There are many memorable moments in today’s Gospel. Let me go over a few. Earlier in the story, after the chief priests had sent guards to bring Jesus in for trial, Jesus and his disciples had stolen away across the Jordan. The disciples had been enjoying their safety there when a boy sought them out, bringing Jesus a message from Martha, the head of a house at Bethany near Jerusalem. The intimacy Jesus had built up with that family comes across in the brevity of Martha’s note about Lazarus, “Master, the one you love is ill.”
Some of the Church’s prayers are so flowery they turn you off, and you suspect they turn God off too. You know the kind, “Lord of heaven and earth, deign to give ear to our humble prayer, and vouchsafe to come to our aid.”
We have a hint at how well Jesus knew those people from St. Luke’s story about Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, leaving Martha to do all the cooking. That must have been just one instance out of dozens, because John here simply wrote, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”
At first Jesus didn’t do anything about Martha’s note, and the Apostles were glad about that, but two days later he said, “Let us go back to Judea.” That had the disciples saying, they mean to stone you over there. Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to waken him.” The disciples’ knowledge of fevers had them saying, “If he is asleep, he is getting better.” But Jesus clarified matters, saying, “Lazarus has died. Let us go to him.”
Being a Thomas myself, I have always liked Thomas’s bravery here. When the others said it would be death to go close to Jerusalem, Thomas said, “Let us go to die with him.”
They walked the twenty-five miles up the slope from Jericho, and when they were close to Bethany they met people who said Lazarus had died four days earlier. On hearing Jesus was out on the road Martha came to him, saying, “If you had been here my brother would not have died, but even now I know God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus told Martha that he was the Resurrection and the Life. When we hear her confidently say she believed he was the Christ we wish we had her certitude.
Martha ran, bringing out Mary who said the same things Martha had, but Mary was crying so hard it got everyone around them crying. Our translation of what John wrote said that Jesus was deeply troubled, but scholars say that what Jesus experienced was anger at death for taking his friend.
We all know this story so well. I will not retell any more of it. We all like Martha saying, “Lord, there will be a stench. He has been dead four day.” But what we like the most is the confident authority of Jesus demanding, “Lazarus, come out!”