March 31, 2014

Raising Lazarus

            The drama is heightening as the Gospel of John moves the narrative of Jesus’ confrontation with temple authorities closer to its climax.  The story of the raising of Lazarus sharpens the conflict and urges his opponents to put a stop to his ministry.
            John’s high Christology is on full display as he bears witness to the power over death entrusted to Jesus.  The reader can sense the very deliberate pace of Jesus’ actions in John 11—he hears of the illness of his friend, delays two more days, and only travels to Bethany when he presumes Lazarus has “fallen asleep.”  Ever conscious of bringing glory to God, Jesus crafts his encounter with the grieving sisters and the dead brother to accent his distinctive claim with this final sign. As Bultmann says, “The work of Jesus has its own hour.”

            The theological richness of this Gospel is on display in this long passage.  One can sense that the writer is carefully laying the groundwork for the climax of the Gospel—Jesus’ own resurrection—by intentional contrast with this story of the resuscitation of the four-day dead Lazarus.  The varied exchanges of Jesus with Mary and Martha, the religious leaders, and the disciples all serve to clarify why they should believe that he was sent from God.  Lazarus becomes a living example of the power of God; yet, he is only raised, not resurrected.  The Gospel will beckon yet further witness to that.

            Tonight at Central we will host J. Denny Weaver, author of The Nonviolent Atonement and The Nonviolent God. This distinguished Mennonite author offers a different perspective on the why of Jesus’ death.  Rather than arguing with the weight of the Western tradition that God provided Jesus as a sacrifice to expiate sin or as a substitute for sinful humanity, Weaver places the cause of the death of Jesus squarely in the hands of humans; God did not will it.
            According to Weaver, Jesus died because he lived in such a way—nonviolent confrontation and witness to the Reign of God—that the powers of evil had him killed.  It was not a death required by God in order to placate wrath, make forgiveness possible, or substitute for sinful humanity.
            God’s saving work is seen in the resurrection, which is testimony to God’s power over death.  It seems that John’s Gospel, with its accent on the relative power of death in the face of God’s power, grants to Jesus the authority not only to call back Lazarus from the grave, but also to burst the bounds of death utterly on Easter.

            Molly T. Marshall

            Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

*Raising of Lazarus, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 31, 2014].

** JESUS MAFA. Jesus raises Lazarus to life, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 31, 2014].

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