Lazarus: context

The gospel reading for 5th Sunday in Lent, Lectionary Cycle A, is the account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45). The account follows the story of the healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-41). In the commentary on that gospel it was explained that the miracles (called “signs” / semeia) in the gospel according to John point beyond themselves to the divine – not just the divine as a vague power, but to a person. They identify Jesus as the light and life of the world, the bread of life from heaven, and the Logos who, through the semeia/signs, reveals his own glory, which is also the glory of God his Father, since he and the Father are one and since he does the Father’s will and works.  These signs are given that we might believe (Jn 20:26).  For John, sin is the failure to believe and accept the consequential changes in one’s life.  All the characters of John 9 (on-lookers, neighbors, parents, the Pharisees and other religious leaders) are judged in their failure to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior and to subsequently become witnesses to Jesus as the glory of God.

Chapter 10 continues the revelation of Jesus – and like the chapters before it, also reveals faith among people in the way they respond to the signs – or sin in the way they fail/refuse to respond to the sign. In John 10, Jesus reveals/identifies himself as the good shepherd (10:11,14) promised by Zechariah 34 who would bring the lost sheep of Israel back into the covenant relationship.  The religious authorities respond that Jesus must be possessed by a demon – a far graver accusation than those levied against Jesus in John 9.

This represents an intensification of the growing conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities.  Even as the authorities are divided, yet increasingly hostile to the person of Jesus and his ministry, at the same time, some have believed in Jesus. In the midst of this Jesus has already made oblique references to his death and resurrection (being “lifted up” in 3:14, 8:28). Those references will become more clear in John 11 when many parties begin to speak about Jesus’ impending death

Seeking to put all questions to an end, the authorities command Jesus to tell them plainly if he is the Messiah. Jesus’ answer is simple – I already did and if you can’t believe my words, then  consider my works.  This concludes with Jesus’ statement, “The Father and I are one.”  The authorities clearly understand his meaning and take up stones (10:31) to kill Jesus because he has blasphemed (v.33) in claiming to be God.  Jesus leaves Jerusalem and “went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained. Many came to him …And many there began to believe in him.” (John 10:40-42)

Image credit: The Raising of Lazarus, Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1310), Kimberly Museum of Art, Public Domain

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