

    I expect that people down the ages have had a bit of a chuckle at her expense. (Maybe she initiated it in the telling of the story. “Do you know what I said then? But Lord, there will be a bad smell!”)

    I would hate to think that any commentator had ever underplayed the faith of a woman. ….

    Let us give Martha the respect she deserves as a leader of faith. She knew, she believed.

    • Really lovely comments, Lynne. Thank you.

      Perhaps one take away is that each of us is created unique by God, and we may have different temperaments, and be called to different vocation.

      Both Mary and Martha are precious parts of the gospel narratives. I suppose we could ‘place’ Mary in the monastic tradition (as well as other locations) and see her devoting herself as a sister in convent, with a ministry of prayer. And we could ‘place’ Martha in an inner city church community (as well as other locations), working practically alongside other community groups to respond to the many pitiful needs around them.

      But of course, those are imaginings.

      We keep being called into relationship with God, and into vocation, and into more and more, day by day, of who we are created to be. We are not all the same, but God calls to us all.

  9. Also:
    Why assume Martha went to greet the Lord out of duty? Surely, a social obligation, but also a real need out of depth of relationship.

    • Thank you Lynne for,
      1 bringing us back to the article
      2 your comments to which I agree. There seems to be nothing to suggest duty, not anything but extempore speach, rather than formula.
      But the main subject, person, in the whole of the Gospel of John is Jesus. The purpose is John 20 : 30 -31: And Martha gets it.
      Do we? Even as now we know even more of Him, do we know Him?


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