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Luke 16 & John 11

10.21.2010

Let’s take a look at the Lazari, shall we?*

The first issue is one of disambiguation, in Wiki-speak.  Are the stories in Luke 16 and John 11 about the same guy?  Most scholars say no, and they’ve mountains of evidence in support.  I don’t have much of a reason to doubt that consensus, but I do think it’s curious that (as they’re chronologically arranged here) Jesus tells a story about the experiences in the afterlife of a man named Lazarus right before he goes to raise his friend Lazarus from the dead.  Just how common was this name?**

One relevant question is whether Luke’s story of Lazarus and the rich man is a parable or a true episode.  Most people I know consider it a real story.  Indeed, nowhere else does Jesus assign a name to characters in a parable.  However, if a real story, there are some thorny issues of afterlife to grapple with (like mutual awareness of the saved and the damned, communication between heaven and hell, a giant Abraham at whose bosom the saved find cool mercy…).  I once led a Bible study on this passage in college where I hammered on the doctrinal takeaways from the story, taking it as true.  I immediately felt convicted and humbled and had to apologize to the guys in my study and tell them to take what I had said with a Gibraltar-sized chunk of salt.  The same proviso stands for everything I write here.

John’s Lazarus story is, I think, the more famous one and presents some cool details to unpack:

11:5 | Are we to understand that Jesus loves some people more than others?  I like the idea that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were His friends, but just like most people have expanding concentric circles of relations with more love for those nearer than those further out, this implies that Jesus loved Mary, Martha, Lazarus, John, Peter, James, etc., more than He did the random goat butcher down the street or the moneylender in the temple or … you and me.  Is this supportable?

11:16 | Thomas is awesome.  We’ll see more later in the gospel narrative, and I’m considering doing a minor character survey next year when I’m done with the current reading plan.  Suffice it to say, he’s a cynical cuss.  The disciples warn Jesus that He cannot return to Judea to tend to Lazarus because there are people there who have threatened to kill Him.  Jesus dismisses the concern, and Thomas responds with dry irony: ‘Let’s go too, so we can die with Him.’  Great.

11:21 | Here and in v. 32, Martha and Mary show that they are angry with God:  ‘If You’d been here sooner, this wouldn’t have happened!’  Notice that Jesus does not rebuke them for their anger.  Instead He is deeply moved by their grief.  This feeling is summed up in v. 35, the shortest verse in the Bible: ‘Jesus wept.’  The ESV commentary says that there are three emotions contained in the weeping: grief over the death of a friend, compassion for the pain of the women, and anger at the indignity and insult of death. 

My pastor gave a sermon on death a while back, and he argued that although the promise of eternity allows Christians to face death without fear, we are never to accept death as a good thing or a natural thing.  We were created in the image of God to live eternally.  The looming fate of death that awaits us all is a perversion of God’s will.  He said that he believes that all Christians are called to resist death and fight it like the diabolic abomination that it is, not out of fear but out of indignation.  It reminds me of Dylan Thomas:

Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight,
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

———-

*  What?  Lazaruses?  Lazarae?  I defy you to top Lazari as the plural of Lazarus.

**  It appears that it was relatively common.  Lazarus is the Greek-ification of the Hebrew name Eleazar.

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