Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt 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 Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
I don’t know many people who like to wait. I don’t. When I was in the Army, I hated my last name “Woods”, because it left “Zulch” and me at the back of every alphabetical line. It was worst on pay days. Abrahams, and Brown would already be in their bungalow sipping their Cokes from the canteen when I hadn’t even been paid!
I like waiting even less when I have called someone to come and help me. Telephone repair people seem the worst. The DSL line is down, I cannot get my Facebook fix, and no one arrives to sort out the problem!
I understand how Mary and Martha felt.
They had called for Jesus. He was down near the Jordan where John had been baptizing. Close enough to get to Bethany. Really close if your dear friend is dying!
But Jesus, doesn’t seem too concerned. He sees a far bigger perspective than everyone else who is in a panic that Jesus hasn’t arrived. Then suddenly, all too suddenly it is too late.
Lazarus is dead.
All human hope is now superfluous. It is too late.
Have you ever been there? I have. Too late to fix, too late to call out, too late even to hope. It’s too late.
Jesus knows that Lazarus is dead. He tells his disciples this brutal truth. Only then does he decide to go to nearby Bethany. He arrives on the fourth day. The day that is beyond all hope. All through Scripture the third day is the day that God acts. Jesus arrives on the hopeless day, the fourth.
He bears the ire of Martha, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!” Am I the only one who reads a silent sub-text from Martha, “Where the hell were you?”
Jesus himself weeps at his dead friends tomb…
And then he calls forth life and liberation from the hopeless hole, on the hopeless day, amidst a hopeless crowd. He calls forth life in the midst of certain confirmed, putrefied and stinking death.
I don’t quite know what to make of this narrative. Year after year I look at it and the deep mystery of this event continues to cloud round me like soupy fog.
All I know is that I have been hopeless before.
At the back of the line, waiting and waiting. Praying and praying. Willing and willing. And then somewhere just after the third day I have given up. I have resigned. I have resented. It is finished. It’s too late!
In the dark of failed relationships, failed programs for happiness, failed dreams of beauty and happy endings. In the entombed hopeless reality of life’s darkness, I have heard an untimely voice. A voice that called my name.
Just like Lazarus, for me life and liberation came, through the tears of Jesus and the torment of my hopelessness.
I was able to stand up, against all the odds and I understood the meaning of Lazarus’ name. It means, “God has helped”
No one else could have helped, but God has helped. On the fourth hopeless day, God has helped.
Now untie me and let me go!