Lesson 12: Friends

Tree on a Gloomy NightYou can read John 11: 1-44 as the report of Jesus restoring life to his friend, Lazarus. If you do, you must answer some disturbing questions. What kind of friend delays rushing to heal in order to show off his power? Why do the sisters engage in strange confessions about raising the dead at the Last Days? And perhaps the most telling: So what? So he restored his friend 2000 years ago; why doesn’t he restore life to my dead friends now?

Or you can read the passage as John’s answer to the early Church’s questions about why the Risen Jesus does not return to relieve the sufferings of this world. In the first century, the question would be, “Why is the Second Coming delayed when our brothers are being killed?” In the 21st, “Why does God allow all the sin and death in our world?”

Marland and Suzanne observe you can read such passages in the first manner and find them proclaiming a truth about God; but I suggest it is far more relevant to read them in the second and discover that they also provide guidance for us now.

When you do, John makes some important points. First, Jesus’ delay does not mean he is indifferent about our suffering. What seems to be weeping for the only guy labeled his friend in the Gospels becomes his deep compassion for all of us. Remember at the Last Supper, Jesus says we are all his friends: ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer (John 15: 12-15).” So Jesus weeps for our sufferings as well.

Second, the delay in his return or his failure to overcome our world’s present suffering is not a sign of his powerlessness. He agrees with the sisters’ confessions that he will raise the dead in the Last Days. Much as Paul does in Romans 8, John suggests we regard the present sufferings as birth pangs. “When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you (John 16:20-24).”

Finally, and perhaps most important, John is claiming Jesus not only shares our sufferings, but gives us life in the midst of them. When the central message of the passage proclaims, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die,” it speaks of Jesus’ already raising us from all forms of death to real life. Salvation is “coming and now is.”

During this Holy Week, John reminds us Jesus is a true friend who in love gives his life for us. When we allow him to raise us to genuine life now in the midst of this world, we find ourselves working with him to show the Way in a chaotic world, speak the Truth in the midst of lies, provide Bread in a time of great need, and give of ourselves for our friends.

1 Enlightened Reply

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  1. Lupe Andrade says:

    I have been much involved in working to bring our family property back to life and usefulness… but that does not mean I have abandoned you or these marvelous discussions. Here are a few thoughts on the Lazarus story and on what you present in the lesson.

    If you believe in Christ, and the gospels, then you must believe that everything he did in his short lifetime was meant in a larger sense, as tesserae are parts of a mosaic that makes sense only when seen as a whole. Yes, the comments Fritz starts with seem troubling:

    “What kind of friend delays rushing to heal in order to show off his power? Why do the sisters engage in strange confessions about raising the dead at the Last Days? And perhaps the most telling: So what? So he restored his friend 2000 years ago; why doesn’t he restore life to my dead friends now?”

    But then, so would many others of his acts and miracles: For example, why raise the Centurion’s child from the dead, and not many others who died during his lifetime? Why cure one leper and not all? Why provide luxury wine for one wedding and allow beggars to go hungry?

    Miracles, including bringing Lazarus back to life, are supernatural occurrences. They somehow “leap” over the laws of nature. The Catholic Encyclopedia says they are “…wonders performed by supernatural power as signs of some special mission or gift and explicitly ascribed to God”. Wikipedia says: “A miracle is an event not ascribable to human power or the laws of nature and consequently attributed to a supernatural, especially divine, agency”.

    Miracles are nor explainable, and they were, for Jesus (and his believers)- part of the fabric of a life that was, in itself, the ultimate lesson. Separating parts of his life and interpreting them individually, seems to me like looking at the threads and forgetting the tapestry. Each bit of Jesus’ life and each word are lessons, of course, but not necessarily in and by themselves. They are parts of a miraculous whole. One cannot, as Renan did, accept the truth of his life and not its supernatural aspects. Renan himself was never at ease there.

    Friendship is, of course, part of the lesson – which can also be read in multiple other ways- the meaning of life (given anew by the Savior); the meaning of death (not definitive, if you are with Jesus); the meaning of faith (transcending the limits of the flesh); a glimpse of eternity; a renewed awareness of divine power, and of the Christ’s nature, etc.

    I, as a contemporary being, have trouble believing in miracles, and have trouble not believing in them. Belief seems too simple. Unbelief seems too limiting. One can even pose scientific questions: how much difference is there between Lazarus coming to life, and the return to life of those who have clinically died and are subjected to resuscitation procedures? Perhaps in science, very little, but the return of Lazarus to life, as a component of the grand tapestry of Christ’s acts and lessons, has a transcendence that cannot be denied.

    With much love, Lupe

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