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John 11-21: My Peace I Give You deals specifically with the second half of John's Gospel. The weeks immediately leading up to Jesus' arrest, as well as the Passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, are carefully covered in chapters 11 through 21 of John's Gospel, and this booklet offers fresh insight into these most important events in the life of Christ.
A Guided Discovery of the Bible The Bible invites us to explore God’s word and reflect ...
John 11-21: My Peace I Give You deals specifically with the second half of John's Gospel. The weeks immediately leading up to Jesus' arrest, as well as the Passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, are carefully covered in chapters 11 through 21 of John's Gospel, and this booklet offers fresh insight into these most important events in the life of Christ.
A Guided Discovery of the Bible The Bible invites us to explore God’s word and reflect on how we might respond to it. To do this, we need guidance and the right tools for discovery. The Six Weeks with the Bible series of Bible discussion guides offers both in a concise six-week format. Whether focusing on a specific biblical book or exploring a theme that runs throughout the Bible, these practical guides in this series provide meaningful insights that explain Scripture while helping readers make connections to their own lives. Each guide
• is faithful to Church teaching and is guided by sound biblical scholarship
• presents the insights of Church fathers and saints
• includes questions for discussion and reflection
• delivers information in a reader-friendly format
• gives suggestions for prayer that help readers respond to God’s word
• appeals to beginners as well as to advanced students of the Bible
By reading Scripture, reflecting on its deeper meanings, and incorporating it into our daily life, we can grow not only in our understanding of God’s word, but also in our relationship with God.
How to Use This Guide
You might compare the Bible to a national park. The park is so large that you could spend months, even years, getting to know it. But a brief visit, if carefully planned, can be enjoyable and worthwhile. In a few hours you can drive through the park and pull over at a handful of sites. At each stop you can get out of the car, take a short trail through the woods, listen to the wind blowing in the trees, get a feel for the place.
In this booklet we’ll drive through a small portion of the Bible—the second half of John’s Gospel—making half a dozen stops along the way. At those points we’ll proceed on foot, taking a leisurely walk through the selected passages. The readings have been chosen to take us to the heart of John’s portrayal of Jesus. After each discussion we’ll get back in the car and take the highway to the next stop. “Between Discussions” pages summarize the portions of the Gospel that we will pass by.
This guide provides everything you need to begin exploring John, chapters 11 through 21, in six discussions—or to do a six-part exploration on your own. The introduction on page 6 will prepare you to get the most out of your reading. The weekly sections feature key passages from the Gospel, with explanations that highlight what these words mean for us today. Equally important, each section supplies questions that will launch you into fruitful discussion, helping you to both explore the Gospel for yourself and learn from one another. If you’re using the booklet by yourself, the questions will spur your personal reflection.
Each discussion is meant to be a guided discovery.
Guided. None of us is equipped to read the Bible without help. We read the Bible for ourselves but not by ourselves. Scripture was written to be understood and applied in the community of faith. So each week “A Guide to the Reading,” drawing on the work of both modern biblical scholars and Christian writers of the past, supplies background and explanations. The guide will help you grasp the message of John’s Gospel. Think of it as a friendly park ranger who points out noteworthy details and explains what you’re looking at so you can appreciate things for yourself.
Discovery. The purpose is for you to interact with John’s Gospel. “Questions for Careful Reading” is a tool to help you dig into the text and examine it carefully. “Questions for Application” will help you consider what John’s words mean for your life here and now. Each week concludes with an “Approach to Prayer” section that helps you respond to God’s word. Supplementary “Living Tradition” and “Saints in the Making” sections offer the thoughts and experiences of Christians past and present in order to show you what the Gospel of John has meant to others—so that you can consider what it might mean for you.
How long are the discussion sessions? We’ve assumed you will have about an hour and a half when you get together. If you have less time, you’ll find that most of the elements can be shortened somewhat.
Is homework necessary? You will get the most out of your discussions if you read the weekly material and prepare your answers to the questions in advance of each meeting. But if participants are not able to prepare, have someone read the “What’s Happened” and “Guide to the Reading” sections aloud to the group at the points where they occur in the weekly material.
What about leadership? If you happen to have a world-class biblical scholar in your group, by all means ask him or her to lead the discussions. But in the absence of any professional Scripture scholars, or even accomplished biblical amateurs, you can still have a first-class Bible discussion. Choose two or three people to be facilitators, and have everyone read “Suggestions for Bible Discussion Groups” (page 92) before beginning.
Does everyone need a guide? a Bible? Everyone in the group will need their own copy of this booklet. It contains the sections of John that are discussed, so a Bible is not absolutely necessary—but each participant will find it useful to have one. You should have at least one Bible on hand for your discussion. (See page 96 for recommendations.)
How do we get started? Before you begin, take a look at the suggestions for Bible discussion groups (page 92) or individuals (page 95).
John 11–21: A Story Simple Yet Profound
Beginning to read the Gospel of John at chapter 11 is like putting the second tape of a two-part movie into the videocassette player first. You’ve missed half the story! Reading the first ten chapters of John is obviously the preferred way to get to chapter 11. But John’s Gospel is not a murder mystery with a convoluted plot. With a little catching up, you can follow the second half without necessarily having read the first half. So let me give you a brief rundown on what has happened. (Another Six Weeks with the Bible booklet, John 1–10: I Am the Bread of Life, provides an introduction to the first ten chapters of the Gospel of John.)
The story line of John’s Gospel is actually quite simple. God has come into the world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. To be precise, Jesus is God’s “Word”—he is one with God while being somehow distinct from God. John states this mysterious truth in the first seventeen verses of his Gospel. If you don’t have time to read all of chapters 1 through 10, try at least to read 1:1–17 (unless otherwise indicated, all biblical citations in this booklet are from the Gospel of John).
John skips over Jesus’ birth and early years, opening his account when Jesus is already a man. Jesus teaches, performs symbolic actions, like clearing merchants out of the Jerusalem temple, and demonstrates a remarkable power over nature by performing acts such as changing water to wine for a wedding celebration and curing blindness and other afflictions. Jesus presents a sharply focused message: “I am God’s unique, personal representative to the human race. I am fully authorized to act on God’s behalf because I am and have always been one with God.” Jesus expresses his union with God by calling God “my Father” and referring to himself as “the Son.”
Unlike the other Gospels, in which Jesus offers substantial teaching about how to live, in John’s Gospel Jesus’ preaching is focused mainly on proclaiming his identity and calling people to believe in him. He summons people to recognize who he is and to enter a personal relationship with him so that they can receive the divine life that he offers.
Jesus is a Jew, as are the people he addresses. By his preaching, symbolic acts, and miracles he announces that he is the climax of God’s dealings with the Jewish people. While many of his fellow Jews are inclined to welcome him (how well they understand him is open to question), most of the leaders are not. As Jesus carries on his ministry, the leaders become increasingly hostile. Jesus drops hints that he expects to meet a violent death. At the point where we pick up the story, in chapter 11, there has just been an attempt on his life in Jerusalem, and he has withdrawn from the city for safety.
Just as the story up through chapter 10 can be summarized simply, so can the remainder of John’s Gospel. Jesus will now provide the most impressive sign of his divine origin (our reading in Week 1) and will bring his public ministry to a close (Week 2). After giving his disciples final instructions (Weeks 3 and 4), he will accept an agonizing death and will rise from the dead (Weeks 5 and 6). Like the swing of a pendulum, the Gospel of John has two complementary movements: the Word of God enters the world as Jesus of Nazareth; then, for the sake of human beings, he leaves the world and returns to God.
Most of us are not very interested in discussing the meanings of words. We all know the frustration of reaching the end of such discussions more confused than when we began. But one term in John’s Gospel is so central to his meaning, yet so complex and elusive, that it is worth taking a few minutes to investigate it. If we can get hold of this word, it will lead us to the heart of John’s understanding of Jesus. The word is glory.
Glory has a special meaning in John’s Gospel. Here are some verses in our target readings that speak of glory:
“Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (11:40).
“His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him” (12:16).
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12:23).
“Father, glorify your name.” . . . “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (12:28).
“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once” (13:31–32).
As we all know, the English word glory has various meanings. It denotes splendor and magnificence (“She was struck by the glory of the scene, the sun glinting on the lake and the spruce forest giving off a pungent fragrance”). It also denotes the social recognition given to what is splendid and magnificent (“In pursuing a political career he was motivated by a concern for national welfare rather than a desire for personal glory”). To glorify is to bestow honor and praise on that which is splendid and magnificent.
With these ordinary meanings in mind, we can begin to grasp what Jesus means in the first passage above (11:40). He tells Martha, the sister of Lazarus, that she will “see the glory of God.” Jesus is about to raise her brother from the grave, and this will display God’s magnificent, life-giving power.
Once we know the context, we can also understand what John means when he writes of the time after Jesus was “glorified” (12:16). John is speaking about the period after Jesus’ resurrection, when he has returned to the condition of heavenly splendor that was his as the Word of God from before all time.
But the remaining passages quoted above are more difficult to decipher. What does it mean, for example, that God has been “glorified” in the Son (13:31)?
To understand these passages we need to look back to the Old Testament. It is here that the people of Israel pondered on the God who had revealed himself to them. As creator, they realized, God is splendid and magnificent, deserving praise and honor. God has glory and deserves glory. But the most glorious thing about God, it seemed to the Israelites, was the way he repeatedly came to their assistance and showed them his kindness in real-life situations. From their experience of him, the Israelites learned that God’s mercy is as great as his majesty (Exodus 33:19; Sirach 2:18). It became clear to them that God displays his grandeur not only through the splendor of creation but also through acts of justice and compassion.
Thus the psalmists equated God’s glory with his “steadfast love” (Psalms 57:5, 10; 63:2–3). They praised God for showing his glory by rescuing the downtrodden, doing “wondrous works” for the suffering, and saving people in distress (Psalms 72:18–19; 85:9–10; 96:3; 102:15–17; 108:5–6; 138:5–6). The Israelites spoke of God glorifying himself by saving people from evil and filling their lives with blessing. Of course, people do naturally glorify God when he demonstrates his kindness to them.
These thoughts lie in the background of John’s Gospel. In the Gospel, glory and glorify refer to God showing his love. When John writes that the Word of God has come into the world to glorify God, he means that the Word has come to express God’s love by rescuing us from the sources of our unhappiness, leading us to love and praise God in return. Jesus directs his whole life toward the moment when he will glorify God completely by his death. “It is for this reason that I have come,” Jesus declares, and immediately prays, “Father, glorify your name” (12:27–28). Jesus’ death will be God’s supreme wondrous work. In his dying, Jesus will bring God’s love to bear in the most profound way to uproot the evils that afflict us. He will root out sin, death, and the Devil—the evils that destroy our personalities, our relationships, our very lives.
John’s use of glory and glorify brings us face-to-face with an apparent contradiction. To identify the agony and shame of crucifixion with glory seems to stretch the word beyond the breaking point. Jesus’ crucifixion must have appeared to witnesses as an unspeakably degrading death, as the exact opposite of glory. Yet Jesus sees—and wishes us to see—something splendid and magnificent in his death. What could that be?
The glory of the cross is a paradox too profound for any simple explanation, and each of us must ponder it for ourselves. But one line of thinking is this: God and Jesus were glorified at the cross because Jesus’ death was God’s supreme revelation of himself. At the cross God reveals himself as a loving Father who gives what is most precious—his own Son—to the world. He also reveals himself as a loving Son who, through suffering, gives his whole life back to the Father for the world. God is glorified at the cross because he shows forth the splendor and magnificence of his love.
To the ordinary eye, Jesus hanging on the cross appears to be an image of shame and defeat. Yet if our eyes could see love as light, we would find the cross intensely bright; looking at the cross would be as blinding as staring at the sun. By the language of glory, John opens our eyes to this invisible radiance at Golgotha. He helps us to see what most of those present at the crucifixion could not see: the love of Father and Son for one another and for the human race.
God and Jesus are glorified, or revealed, at the cross, yet the cross is a dark glory, a hidden revelation. And this paradox continues in our lives. Jesus has now risen from death to life, but his triumph is not manifested publicly to the world. He reveals himself to his disciples who believe in him, not to the world that does not believe (14:19). The power of evil is broken (12:31), yet not driven out, as every day’s newspapers and news reports remind us. Having risen from death, Jesus gives divine life here and now, the life that overcomes death. Yet each of us will die. We must still look forward to a final day when Jesus will raise us up into life, physically and spiritually, once and for all. John writes his Gospel to help us perceive and live in this paradox. The great mystery of the cross—the central fact of our faith—is captured in the paradoxical word glory. Keep this in mind as you read John’s Gospel.
John’s Gospel is also the great revelation of the Holy Spirit. John helps us to see Jesus as the revelation of God and to accept the gift of life that comes through his death and resurrection. If we are really to see and know and live, however, we need more than a book; we need God to reveal himself to us in a living, personal way. This is where the third divine person comes in—the Holy Spirit. In a lengthy after-dinner talk on the eve of his death, Jesus assures his disciples that his departure will greatly benefit them, for it will make possible the coming of the Spirit. Jesus characterizes the Spirit as “another Advocate”—that is, another person like himself, Jesus being the first Advocate. Through the coming of the Spirit, Jesus and the Father will live within the disciples. Because of the Spirit, a personal relationship with Jesus, through which he shares the life of God with us, will not be merely an idea we read about in a book but a direct experience, even for us who live centuries after Jesus’ earthly life.
Knowing when, where, and for whom a book was written often helps us understand it. Unfortunately, scholars are far from agreeing about the date, origin, and original audience of John’s Gospel. Most scholars, however, tend to think that John’s Gospel, completed perhaps in the nineties of the first century, was the last of the four Gospels to be written.
The question of who wrote the Gospel of John might at first seem to have an obvious answer: John wrote it. But then, who was John? In our target readings we meet an unnamed “disciple whom Jesus loved” (13:23; 19:26; 21:7), who seems to have been the source of the tradition about Jesus that is presented in the Gospel (19:35; 21:24). Traditionally, this “beloved disciple” has been identified with the apostle John, one of the sons of Zebedee, mentioned in the other Gospels (Matthew 4:21). But scholars find reasons to question this identification. In addition, scholars disagree about the specific role that this “beloved disciple” played in the formation of the Gospel as we have it. Did he write it? Did he write parts of it? Did he convey the tradition about Jesus that is reflected in the Gospel, while leaving the writing to others? All these views have found scholarly defenders.
Happily, we do not have to answer these questions in order to benefit from the Gospel. Whoever the “beloved disciple” was, and whatever part he played in composing the Gospel, the finished product rests on his testimony. Thus the Gospel conveys the testimony of a companion of Jesus, shaped by many years of Spirit-guided prayer and reflection. By including this Gospel in its authoritative collection of books—the New Testament—the Church has indicated its recognition that this Gospel gives authentic testimony to Jesus. While acknowledging the questions about the authorship—and editorship—of the Gospel, in this booklet we will simply refer to the author as John.
A further point concerning the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is worth noting. His anonymity makes it easy for us to put ourselves in his place as we read. The beloved disciple is a kind of blank into which each of us can fill in our own name. When we read of this disciple reclining next to Jesus at the Last Supper, we can enter the event by picturing ourselves in his place. When we read of the beloved disciple standing at the cross, we can imagine that we are that disciple, watching Jesus as he dies and listening to what he says. This is no reader’s trick. Each of us is the disciple whom Jesus loves.
Advice for reading. As I said earlier, John’s Gospel is not a suspense story. John wrote for Christians, who already knew how the story turned out. His Gospel is rather a drama, with striking contrasts, dizzying paradoxes, and tragic ironies. A suspense story is best the first time you read it. A good drama gets better with every reading, for it discloses its depths only as we reread it.
John’s Gospel is deceptively simple. The author loads little everyday words with a heavy freight of meaning. A single gesture or phrase may allude to a passage in the Old Testament, thus drawing into the narrative an entire prophecy or prefigurement. Once you get a feel for the depth and complexity of John’s seemingly simple account, you begin to examine every word and sentence carefully, listening for resonances of meaning that you may not have heard at first.
John’s Gospel is instant mental overload. We cannot absorb the whole message with one reading. The Gospel is not a glass of water to drink down but a sea to swim in. We can never entirely plumb its depths. But as we read and reread, we will grow in understanding. Along the way, we should feel free to stop at any point to ponder any word or statement that seems to have personal significance.
Before we begin, a word is in order about John’s references to the Jews. Almost everyone in the Gospel account is Jewish, but, for complex reasons, John usually uses the term “the Jews” to refer only to some Jews, specifically to those Jews who did not accept Jesus, especially the Jewish leaders. The fact that these people who rejected him were Jews is, of course, a reflection of the actual history. Many of the Jewish people who heard and saw Jesus did not accept his claims about himself, and some of the leaders played a part in having him put to death. John’s practice of referring to these people simply as “the Jews” has a complicated historical background that cannot be unraveled here. What is important to note is that in his drama, John lets those Jews who rejected Jesus stand as representatives of the whole of human society. They represent all of us, to the extent that we do not fully grasp and wholeheartedly respond to Jesus. Their refusal to believe in Jesus did not stem from their Jewishness, but from their commitment to interests that ran counter to God’s plan: for some, a desire for social acceptance, an unwillingness to let go of political and religious prerogatives. These, of course, are our faults too.
It is a mistake to read John’s negative characterizations of “the Jews” as an actual description of all Jews even at the time of Jesus. It is an even bigger mistake to use his negative view of “the Jews” as a pretext for any sort of negative view of Jewish people in the past or present—a mistake that sadly has often been made. To avoid this misunderstanding, some scholars have adopted the practice of putting quotation marks around “the Jews” in their discussions of John’s Gospel. This serves as a reminder that John uses the term with a special meaning—to refer to those Jewish leaders and people who rejected Jesus as representatives of the world that rejects him. The bishops of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) as well as Pope John Paul II have condemned anti-Semitism in all its forms.
Wake Up, My Friend
Questions to Begin
15 minutes Use a question or two to get warmed up for the reading.
1 When was the last time you got a phone call or letter from someone you know asking for help? What was the problem? What did you do?
2 How do you wake up?
Gradually, with coffee.
Early. I like the morning.
Very early, without an alarm, and ready to take on the world.
3 What is the worst stench you have ever smelled? (No bathroom odors, please!)
Opening the Bible
5 minutes Read the passage aloud. Let individuals take turns reading paragraphs.
The Reading: John 11:1–44
An Urgent Message
1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume . . . her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 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.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 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. . . .” 11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
A Scene of Grief
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 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. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
28 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.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. . . . 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, . . . followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 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.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
A Life-Giving Command
38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 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.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 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.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 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.”
Questions for Careful Reading
10 minutes Choose questions according to your interest and time.
1 If Jesus had left for Bethany as soon as he heard of Lazarus’s illness, could he have arrived before his death? (Consider the data in 11:6, 17.) Would Jesus have known this? (Consider 11:4, 11, 14–15.) Why do you suppose he took his time?
2 Why does Jesus describe Lazarus as being “asleep” (11:11)? (Compare similar misunderstandings: 3:3–8; 4:10–14; 7:33–36; 8:21–24.)
3 Is Thomas expressing faith in verse 16?
4 From Jesus’ own words throughout this episode, what seems to be his chief concern?
5 Reread verses 25 to 27. Does Martha believe that Jesus is what he says he is? (Take 11:39 into account.)
6 Jesus prays aloud (11:41–42), apparently to keep the bystanders from reaching a wrong conclusion. What misunderstanding is he trying to avoid?
A Guide to the Reading
If participants have not read this section already, read it aloud. Otherwise go on to “Questions for Application.”
The sight of Lazarus emerging from the doorway of the tomb grips the imagination. But stripped of its meaning, the event would remain a mere X-Files curiosity. Wanting us to grasp its significance, John devotes most of his narrative not to the act of resuscitation but to the interaction between Jesus and the people around him. The dialogue highlights the issue of Jesus’ identity. The drama lies not only in the question “What will Jesus do for Lazarus?” but also in the questions “Who is Jesus?” and “Will anyone recognize him for who he is?”
Verses 5 and 6 are puzzling. Presumably Jesus knows that it is too late to reach Lazarus before he dies, yet he decides to arrive four days after his death rather than two, perhaps to make the raising a more stunning demonstration of his life-giving power (11:14–15).
Jesus seems to operate with a different agenda from the people around him. He does not share their preoccupation with Lazarus’s fate. While he loves Lazarus, he seems mainly concerned with people’s faith in himself (11:14–15, 25–26, 40, 41–42). Apparently, even after following him for a couple of years, his disciples have not attained complete faith in him (11:15).
Jesus says that the one who believes in him will go on living forever (11:25–26), because the believer in him has already entered into everlasting life, a life that death cannot destroy. For such a person, death is not annihilation, but a door that leads to greater life. Jesus says that he is the resurrection: he is the source of divine life here and now, as well as the agent of full resurrection in the future (he has already spoken of giving life both now and in the future—5:24–25).
Martha works from a Jewish expectation that God will raise the dead at the end of time (11:24). She does not realize, however, that with Jesus’ arrival the last times have begun. The person speaking to her is the Resurrection in person. Martha comes close to the truth about Jesus (11:27). Yet she does not exactly affirm what Jesus declares of himself (compare 11:25–26 with 11:27). Her reaction to the idea of opening the tomb (11:39) shows the limit of her faith. (Compare Jesus’ mother’s attitude—2:5.)
The crowd fails to grasp that Jesus not only could have saved Lazarus from death (11:37), he can restore him to life. Not even Martha’s sister Mary seems to fully believe (11:32).
Thus as Jesus approaches Lazarus’s tomb, he may experience not only sorrow (11:35) but anger (11:33, 38). The Greek of verse 33 conveys disapproval; it can be translated, “He became angry in spirit” or “moved with indignation.” Biblical scholar Ben Witherington III comments: “Since we are told that what sparks this reaction in Jesus is the weeping of Mary and the Jews, the most natural conclusion is that Jesus is upset at their lack of faith, for they mourned as people without hope for Lazarus’s immediate future, while they were in the presence of One who was both resurrection and life.” Another scholar, Francis J. Maloney, S.D.B., writes, “As Jesus’ public ministry draws to a close he is frustrated and angrily disappointed. . . . Will no one come to belief?” Thus Jesus weeps not only for Lazarus but for those around him, none of whom yet understands who he is. We may even detect in his words to Martha (11:40) a note of irritation—the kind a parent might feel who cannot find any way to overcome a child’s conviction that he or she is not loved.
By raising Lazarus, Jesus confirms his claim to be the resurrection. He glorifies God (11:40), that is, he reveals God’s life-giving power. And raising Lazarus will glorify God in a further way: it will provoke the religious leaders to decide to have Jesus killed (11:45–53), and by his death Jesus will glorify God by fully demonstrating God’s self-giving love. The cross will demonstrate that God is a Father of infinite mercy who gives what is most precious to him—his own Son—for the life of the world (3:16).
Jesus knows he will pay with his life for restoring Lazarus. At Bethany, then, Jesus decides to lay down his life for his friend. The riveting image of Lazarus recalled to life, standing in the doorway of his tomb, is a key for interpreting Jesus’ death: he will die in order to give life to his friends. He will die for us, the Lazaruses of the world.
Questions for Application
40 minutes Choose questions according to your interest and time.
1 When have you discovered that Jesus’ agenda or timing for your life is different from your own? How has this affected your relationship with him?
2 Why does Jesus ask Martha the question in verse 26? How would you answer his question?
3 What does Jesus’ manner of relating to his followers in this incident tell us about how he relates to us when our faith in him is weak and imperfect?
4 This is the only passage in John’s Gospel in which Jesus weeps (11:35). How do you react to his tears? What significance for your relationship with Jesus do you find in his reactions in verses 33, 35, and 38?
5 How does faith in Jesus’ words in verses 25 and 26 affect a person’s grief over the death of loved ones? How does grief affect a person’s faith in Jesus? How does this passage affect how you look at the death of those you love?
6 Has anyone recently let you know that they need your help or presence as they go through a difficult time? How should you respond?
Make personal, honest applications and commit yourself to letting God’s word change you.
Whitney Kuniholm, John: The Living Word, A Fisherman Bible Study Guide
Approach to Prayer
15 minutes Use this approach—or create your own!
Read aloud these thoughts of St. Augustine. After silent reflection, pray together, “Lord, have mercy!” and conclude with the Our Father.
A person who has become accustomed to sinning has not only died but is buried, pressed down by the massive weight of habit. How many of us are oppressed by a heavy mass of bad habits! If someone says, “Don’t do this. It will destroy you,” they answer, “We can’t get free of it.” How hard it is for one weighed down by bad habits to rise up. But nevertheless we do rise up, because we receive life by hidden, inner grace. Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” and immediately the dead man came forth. Thus every day we see people living well whose worst habits have been completely changed. It is written for every person weighed down by a bad habit that Jesus “came to the tomb.”
A Living Tradition Jesus Wept
This section is a supplement for individual reading.
From a sermon by John Henry Newman, a nineteenth-century English cardinal and theologian.
What led our Lord to weep over the dead, who could at a word restore him, nay, had it in purpose so to do? He wept from very sympathy with the grief of others. “When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.” It is the very nature of compassion or sympathy, as the word implies, to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” We know it is so with men; and God tells us he also is compassionate. . . . Yet we do not well know what this means, for how can God rejoice or grieve? By the very perfection of his nature Almighty God cannot show sympathy, at least to the comprehension of beings of such limited minds as ours. . . . Words and works of sympathy he does display to us; but it is the very sight of sympathy in another that affects and comforts the sufferer more even than the fruits of it.
Now we cannot see God’s sympathy; and the Son of God, though feeling for us as great compassion as his Father, did not show it to us while he remained in his Father’s bosom. But when he took flesh and appeared on earth, he showed us the Godhead in a new manifestation. He invested himself with a new set of attributes, those of our flesh, taking into him a human soul and body, in order that thoughts, feelings, affections might be his, which could respond to ours and certify to us his tender mercy. When, then, our savior weeps from sympathy at Mary’s tears, let us not say it is the love of a man overcome by natural feeling. It is the love of God, the compassion of the Almighty and Eternal, condescending to show it as we are capable of receiving it, in the form of human nature.
Jesus wept, therefore, not merely from the deep thoughts of his understanding, but from spontaneous tenderness. . . . [The] tears [of the people around him] touched him at once, as their miseries had brought him down from heaven. His ear was open to them, and the sound of weeping went at once to his heart.
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus appear in John’s Gospel (11:1–12:8). The sisters, without Lazarus, appear in Luke’s Gospel also (Luke 10:38–42). The women display some of the same characteristics in both accounts: Martha does more of the talking and handles practical arrangements; Mary is more expressive of her devotion—sitting silently at Jesus’ feet while he teaches (Luke 10:39), prostrating herself (11:32), and anointing him with scented oil (12:3). We are told so little about Lazarus that it is impossible to get a sense of his personality.
Their village, Bethany, was on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, a couple of miles east of Jerusalem. The site is now an Arab neighborhood called el-Azariyeh—from “Lazarus.” The Franciscan fathers maintain a church there. Visitors are shown a tomb traditionally considered that of Lazarus, which does seem to date from the first century.
From all we can tell, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were ordinary people. Their names were quite common—all have appeared in first-century burial inscriptions in the Jerusalem area. In one instance, all three names were discovered in a single tomb. The family was not wealthy, for they did not have servants serving the meals (12:2; Luke 10:40). But they were not impoverished either: many people came from Jerusalem to mourn for Lazarus (11:19, 45), the family could seat a dozen or so people in their dining area (12:1–2—apparently Jesus’ disciples were with him), and they had expensive perfume in the house (12:3). One scholar writes that they were “reasonably well-off.”
The three also seem to have been ordinary inasmuch as tranquillity did not always reign in their household (Luke 10:40). On occasion they tried to drag their honored guest into their dis-agreements—which suggests that Jesus was not an unapproachable figure around whom everyone felt they must constantly display their best behavior. Martha and Mary seem to have related to him as one of the family, even while they treated him with great respect.
Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are examples of Jesus’ stay-at-home disciples. Their mention shows, as Ben Witherington writes, that Jesus “had not only traveling disciples, but also followers who remained in one place and offered Jesus and the disciples hospitality when they were in the area. This . . . means that Jesus did not require all his true followers to leave home and family in order to meet the demands of discipleship.”
The family were friends not just of Jesus but of his disciples as well. Notice that Jesus speaks to his disciples of “our friend Lazarus” (11:11). While Luke 10 mentions only Jesus visiting Martha and Mary, John shows Jesus visiting the family with his traveling companions. Possibly the family hosted Jesus and his disciples whenever they were in the Jerusalem area for festivals.
The picture of Jesus and his companions sharing a meal in the home of nontraveling disciples (12:1–2) would have struck a familiar note for the Christians for whom John was writing. In their day, the Church met in homes, for there were no church buildings. Community members with homes large enough to accommodate visitors hosted meetings and provided accommodations for traveling missionaries.
We glimpse this pattern of life in Acts of the Apostles, which shows that the larger homes of believers were centers of life for the first Christian community in Jerusalem (Acts 1:13, 15; 12:12; 16:14–15, 40; 20:7–8). Larger households were apparently centers for care for the needy, for the community seems to have provided for poorer members by sharing meals with them, not simply by distributing funds (Acts 6:1 refers literally to daily table service). These meals did not take place in soup kitchens, but in people’s houses. People coming and going for social and business reasons in such homes would be exposed to the gospel as believers told of the impact Jesus had had on their lives.
The brief scene of Jesus with Martha and Mary in Luke’s Gospel has been well remembered in Christian tradition as a reminder of the priority of listening to Jesus over serving him. Perhaps we should also treasure the picture of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus entertaining Jesus and his companions (12:1–8) as an image of how nontraveling disciples of Jesus may use their homes in service to him.
4 How to Use This Guide
6 John 11–21: A Story Simple Yet Profound
14 Week 1
Wake Up, My Friend
26 Week 2
Perfume and Palms
John 11:45–53; 12:1–33
38 Week 3
Love to the End
50 Week 4
No Need to Fear
62 Week 5
The King Is Lifted Up
74 Week 6
Why Are You Weeping?
86 Washing Feet
90 Singing Praise
92 Suggestions for Bible Discussion Groups
95 Suggestions for Individuals
97 Six Weeks with the Bible on Your KINDLE