Monday, April 18, 2011

Signs (7): Resurrection and Life

John 11

Why would God want a dead cat?
(Punch line from story told by Mark Webb)
“I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25, Jesus)

Tie-ins with the entire text of John:
John 2, the first sign
“discreet suggestion” (Brown, 431) (John 2:3 and 11:3)
“glory” and “faith/believe” (same Greek word for faith and belief) (John 2:11 and 11:4, 15, 40; see Brown, 432)
Cana: “Revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him” (2.11)
“For God’s glory, that the Son may be glorified through it” (11:4)
“So that you may come to have faith” (believe, 11:15)
“If you believed, you would see the glory of God” (11:40)

“the life was the light of all” (John 1:4)
Healing the blind man – light of the world (John 9)
Raising Lazarus – resurrection and life (John 11)

“glory” defined in John’s gospel as Jesus’ death (John 12:23-24)
Caiaphas the high priest, in response to this sign: “It is better ... to have one man die for the people” (John 11:50)
Prologue: “And we beheld his glory, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14)

Objection: Jesus stayed two days longer (John 11:6)
The direct response to the objection:
Apparently, John wants us to understand that Lazarus died right away
When Jesus arrives, Lazarus has been dead 4 days . . . 1 day to send the message to Jesus, 2 days of delay, and 1 day for Jesus to travel to Bethany (Brown, 431)

But what is behind the objection? Why is it that when we need Jesus most, it seems that he is nowhere to be found? That is a much bigger question than the one resolved by counting days in this story. And, the appropriate answer differs in each particular situation.

In the language of John’s gospel, as Rudolph Bultmann writes, “Jesus’ works have their own hour” (cited in Brown, 431). When Jesus’ mother suggested the need for wine at the wedding party, certainly a much less significant thing than sickness to death, his response was “my hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). If what we must have to sense Jesus’ presence is the miracle, then we may well never sense his presence. Jesus does do miracles, but not on our timetable and not in line with our expectations. If, however, what we seek is not a miracle but Jesus himself, he will always reveal himself. For he is not far from those “who call on him in truth” (Psalm 145:18, Deuteronomy 4:7).

Objection: Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:26). This is flat out wrong, if we read it literally. The confusing language of vv 25-26, as Brown, following Dodd, suggests (425, 434):

“I am the resurrection”
“Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live”

“I am ... the life”
“And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die”

In the first case, death is physical; in the second, spiritual (see John 6:49-50). The Revelation, another piece of John literature in the Bible speaks explicitly of this spiritual death as “the second death” (Revelation 2:11)

Resurrection: Now and Then
While Jesus refers to a second death in spiritual terms, we must be careful to remember that resurrection has very bodily terms. Resurrection involves a body. Lazarus dead body was raised, not resurrected. Lazarus would die again; maybe that is why he still had his graveclothes. But Jesus was resurrected and he left his graveclothes behind; he would not need them again (Brown, 427). In resurrection, our mortal bodies put on immortality, our perishable bodies are clothed with imperishability, our weak bodies put on strength, our dishonored bodies are clothed with glory (1 Corinthians 15).

The raising of Lazarus is a promise of Resurrection Then, and an expression of Resurrection Now. Now, Jesus the Resurrection and Life is among us. Now, eternal life begins. Now, “those who believe in me live”. Now and Then.

Why would God want a dead cat? “I am the Resurrection and the Life”.

Resurrection: Do you believe this? (John 11:26)
The common thought that religion is about moral life – no wonder the objection is the hypocrisy of religious people. And if religion is not about a general sense of morality, common to most people, but about the life of God . . . that is something altogether different. But many of us religious folks don’t get that, our faith remains vague, general, abstract. Jesus is a good teacher, church is about being a good person, we believe in God, we pray . . . but we have no contact with the life of God, no contact with Jesus.

Jesus asks Martha if she believes. Her answer was “yes”. But, as Raymond Brown writes, “She does not understand that he is life itself” (433). Her faith is in resurrection, not in Jesus. Her faith is in God, not in Jesus. Her faith is vague, general, abstract. Now, she loves Jesus. But she doesn’t yet understand.

Jesus is asking us the same question: Do you believe this? Most people I talk to say, without hesitation, “yes”. And, most people don’t yet understand the terms of the question, don’t yet see that Jesus is claiming to BE LIFE, to BE RESURRECTION. So, in our faith, in our spiritual life, it is necessary for us to come to terms with Jesus.

Remarkably enough, this great Seventh Sign, this Sign of Life and Resurrection, is presented to us in John’s gospel as the reason for Jesus’ death. The religious leaders see how it impacted so many of the people and they plot to kill him to protect the nation from another failed uprising ... they assume that Jesus comes to liberate completely NOW, not THEN. Caiaphas, the high priest, says, “It is better ... to have one man die for the people” (11:50).

And Jesus’ glorification begins. He is “lifted up” upon a cross, a device of torture as well as of execution. And he is raised up “by the power of an indestructible life” (Hebrews 7:16), the “first fruits of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Do you believe this?

Raymond Brown, 1966, The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible vol 29, New York: Doubleday.

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