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Lent reflection Cover Image

The raising of Lazarus (i), John 11:1-16

25th Mar 2019

1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 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.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 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.” (NRSV)

Walking in the Light

“Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 

Thomas is one of my New Testament heroes – we even named our son after him!  Far from the popular caricature of ‘Doubting Thomas’, he seemed to me to be a man of sincere faith grounded in the realities of the here and now.  His matter of fact statement at the end of our passage for today is not, I believe, a case of Eeyore fatalism, but comes from the beginnings of a realisation of what following Jesus really entails.  As George Beasley-Murray writes, “The summons of Thomas … is addressed to every reader of the Gospel.” (1)

Given Jesus’ somewhat surprising delay in attending to the needs of Lazarus, what was it that convinced Thomas of this necessary sacrificial step?  In his familiar enigmatic style, Jesus had responded to the protestations of the disciples by asking, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” (vv9-10, NRSV).  Of course, Jesus knew the Scriptures well, and would have been familiar with the prophet Jeremiah’s instruction to exile-threatened Israel to give glory to God before judgement overtakes them and they find themselves stumbling around in the darkness (Jeremiah 13:16).  Jesus was about to demonstrate again that only by living in obedience to God’s will can we remain in the ‘daylight’ granted by God.  Indeed, that was always Jesus’ driving force in his life and ministry (c/f John 5:30).

The disciples were naturally terrified about the prospect of returning to Judea, but Jesus’ response was simply ‘this is what must be done in order to walk in God’s daylight’.  In other words, ‘this is God’s will’.  We each have our allotted time of life, our ‘day of twelve hours’ if you like.  For some it will be a longer day and for others it will be a shorter day, but what matters is that we live that ‘day’ in the light of God by following Christ and giving glory to the Lord.  That is ultimately what gives our lives purpose and meaning.

Jesus walked in God’s light right into the heart of Judea, a journey that would cut his earthly life short.  And yet in doing so he knew that it was God’s will he was fulfilling and, as a result of that obedience, he has opened the way for countless others to walk in the light.  Maybe Thomas had glimpsed this reality, the costly and necessary call of discipleship, in a way that the others had yet to realise.

1 Beasley-Murray, George R, John: Word Biblical Commentary volume 36, 1987 (Word Publishing)

The Venerable Malcolm Chamberlain, St John's Trustee