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John 11:1-45

What a story! So many threads to weave into one short play: the miracle itself, the danger to Jesus and the disciples, the return of the two sisters and theirĀ differing personalities, the touching (if gloomy) commitment of Thomas, and that mysterious statement by Martha (“I know that *even now* God will give you whatever you ask”) which suggests that she believes Jesus can raise Lazarus, when it turns out she has no such thought. (So what did she believe so firmly God could do, at that point when Lazarus was already dead?) And finally, the most notable aspect of this story to me: that deliberate two day delay that allowed Lazarus to die before Jesus appeared on the scene.

This is yet another detail that might seem perfectly normal if we’re approaching the gospel stories as if they were, well, plays staged by God for our religious edification, but once you start looking at them as accounts of actual events that happened to actual people who had no idea of the theological frameworks surrounding them at the time, begin to seem odd (as, for example, in the case of the Roman centurion who bizarrely upped the “faith ante” in his encounter with Jesus) or even a little horrifying, as is the case here, in my opinion.

In order to arrange for the good of this miracle to occur, Jesus inflicts additional pain on two people he loved, as well as a great deal of distress, I’m sure, to other members of the community and possibly his own disciples. Not to mention to Lazarus. (The bonus mystery of this story is what Lazarus thought about what had just happened to him. His viewpoint is notably, stunningly missing from the account.) As with the story of Job, there’s something unsettling about what it reveals about the ways of God, despite the happy ending.

It’s this element that makes this “happy” story a good choice for the final week of Lent, for every one of the characters we’ve been following all through the liturgical year on their wandering path through the world is about to enter a trap set for them by Fate. (Or God, or the Universe.) Every one of them, even Jesus (especially Jesus!) is about to be betrayed, forsaken, destroyed, and it would be crass materialism to dismiss their suffering just because they (mostly) come out all right on the other side of the door. In this respect, it’s fitting we don’t hear from Lazarus. Lent is the season of his silence.