In each of these stories there is a miraculous element, and the dramatic nature of the miracle intensifies from one episode to the next. Jesus, somehow, knows the Samaritan woman’s personal history without asking. This impresses her greatly, but it pales in comparison with the miraculous gift of sightedness to a man who had never been able to see. The restoration of Lazarus from death to life is more dramatic still, but it also has special significance for John's Gospel as a whole. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, it is overturning the tables in the temple that finally leads the Jewish authorities to the decision that Jesus must die. In John's, it is the raising of Lazarus that brings them to the same conclusion. Why is this?
In the verses that follow, John proceeds to tell us. The Jewish leaders are afraid that Jesus' growing popularity as a miracle worker will lead the Roman imperial authorities to anticipate a popular rebellion, and order a violent suppression of the Jewish nation in order to prevent it. So, fearful for their religion, they resolve that action must be taken against Jesus. Caiaphas, the high priest comes up with a more sophisticated proposal; they can best protect the nation by contriving to have Jesus condemned to death by the Roman authorities as a rebel.
If the raising of Lazarus is what gives rise to this plan, it also reveals its futility. Read in the context of this week’s Old Testament lesson -- Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones into which the Spirit of God breathes life -- Jesus’s miracle is placed beyond mere revival, and cast into the context of redemption. The extract from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans invites us to pursue this line of thought even further. It challenges us to think quite differently about life and death. “To set the mind on the flesh is death” Paul says, “but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. . . . If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”
Lazarus’s putrefying body, then, is not the only form of death. Nor is it the worst. Jesus displays God’s creative power in a spectacular act that reverses the normal processes of nature, and yet the point is not to give Lazarus a few extra years. Rather, it is to show that a quite different life-giving transformation is on offer and to warn us, paradoxically, against clinging desperately to this mortal life.
This is a message of special relevance at the moment. In response to the coronavirus, some occupations and activities have been declared “essential” and others “non-essential”. It is clear from the way this distinction is applied, that it relies upon a key assumption: it is "essential" that people avoid death for as long as possible. That is what ultimately matters. Such an assumption, though, runs contrary to the Easter theme of the Christian gospel.
At the Crucifixion, the plotting of the chief priests and Pharisees seems to succeed. Jesus is indeed put to death by the Roman authorities. Yet his death was followed by another 'rising from the dead' far more significant than that of Lazarus -- the Resurrection on Easter Day. This offers us, if we choose to take it, the kind of life that really matters – a life in Christ that transcends our mortality. Sometimes, however, as at the present moment, the world presses Christians very hard indeed to answer this question:
Do you really believe that?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
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