Lectio Divina: John 11:45-56
Season of Lent
1) Opening prayer
Lord God, creator and Father of all,
Your sons and daughters
are still scattered and divided: Christians and non-Christians,
various Churches and sects
claiming exclusive rights on Your Son,
and each of them full of factions.
Make us dream again the dream
which You alone can make possible:
that we can all be one
if we believe and follow Him
who died to unite all that is scattered,
Jesus Christ, our Lord for ever.
2) Gospel reading – John 11:45-56
Many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what Jesus had done began to believe in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, "What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation." But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish." He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to kill him. So Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews, but he left for the region near the desert, to a town called Ephraim, and there he remained with his disciples. Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before Passover to purify themselves. They looked for Jesus and said to one another as they were in the temple area, "What do you think? That he will not come to the feast?"
• The Gospel today gives the last part of the long episode of the resurrection of Lazarus in Bethany, in the house of Martha and Mary (Jn 11:1-56). The resurrection of Lazarus is the seventh sign (miracle) of Jesus in John’s Gospel and is also the high and decisive point of the revelation which He made of God and of himself.
• The small community of Bethany, where Jesus liked to go, mirrors the situation and the life-style of the small community of the Beloved Disciple at the end of the first century in Asia Minor. Bethany means “The House of the Poor”. They were poor communities and a poor people. Martha means "Lady” (coordinator): a woman coordinated the community. Lazarus means “God helps”. The community which was poor expected everything from God. Mary means “loved by Yahweh: she was the beloved disciple, image of the community. The episode of the resurrection of Lazarus communicated this certainty: Jesus is the source of life for the community of the poor. Jesus is the source of life for all those who believe in Him.
• John 11:45-46: The repercussion of the Seventh Sign among the people. After the resurrection of Lazarus (Jn 11:1-44), there is the description of the repercussion of this sign among the people. The people were divided; “many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what He did, believed in Him”. But some of them went to the Pharisees to tell them what Jesus had done.
The latter denounced Him. In order to be able to understand this reaction of one part of the population it is necessary to become aware that half of the population of Jerusalem depended completely on the Temple so as to be able to live and to survive. Because of this, it would have been difficult for them to support an unknown prophet from Galilee who criticized the Temple and the authority. This also explains why some even were ready to inform the authority.
• John 11:47-53: The repercussion of the Seventh Sign among those in authority. The news of the resurrection of Lazarus increased the popularity of Jesus. This is why the religious leaders convoked a council meeting, the Sanhedrin, the maximum authority, to discern getting rid of Him; because “this man works many signs. If we let Him go on this way everybody will believe in Him and the Romans will come and suppress the Holy Place and our nation”. They were afraid of the Romans, because in the past it had been shown many times, by the Roman invasions in the year 64 before Christ until the time of Jesus, that the Romans repressed with great violence any attempt of popular rebellion. (Cf. Ac 5:35-37). In the case of Jesus, the Roman reaction could have lead to the loss of everything, even of the Temple and of the privileged position of the priests. Because of this, Caiaphas, the High Priest, decides: “It is better that one man should die for the people, rather than that the whole nation should perish”. And the Evangelist comments: “He did not speak this in His own person, but as high priest of that year, he was prophesying that Jesus was to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather together into one the scattered children of God”. Thus, beginning at that moment, because the chief priests were concerned Jesus’ authority was growing, and being motivated by the fear of the Romans, they decided to kill Jesus.
• John 11:54-56: The repercussion of the seventh sign in the life of Jesus. The final result is that Jesus had to live apart. “So Jesus no longer went about openly among the Jews; He left the district and went to a region near the desert, to a city called Ephraim and stayed there with His disciples”. The Jewish Passover was drawing near. At this time of the year, the population of Jerusalem tripled because of the great number of pilgrims. The conversation was all around Jesus: "What do you think, will He come to the festival or not?” In the same way, at the time that the Gospel was written at the end of the first century, the time of the persecution of the Emperor Domitian (from 81 to 96), the Christian communities who lived in the service of others were obliged to live clandestinely.
• A key to understand the seventh sign of the resurrection of Lazarus. Lazarus was sick. His sisters Martha and Mary sent someone to call Jesus: “The one whom you love is sick!” (Jn 11:3. 5). Jesus responds to the request and explains to the disciples: “This sickness will not end in death, but it is for God’s glory so that through it the Son of God may be glorified” (Jn 11:4) In John’s Gospel, the glorification of Jesus comes through His death (Jn 12:23; 17:1). One of the causes of His condemnation to death was the resurrection of Lazarus (Jn 11:50; 12:10). Many Jews were in the house of Martha and Mary to console them because of the loss of their brother. The Jews, representatives of the Ancient Covenant, only know how to console. They do not give new life.... Jesus is the one who brings new life! Thus, on one side, the threat of death against Jesus! On the other, Jesus who overcomes death! In this context of conflict between life and death the seventh sign of the resurrection of Lazarus takes place. Martha says that she believes in the resurrection. The Pharisees and the majority of the people say that they believe in the Resurrection (Ac 23:6-10; Mk 12:18). They believed, but they did not reveal it. It was only faith in the resurrection at the end of time and not in the present resurrection in history, here and now. This ancient faith did not renew life. It is not enough to believe in the resurrection which will come at the end of time, but it is necessary to believe in the Resurrection already present here and now in the person of Jesus and in those who believe in Jesus. On these people, death no longer has any power, because Jesus “is the resurrection and the life”. Even without seeing the concrete sign of the resurrection of Lazarus, Martha confesses her faith: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God who was to come into the world” (Jn 11:27).
Jesus orders that the stone be removed. Martha reacts: "Lord, by now He will smell! This is the fourth day since He died!” (Jn 11:39). Once again Jesus presents the challenge asking to believe in the resurrection, here and now, as a sign of the glory of God: "Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” (Jn 11:40). They removed the stone. Before the open tomb and before the unbelief of the persons, Jesus addresses himself to the Father. In His prayer, first of all, He gives thanks: “Father, I thank you for hearing My prayer. I myself know that you hear me always!” (Jn 11:41-42). Jesus knows the Father and trusts Him. But now He asks for a sign because of the multitude which is around Him, so that the people can believe that He, Jesus, has been sent by the Father. Then He cried out in a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus came out (Jn 11:43-44). This is the triumph of life over death, of faith over unbelief. A farmer once commented: "It is up to us to remove the stone. And it is up to God to resurrect the community. There are people who do not know how to remove the stone, and because of this their community has no life!”
4) Personal questions
• What does it mean for me to believe in the resurrection?
• Have I ever “sacrificed” someone rather than protect them in order to preserve the status quo?
5) Concluding prayer
For You are my hope, Lord, my trust, Yahweh, since my youth.
On You I have relied since my birth,
since my mother's womb You have been my portion,
the constant theme of my praise. (Ps 71:5-6)