Dialogue with Father James Martin– Part Four

Dialogue with Father James Martin– Part Four September 20, 2023

Q. Why do you think it is that Jesus waited several days, until after Lazarus had been dead for a while before coming to Bethany?

A. As with many parts in this narrative, there are multiple interpretations of that.  

First: Jesus is bringing Lazarus something greater than mere physical healing: that is, life.  And so, in this interpretation, the delay is immaterial.  Second, Jesus wants to make sure that people know that, as he says plainly to Thomas, “Lazarus is dead.”  Jewish belief at the time was that the soul hovered around (or over) the body for several days and so that may be the point of the four-day wait.  To this end, I sometimes wonder if Jesus was responding to the experience of his raising of Jairus’s daughter (in Mark and Matthew of course), where the little girl has just recently died while some people were saying, “She is only asleep.”  That is, I wonder if the rumor got around that it wasn’t a “real” raising.  I can imagine people sniffing, “Please.  She was asleep!”  So, in this case the wait may be so that the crowd knows that this person is truly dead.  After all, Lazarus is already in the tomb.  Thus, there would be no mistake about what he was about to do.

Both interpretations make sense to me.  But I think the most compelling explanation for the delay is that in John’s Gospel, Jesus is always in control.  So he will go to Bethany when he goes to Bethany.  He remains in control, and a bit mysterious.


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