Today’s reading: John 11:1-27
Today we read the story of the death of Lazarus. He was the brother of Mary and Martha and “loved” by Jesus. This again is a very well-known story that we sometimes can fail to read closely enough because we presume we know all the details. The most common question asked about this passage is why does Jesus wait to travel to Bethany as it seems that this delay is what results in Lazarus’ death?
Jesus tells us:
Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake, I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” John 11:13-16
So the delay is very clearly to remove any doubt that Lazarus is indeed dead. This is allowed because it will result in a great increase in faith when the Apostles witness Jesus works the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. But what of the following statement by “doubting” Thomas, when he says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him”? Didn’t Jesus just say, “let us go…”? Who then is the “us” Thomas is talking to? The text says it is the disciples but why does Thomas have to urge them to go after Jesus just told them to? Does Thomas really understand that Lazarus has died? Or is he still confused by the sleeping analogy? Finally, who is the “him” that Thomas is speaking of? Is it Lazarus or Jesus?
I think the answer is revealed in what else we know about Thomas. He was the doubter. In the other places, we see him speak he questions Jesus about following him when they don’t know where Jesus is going (John 14:5) and he questions the actuality of the resurrection until he sees and touches the wounds (John 20:24-29). I think Thomas’ statement is another expression of his doubt. He understands exactly what Jesus is proposing to do. It’s a statement that in substance means, “He’s going to raise him from the dead? This I have got to see.” It is John’s way of establishing how deep his doubt runs. Despite seeing all the miracles Jesus works he will still doubt when told about the resurrection. How many people do we know like this today? How many times are we guilty of this ourselves?
The other thing that is particularly interesting is Martha’s response to Jesus when he talks to her about the resurrection.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” John 11:25-27
Notice, she does not say that Jesus the Christ who “has come” into the world but “is coming” into the world. To me, this reflects the gradual revelation of the mission of Jesus to his disciples and the people of ancient Israel culminating in the resurrection when his glory is fully revealed. It will be then that Thomas finally gives up his doubt. That statement is a stark contrast between Martha and Thomas. A contrast that Jesus will remind Thomas of when Thomas finally sees and touches his wounds.
Tomorrow: John 11:28-57