Posted on Wed, Apr 5, 2017
April 2, 2017
5th Sunday in Lent
Gospel Text: John 11:1-45 “So That You Would Believe”
The Death of Lazarus
11Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus; was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ 8 The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ 9 Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ 11 After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ 12 The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’
Jesus the Resurrection and the Life
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ 23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24 Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ 27 She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’
28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37 But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
Jesus Raises Lazarus to Life
38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 40 Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’
The Plot to Kill Jesus
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
The Valley of Dry Bones
37 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ 4 Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.’ 7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
11 Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.’
Elijah was a great and powerful Prophet of Judah, but since the Babylonians had just over-run his country, destroying the Temple where he prophesied, as well as the city of Jerusalem itself, he was a prophet of a country that no longer existed. Judah and Israel now belonged to the Babylonians, and along with the people of Judah and the remnant of Israel, Ezekiel was taken away in order to disperse the people of Judah and Israel so that they could be used as slaves to further the building plans of King Nebuchadnezzar and the growing Babylonian Empire.
Before the first surrender of Jerusalem, Ezekiel was a functioning priest probably attached to the Jerusalem Temple staff. He was among those deported in 597 BCE to Babylonia, where he was located at Tel-abib on the Kebar canal (near Nippur) near Babylon in modern day Iraq. It is evident that he was, among his fellow exiles, a person of uncommon stature. Ezekiel’s religious call came in July 592 when he had a vision of the “throne-chariot” of God. He subsequently prophesied until 585 and then is not heard of again until 572. His latest datable utterance can be dated about 570 BCE, 22 years after his first.
These two periods of prophesying, separated by 13 years, represent various emphases in Ezekiel’s message. His earlier oracles to the Jews in Palestine were pronouncements of God’s judgment on a sinful nation for its the abandonment or renunciation of a their religious and traditions of sacrifice and faithfulness to God. The people were caught up in their pursuit of economic riches, social life and worship of foreign gods, even in the Temple of Jerusalem. Ezekiel said that Judah was guiltier than Israel had been and that Jerusalem would fall to Nebuchadnezzar and its inhabitants would be killed or exiled. According to Ezekiel, Judah trusted in foreign gods and foreign alliances, and Jerusalem was a city full of injustice. Pagan rites abounded in the courts of the Temple. Ezekiel was a Truth Teller, but the people did not listen. And while Ezekiel prophesied the warnings of God, the people ignored him, and the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and Judah.
Ezekiel speaks from Babylon, exiled from a country that has died, its temple and capital city destroyed. Like earlier prophets, Ezekiel understands this disaster not simply as the unfortunate result of Babylon’s empire-building. To him, since nothing can happen unless God allows it, Judah’s people and especially their leaders brought this devastation upon themselves by their disobedience to God.
The prophet is understandably pessimistic about human goodness. He insists that individuals are utterly free to make moral choices and utterly responsible for the consequences of these choices. Each individual is given the chance to make decisions that may be life-giving or death-dealing (Ezekiel 18). Yet Ezekiel sees little evidence that Judeans will choose more wisely in the future than they have in the past. Though blessed with moral legitimacy, they are no more able to use this faculty any better than lifeless bones were able to get up and walk. This conundrum in Ezekiel’s theology could have led to an unspeakable impasse.
But in today’s Old Testament text, Ezekiel discovers divine grace instead. The grace that initiated the whole human enterprise by making humans from dust and breathing into them the breath, or ruah, in Hebrew, the breath of life (Genesis 2:7).
We must remember that it God initiated the entire Israelite project, choosing to take slaves from Egypt, giving them God’s own law, and bringing them to a good land -- and doing this with minimal cooperation from the people being saved (Ezekiel 20:5-14). Now, Ezekiel says, God will take the initiative yet again: God’s spirit will bring new life to a people dead as stone, dead as bones.
This vision of dry bones coming to life is closely related to a saying that has already appeared twice in the book. In Ezekiel 11, speaking for God, the prophet has already said of the exiles: I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)
And again in Ezekiel 36, very similar:
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:26-28)
This new heart is nothing the people can obtain for themselves. The new spirit is not their own, but God’s, a spirit enabling them to do what they could not before, to live as holy people before Holy God. The prophet spells out the divine intent in these two sayings, and in the story of the dry bones he shows it.
Divine initiative and human action are interwoven throughout this passage. It is God who leads Ezekiel to the valley and directs his attention and speech. It is the prophet who sees, and describes, the utterly dry bones, and responds by doing as he is asked, ordering the desiccated bones to hear God’s word. He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.” As he does so, with no help from the bones themselves (what could the dead do?), God brings them together.
God adds sinews, tendons to attach them; flesh, muscles to make them strong, and skin to give them form. Yet still they lie lifeless. It is only when God tells the prophet to speak to the ruah -- the spirit, or breath of Life/God -- and Ezekiel does so, that the spirit breath blows from the four winds… and then the bodies live and stand. Just as God commanded through Ezekiel! Divine agency and human response appear interwoven, if not inextricable. Initiative comes from God, who makes sure the prophet participates. Ezekiel calls to the spirit; the spirit enters the people; they come to life, a vast multitude.
So that God is Glorified, Jesus came to a dead man … Jesus’ friend. And so that the people could see and witness what Jesus says is the Truth and this Truth is more powerful than death and especially the fear of death itself, when Jesus exclaims, “‘Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus, with healed bone and muscle, like the bones that Ezekiel saw that were lifeless as sticks, where covered in flesh, able to stand, and most of all, return to Jesus, his Redeemer and God.
When we are baptized, we are baptized in the death of Christ; SO THAT, we can be baptized into the Resurrection of Christ. When we confess our sins, and then hear we are forgiven, Jesus calls out to each one of us, “Calvary by the Sea, Come Out!!!” Come out and live, love, dance, pray, study scripture, proclaim the Good News, visit the poor, the prisoner, and know that you are a Child of God, never more to be forsaken and lost, always belonging and with a name! Amen.
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