Some who are blind can be healed. Jesus has just healed a man of physical blindness with a concoction of mud and saliva, but we know that this sign is also an allegory. Jesus can heal both physical and spiritual wounds for those who truly seek him, but the Pharisees are certain they know all the answers and their eyes remain closed to the truth.
Jesus again tries to reason with the Pharisees and teach the crowds who follow him. As he does throughout scripture, Jesus uses language and situations that are accessible. In this case, he talks about the shepherd and his sheep, a scene familiar to an agrarian crowd but that also harkens to leaders such as Moses, who was called a shepherd. We hear one of the great “I am” statements of the Gospel of John, with Jesus telling them “I am the good shepherd…I know my own and my own know me.” This passage recognizes our fundamental desire to know and be known, and Jesus assures us that he calls us by name. Further, not only does Jesus know us, but also we recognize his voice. Other so-called shepherds in the world will beckon us to enter into their gates. But Jesus wants us to enter the true gate, through him.
Though some come to believe, many are still perplexed. They follow Jesus like petulant children, begging him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” It seems Jesus’ patience is tested.
I’ve already told you
, he replies. But then he, like all good teachers, tries a different approach to open their eyes. Alas, scales still cling to the eyes of some, and they try to arrest him, but Jesus escapes and makes his way across the Jordan.
Only the Gospel of John records the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. This account has all the makings of a blockbuster drama, a real life and death and life story. Although this is our first and only introduction to Lazarus, it is clear that he has a close relationship with Jesus, for his sisters send the message, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But Jesus’ reaction is not what we might expect. While most of us would drop everything and race to the side of a dying loved one, Jesus stays two days longer. This, no doubt, flummoxes Mary and Martha, and when Jesus finally arrives, Martha responds quite naturally with frustration: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But then Martha follows with an extraordinary witness: “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Even now, as Martha is wracked with grief, she places complete trust in the will of God. Sit with this for a moment. How many of us would be so quick to respond with such open-hearted trust?
We move to the crux of the story—and the heart of the gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they died, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Read that sentence again. And now add this piece of context: Martha and Mary don’t have the same knowledge that we have, that Jesus literally rises from the dead. Yet Martha believes. That, in itself, seems like a miracle.
But wait, there’s more. Jesus comes to the tomb with Martha and Mary and other friends of the family. Their grief, along with his own at the death of his friend, moves Jesus to weep. Then, in a foreshadowing of his own death and resurrection, Jesus calls upon the people to roll away the stone and cries, “Lazarus, come out!” And a man, with the stench of four days dead, rises.
While this wondrous work converts many, others are afraid, and they run to the Pharisees to report the incident. The Pharisees’ response is painfully human: They seem less afraid of the act itself than they are of how they might lose power and control because of it. “This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” Caiaphas stands up to his fellow Pharisees but the die has been cast, and orders are sent out. Jesus is a wanted man.
We are very near to the Passover, to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the crucifixion, and his triumphant resurrection. The drama continues to unfold. A New Testament commentary from InterVarsity Press sets the scene: “The people around Jesus are being caught up in the climax of all of salvation history. They are acting for their own reasons, yet they are players in a drama that they do not understand, doing and saying things with significance beyond their imaginings.”
Our last reading for the week brings us to an intimate moment of Jesus spending time in Bethany with his friends, including Martha and Mary. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear about Martha bustling around, preparing food for Jesus and the disciples, while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, having chosen “the better part.” In John, we see more of Mary at Jesus’ feet, only this time she rubs his feet with spikenard, a precious oil that costs the equivalent of a year’s salary. Judas, who we know will betray Jesus very soon, sneers at Mary about the cost—and then claims with a false humility that the money could be better spent on serving the poor. Jesus knows Judas’s true motivations are far less benevolent: “Leave her alone,” Jesus tells Judas. “She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
All of the signs and works throughout John point to the same thing: Jesus is the way to new life. Ironically, Jesus’ miracle of giving Lazarus new life sets in motion the actions that will take his. The story with Mary foreshadows not only Jesus washing the feet of his disciples but his impending death. In this drama, we know the rest of the story, which is not the end, thanks be to God, but the beginning.