Exegesis John 11:1-45


Step I Acquaintance

A. Comparison of translations

Verse 1 RSV: anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet

Message: massaged the Lord's feet with aromatic oils and then wiped them with her hair

NIV: poured perfume on the Lord

v. 4 RSV: not unto death

Message: not fatal

NIV: will not end in death.

v. 6 RSV: so…he stayed two days longer where he was.

Message: but oddly, he stayed on where he was.

NIV: yet when he heard…

v. 8 Message: Rabbi, you can't do that. The Jews are out to kill you.

v. 12 RSV: …he will recover

Message: Master, if he's gone to sleep he'll get a good rest and wake up feeling fine.

NIV: Lord, if he sleeps he will get better.

v. 15: Message: You're about to be given new grounds for believing.

v. 25 Message: You don't have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life.

v. 33 RSV: he was deeply moved and troubled.

Message: a deep anger welled up within him.

v. 37 RSV: could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?

Message: Well, if he loved him so much, why didn't he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.

v. 44RSV: The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth.

Message: And he came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, with a kerchief on his face.

B. Textual criticism

v. 31 doxantes--sinaiticus


C. Rough translation

Now there was a sick, Lazarus from Bethany from the village of Mary and Martha the sister of her. It was Mary the anointing the Lord myrrh and wiping the feet of him with hairs of her, who was the brother Lazarus was sick. Sent therefore the sisters from him saying, Lord behold, whom you love is sick. Hearing Jesus said, This the sickness not is toward death but for the glory of God, that may be glorified the Son through it. Loved Jesus--Martha and the sister of her and Lazarus. When therefore he heard that he is sick the he remained in that he was place two days. Then after this he says to the disciples, Let us go into Judea again. Say to him the disciples, Rabbi, now were look for you to stone the Jews and again you go there? Answered Jesus, not twelve hours are of the day; if any walks in the day not he stumbles, because the light of the world this he sees. But if any walks in the night he stumbles, because the light not is in him. These he said and after this he says to them, Lazarus the friend of us has fallen asleep. But I am going that I may awaken him. Said therefore the disciples to him, Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get better. Now had spoken Jesus about the death of him, but those that about the sleep of ---he says. Then told them Jesus parresia, Lazarus died and I rejoice because of you that you may believe , that not I was there; but let us go toward him. Said therefore Thomas, the one called Twin, to the co-disciples, Let us go also that we may die with him. Coming therefore Jesus found him four already days having in the tomb. Now was Bethany near the Jerusalem about away stadion fifteen. Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary that they might comfort them about the brother. Therefore Martha when she heard that Jesus is coming met him. Mary in the house sat. Said therefore Martha to Jesus, Lord, if you were here, not would have died the brother of me. And I know that whatever things you ask God will give you God. Says to her Jesus, Will resurrect the brother of you. Says to him Martha, I know that he will resurrect in the resurrection in the last day. Said to her Jesus, I am the resurrection and the life. The believing into me even he dies will live and all the living and believing into me not dies into the age. You believe this? She says to him, Yes, Lord. I have believed that you are the Christ the Son of God into the world coming. And this saying she went and called Mary the sister of her lathra saying, The teacher is here and is calling you. That when she heard got up quickly and came to him; not yet had come Jesus into the village but was still in the place where met him Martha. Therefore the Jews the ones being with her in the house and comforting her, seeing Mary that quickly she got up and went, followed her thinking, That, she is going into the tomb that she may weep there. Therefore Mary when she came where was Jesus

Seeing him fell of him at the feet saying to him, Lord if you were here not of me would have died the brother. Jesus therefore when he saw her weeping and the coming with her Jews weeping groaned in the spirit and was troubled himself and said, Where have you put him? They said to him, Lord, come and see. Wept Jesus. Said therefore the Jews, See how he loved him. Some of them said, Not was able this man the opening the eyes of the blind to cause that also this should not die? Jesus therefore again groaning in himself comes into the tomb. It was cave and stone was lying on it. Says Jesus, You lift the stone. Says to him the sister of the having died, Martha, Lord, now he stinks. Fourth for it is. Says to her Jesus, Not I told you if you believe you will see the glory of God? Then lifted therefore the stone and Jesus lifted up his eyes and said I thank you that you heard me. I knew that always me you hear, but because of the crowd standing around I said that they may believe that you me sent. And these saying voice great he shouted Lazarus come out. Came out the having died bound the feet and the hands with bandages and the face of him with a napkin had been wrapped. Says to him Jesus, Loosen him and let him go. Many therefore of the Jews the having come to Mary and having beheld the he did and believed into him.

Step II. Disposition

A. Genre--How the text says what it says.

This is a miracle story which culminates in the miracle rather than beginning with it. The discussions leading up to it are a central focus. Misunderstanding, blame, and partial understanding heighten the sense of drama. The raw emotions of loss are very present, and we wonder just what emotions Jesus was feeling so powerfully. Disciples' fear of risk and death comes through; we are aware of the sisters' growth in faith understanding, and the surprising faith of the mourners at the end. This is a prelude to THE Resurrection, which shows the deceased man's utter dependence on the Voice of Jesus for life. It seeks to bring the hope of resurrection--normally postponed to "someday"-- into the present daily life of believers.

B. Personal Interaction--questions and observations

1. How does Jesus relate to this family?

2. What was the significance of the "anticipatory" reference to Mary's anointing here?

3. Again, a tragedy will result in glory for God and God's Son.--questions about theodicy, sovereignty.

4. Why did Jesus wait before going to Lazarus?

5. What about the disciples' reaction to danger, avoidance of risk?

6. How does the aphoristic saying of v.9-10 apply?

7. Why the euphemism for 'death"--falling asleep, leading to confusion?

8. What was Thomas thinking?

9. Why does Mary stay home at first?

10. Jesus brings the "postponed indefinitely" hope of resurrection into the here and now.

11. Martha seems to pay a backhanded compliment but also expresses a level of faith in him.

12. What is the significance of Martha's secrecy in telling Mary, and of Mary getting up "quickly"?

13. What is the nature of Jesus' emotional response? Anger? Sadness?

14. Why do some of the mourners complain that Jesus could not save Lazarus?

15. Note parallels with Jesus' resurrection--stone rolled away, etc. Why 4 days not 3?

16. Does Jesus' prayer seem unusual, given for the crowd's benefit?

17. The dead one responds to Jesus' voice. Why do we get in-depth description of the grave clothes?

18. What does it mean for the community to unwrap the dead man, and let him go free?

19. What is the background of Jewish funeral rites?

20. What does resurrection NOW mean to me?

C.Organization--where the elements of B are located


Historical background:6,15,17,19

Author's intent: 4,7,8,12,13,14

Sermonic: 5,9,10,11,13,15,17,18

Personal: 16, 20

Step III Composition

A. Immediate Context -preceding/following pericope

The text is precede by the sheep who know the good shepherd's voice; a near-stoning of Jesus for blasphemy; his return to the site of John's baptism, and superceding of John. It is followed by Caiphas' prophetic dictum: …one man should die for the nation that the nation not perish.

B. Organization of the compositional whole

John's gospel repeatedly communicates spiritual truth concerning the full identity of Jesus by "clearing' up misunderstandings, plays on words, and too-literal thinking on the part of those who have not yet reached fullness of faith. Miracles provide opportunity to reveal these deeper meanings. The "life" which Christ brings is not only a distant hope but begins here and now through him in the gift of the Spirit. Opposition is consistent but is shown to stem from spiritual blindness.

C. Issues of authorship.

Step IV. Context

A. Primitive Christianity

The raising of Jairus' daughter is another account in the synoptics but lacking the rich imagery, drama, and theological dimensions discussed in John. The emphasis on resurrection NOW seems to address the opposite problem from that in Corinth where the resurrection was thought to be such an accomplished fact that there was nothing further to come. Like 1 Cor 15 and 1 Thess.this text in part seeks to address the fate of believers who have died and those who remain alive prior to the final consummation.

B. Judaism and OT

This text reflects the belief in resurrection present in first century Judaism, and the literature of the apocrypha. The funerary rites in this text provide a link to Jewish practice. The belief in day 4 as the final departure of the soul is also characteristic.

C. Hellenism

Thomas the Twin was a favorite motif of gnosticism, which considered him the twin of Jesus. Texts like this one gave Gnostics openings to work with.

Step V. Distillation

A. Summary of salient features

This text provides a preview of Jesus' death and resurrection but is more concerned with the present experience of believers. Disciples resist the danger of going near Jerusalem, hoping to avoid death for Jesus. The "family" connection brings a dimension of intimacy. The "partial" faith of these friends is a work in progress. Jesus' emotional response is arresting. The power of his voice to cal forth all who are 'dead' is clear. The miracles as strengthener of faith and cause of conflict is a familiar theme. Where Jesus is, there is life, and resurrection.

B. Smooth translation

Now, one Lazarus of Bethany was seriously ill. He was the brother of Mary and Martha--you know, the Mary who "anointed" Jesus' feet and wiped the oil with her hair. We'' reads about that in a bit. The sisters had someone pass the word to Jesus, "Rabbi, your best friend is sick!"

When Jesus got the message he said, "This is not terminal. It has happened for a reason: to show God's power and to feature the Son brilliantly.

Jesus was really tight with this family. So it was a shock when, instead of rushing to Lazarus's side, he waited two whole days before even starting out for Judea. Finally he said, "Let's roll". But the disciples didn't want him to go at all! "Rabbi, those people in Judea are out to get you. You're not really thinking of going back there, are you?"

Jesus replied, "I'm well aware of the danger. But this is God's moment. We need to act now while we can. Timing is everything.'

He continued, "Lazarus has gone to sleep. I have to go wake him up."

The disciples said, "Lord, if he's sick, the sleep will do him good. Why wake him up?"

Jesus said, "To be blunt, Lazarus is dead. I'm glad I wasn't there when it happened, because what you're about to see will really strengthen your faith. Now, let's get going".

Thomas the Twin piped up. "Come on. We'd better all hang together, or we'll all hang separately"

It took another two days to get there, and by that time Lazarus was starting to decay. Bethany was just a couple of miles from Jerusalem, and many of the folks the had come to pay their respects to Mary and Martha. Martha heard that Jesus was getting close and went out to meet him. Mary stayed put.

Martha said, "What took you? If you'd come right away, my brother would still be alive. You have great influence with God. Maybe there's still hope?"

Jesus said, "Don't worry. Your brother will live again."

Martha replied, "Yes, of course. He'll be in the general resurrection--someday." Jesus said, "I'm talking about something more immediate. Wherever I am, the resurrection is happening. It's true: those who have died as believers will be raised. But those who are alive and believe will not even die at all. Do you catch my drift?"

"Yes, Lord. I know that you are the One, the Son."

Then she went and told Mary privately, "He wants to see you".

In a flash, Mary was on her feet and running our to him. When the mourners saw her spring into action like that, they figured she was going to the tomb, and followed her. Instead, she went to Jesus, fell at his feet, and said, "Master, if only you had been here, you could have saved him". When Jesus saw her grief and how distraught the others were, he was thrown into turmoil. He said, "Where's the body?" "We'll show you", they said. Jesus broke down in tears. "Look how much he meant to him," they said. But others murmured, "Why didn't he do something to help him, then? He gave sight to that blind man, right?"

Then Jesus, churning inside again, arrived at the tomb. It was a cave, its entrance sealed by a stone. "Push the stone aside", said Jesus. But Lord, said Martha. He'll be putrid by now. It's been four days!" Then Jesus said, "Don't you remember what I told you? If you believe, you'll see the wonder of God". So they pushed the stone out of the way. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, thank you for listening to me. You always do, but to help the faith of all these people here, I'm speaking out loud so they'll know You are the One who sent me".

Then he bellowed, "Lazarus, out of there!" And--out he came, looking like a mummy, all wrapped up. Jesus commanded the crowd, "Get those rags off him, so he can be a free man". Many of the mourners on seeing this became believers right then and there.

C. Hermeneutical Bridge

Attitudes about death in contemporary society are at least as conflicted as those portrayed in this text. Avoidance and denial are familiar to all of us, as is the hopelessness that comes through in the grieving scene. Emotions are squelched or can hold us in their grip. Efforts to maintain life at all costs suggest there is little faith in the One to whom we belong, "in life and in death". The premise of the Jim Carrie movie "The Majestic" has a man "dying" (losing all touch with his past) then living a new life whose script has been written for him by the townspeople. This text would have us wrestle with the meaning of Jesus as resurrection and new life in the here and now. It also asks of us, Are we the kind of faith community who can unwrap the dead, and welcome them into a new life of freedom in Christ?

VI. Contemporary address

A. Audience

The congregation is currently dealing with serious illness in some highly visible members.

B. Intended goals.

I want to help listeners in a gentle way to think about issues of faith in the face of crisis and death.