Bailie on John 9 and 11

Notes on Lectures of the Florilegia Institute by Gil Bailie
Series: “The Gospel of John”
Tape #8; Re: John chs. 9 & 11

  1. Introduction
    1. “Religion” vs. “faith”: The stories pf the man born blind and the raising of Lazarus are stories that the evangelist has used to talk about the difficulty of stepping out of religion and into faith, and staying there. Perhaps more accurately the first story is about the difficulty of stepping out of religion and into faith, and the second story is about the difficulty of staying there.
    2. We can read all of the stories at more or less three levels:
      1. The level of the events of the historical Jesus.
      2. The way in which the evangelist has chosen to use this memory to make an important point for his time.
      3. The larger question of what this story says at a more universal level, the anthropological level.
  2. Introduction to the story of the man born blind.
    1. The major event of the first century for Christians, besides the Christ event, was the destruction of the Temple
  3. John 9 — The Story of the Man Born Blind [not yet completed]
  4. Transition to the raising of Lazarus: Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment
    1. Raskolnikov uses a modern form of the sacrificial delusion to justify his murder of the old woman.
    2. About half-way through the book Raskolnikov meets Sonya, the prostitute, and talks about prayer. He books up a well-used copy of the New Testament, given to her by Lizeveta, the sister of the murdered woman whom Raskolnikov had had to kill, too. ‘Watch out, these two are ‘holy fools’ who may turn you into a holy fool, too.
    3. Raskolnikov has Sonya read the raising of Lazarus story to him.
      1. Note that the Lazarus story stands in the place of the cleansing of the Temple in the synoptics. John places the temple story at the beginning. He uses the Lazarus story near the end to provide the same function as the temple story in the synoptics: as the occasion of the authorities to more seriously plot his demise. Immediately after the raising of Lazarus, Caiaphas states his infamous version of the scapegoating principal.
      2. Raskolnikov has used a 19th century version of the Caiaphas principal to commit murder, and now this story of the rising of Lazarus begins to bring him to his senses. It is his cure.
  5. Introductory note to the story of Lazarus.
    1. The only other Lazarus in the NT: the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. Are they connected? Luke concludes his story: (NRS Luke 16:31) “Abraham said to the rich man, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'” The raising of Lazarus ends with a similar point in John. After Lazarus is raised by Jesus, John comments that many believed, but some did not.
    2. In any case, John is using this story to make a point other than Jesus’ ability to resuscitate a corpse. A literal reading of a resurrection, for all its power, may still blind us to something more subtle but more revelatory. It’s O.K. to move around that literal interpretation, not to debunk it, to get to something even more powerful.
  6. John 11–The raising of Lazarus (or see the alternative title suggestion below).
    1. Begin by noticing the emphasis on Martha and Mary. vv. 1-6: John anticipates the story about Mary coming up in 12:1-8, Mary anointing Jesus. Raymond Brown has an alternative reading of vv. 5-6. The NRSV has a typical rendering: “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.” Brown says that a more accurate, though admittedly puzzling, translation would be: “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, and so he delayed two days where he was when he heard that Lazarus was ill.” There is a deliberateness about Jesus’ delay, presumably having to do with the Son of God’s opportunity to be glorified through it (v. 4). (PJN’s note: Remember that being glorified in John has to do with dying on the cross. So doesn’t the opportunity for glorification have to do with giving occasion to be plotted against, not with bringing someone back from the dead? John would seem to verify this by closing the chapter with the Jewish council’s plot to kill Jesus.)
    2. vv. 7-16: The next section elaborates on this. Jesus is reminded that he was nearly stoned their last time he went. So going to raise Lazarus clearly means dying. Jesus then explicitly talks about being the light of the world. At the end of ch. 9 he has declared himself the light of the world.
    3. Bailie’s suggestion: John is using this story as a dry run for the passion story. The Johannine Jesus is saying, ‘No, we will go to that tomb, and we will meet death there, and I will show you how to meet it. So, when you have to meet it, at the cross, at my death, you will know how to meet it, in the light of the resurrection, which you haven’t even experienced yet. So that when you have to meet my death you can meet it in light of the resurrection.’ Structurally, isn’t this the way John is using this story, placing it as the last sign before the Passion story?
    4. vv. 17-27: Jesus goes on to Bethany to find Lazarus having been dead for four days.
      1. Others had come to console Martha and Mary. Martha comes out to meet Jesus on the road, with Jesus before her and the tomb of her dead brother behind her. Can Jesus break the spell that death has on her? She repeats a creedal form, but she is still stuck in her brother’s death. She believes in the resurrection, but she doesn’t yet experience it. She’s not living in the light of it. Jesus responds, “I am the resurrection.” He doesn’t say there won’t be any more death. It’s more complicated and nuanced than that. There’s dying and living; but it’s not what it looks like. Schillebeeckz says that ‘it is existentially impossible to despair at death in the presence of Jesus.’ So Martha has a choice: over there is the tomb of your brother, and here is Jesus; which one has the greatest power? Which one is the truth of this situation? Jesus asks her if she believes it. In John that means ‘do you experience the resurrection? As long as it’s just an idea, just a creed, it won’t matter. You’re not living in the light of it.’ And she says, yes.
      2. Notice that he doesn’t start talking about the soul being immortal. He talks in terms of resurrection. ‘If you experience me, you will find that death does not have a grip on you the same way it did before, just the same way that blindness no longer grips that man born blind.’
      3. Notice the focus on Martha. Jesus is not talking about Lazarus’ state of belief when he died. He’s not asking her if her brother believed in him before he died. Lazarus is hardly mentioned in this story. He’s basically a straw man in this story. Everything depends on Jesus’ relationship to Mary and Martha. Bailie would change the name of the story to “The Story of Coaxing Martha and Mary into the Light of the Resurrection.”
    5. vv. 28-37: Martha comes back to Mary to tell her secretly that the Lord wants to meet with her. The Jews who are consoling her jump up to follow, assuming that she is going to mourn at the tomb.
      1. We’ve been dealt a disservice by having the word for what the mourners are doing translated simply as “weeping.” klaio has to do with ritual wailing. It doesn’t necessarily mean that one weeps because of sadness, but to wail because of the ritual requirement. You engaged in this wailing even if you didn’t like the person who died. No doubt, there is also a sense of personal loss here, but we misinterpret this when we read it as weeping at the tomb. This is a cult event. The mourners thought that she was going to the tomb to continue the wailing ritual.
      2. And here’s what happens: (NRSV John 11:33) “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” (Don’t forget to read “weeping” as “wailing.”)
      3. And the last part should read: “Jesus shuddered with indignation.” He grew angry. Vine’s morphology says of enebrimesato: “it is an intensive form of the verb which primarily signifies to snort with anger.” Most translations give us that Jesus was “troubled.” No, he was angry.
      4. Why is the Johannine Jesus angry? Because he has come to Bethany to have the preliminary showdown with death, and death is winning. They are going through the ritual wailing. He is angry about the grip that death has on these people, even though he is standing right there. In the synoptics, Jesus says, ‘Let the dead bury the dead.’ At the end of this gospel, Mary comes to the tomb, and Jesus says to her, ‘Why are you wailing? Don’t you see? Don’t do that! Not because it’s unnecessary, but because it’s dangerous.’
      5. What Bailie wants to show is precisely this: that such ritual wailing is dangerous. The effect of such wailing is to exploit a natural death for its cathartic potential. That is to say: to extract from a natural death the kind of catharsis that would have ordinarily come from a sacrificial death. This is a very common feature of human anthropology. And the way to understand Jesus’ indignation is to see that. But this is getting ahead of the story.
      6. v. 34: in response to Jesus’ question about where Lazarus has been laid, the mourners answer is reminiscent of the beginning of the gospel, where Jesus is asked where he abides and responds, “Come and see.” Jesus abides in life and he invites them to come and see [see John 1:39]. Now, these people are inviting him back into the world of death. But he goes there and explodes it.
      7. NRS John 11:35: “Jesus began to weep.” edakrysen is an altogether different verb than klaio. It is a verb for shedding tears quietly. Is it just because he loved Lazarus, as the onlookers assume? Or is it also because he has seen these people whom he loves be swallowed up by the cult of death?
      8. Two verses later his anger flares up again, and he goes to the tomb. Let’s go to that tomb and see if you can live in the light of the resurrection at that spot. It’s one thing to live in the light of the resurrection sitting on a hillside when the sun’s coming up. But let’s go to that place, at the tomb, and see.
    6. vv. 38-44 — Jesus raises Lazarus to life.
      1. Jesus tells them to take away the stone, despite warnings about the stench. Jesus tells them that it isn’t stench they will experience, but the glory of God.
      2. He prays, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 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.” He prays conscious of trying to have an influence on these people. This people is what Elias Canetti calls in his book Crowds and Power the “lamenting pack.” Jesus is praying that they be awakened from this spell that they are under.
      3. NRS John 11:43: When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 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.” Feel this passage at the deepest level that you can feel it. Where is it most powerful? Is it a story about a corpse being resuscitated, that they must go and take the linen wrappings off of him? Perhaps. But it can also be a story about all of us. Jesus is saying these words to them. His prayer was for them, those people who are caught up in the ritual wailing, the wailing that gave rise to his indignation. He says to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” This is what the empty tomb story is all about! He disappears at the last moment. They show up spring loaded to do the whole deal, and he’s gone. They are ready to re-generate another religion. Jesus sees his own death and realizes, ‘By God! Do you know what these people are going to do? They’re going to do at my death what they’re doing at Lazarus’ death, and the result is just going to be another religion.’
  7. Exploration of wailing rituals–examples of the “lamenting pack”
    1. Robert Kaplan has written a book called Balkan Ghosts (see pp. 229-30 in Bailie’s book Violence Unveiled for the following quote). First a quote from a review of it in the Washington Post Book Reviews, by Tina Rosenberg: ‘June 28, 1987, an ambitious Serbian communist leader came to a field in Kosovo called Kosovo Polje, the Field of the Black Birds, on the anniversary of a defeat there of a Serbian commander: “They’ll never do this to you again,” he pleaded to the crowd, “Never again will anyone defeat you.” That was the moment when the Serbian revolt against the Yugoslav federation began. The defeat commemorated on that field took place in 1389. A year later the coffin of the defeated Serb commander began a year long pilgrimage through every village in Serbia, followed by multitudes of sobbing mourners dressed in black in each town. For many in Serbia, the year 1989 marked not the fall of communism, but the 600th anniversary of the defeat of Knez Lazar at Kosovo Polje.’ The point: obviously, these people are not sobbing and mourning because of some personal loss. And neither are these people in the story of Lazarus. There was no doubt some genuine sadness in the latter story. Jesus himself shed a tear. But the ritual wailing has nothing to do with that. Ritual mourning takes a natural death and derives from it as much sacrificial catharsis as is possible. The ritual mourners were often hired because they had a talent and a gift for increasing the possibility of catharsis. Kaplan comments that the Serbian people, when they were overwhelmed by the Ottoman Empire, “filled their hearts with vengeful sadness.” The year-long funeral procession in Serbia is the human form of resurrection, Nietzsche’s “eternal return.” And that’s why the Johannine Jesus was angry. He saw those whom he had touched fall back under the spell of sacrificial life, a spell that was being re-invoked in the aftermath of a perfectly natural death. One begins to see the 20th century as a very interesting, tangled skein of all these things. In 1914 Duke Ferdinand was killed by a Serbian nationalist on the same anniversary of the defeat. And his assassin was reputed to have made a point of reading Nietzsche at Belgrade CafĆ©. Bottom line: Regardless of how heartfelt it is, anthropologically ritual mourning has the effect of giving a natural, accidental, or incidental death sacrificial efficacy. “The real power of death,” writes Girard, “is sacrifice. Mourning itself is derived from sacrifice. Like everything cultural, it is the child of sacrifice.” To live in the light of the resurrection means not that we feel O.K. about death. It means that we change the world.
    2. Two stories about the transition between sacrificial death and ritual mourning.
      1. Numbers 20:22-29. The setting is that of the people of Israel still in seek of unity. Aaron disobeyed at Meribah and now must die: “Moses stripped Aaron of his vestments, and put them on his son Eleazar; and Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain.” What was that? Aaron died on cue? Was it a sacrificial death? A natural death? A little of both? One doesn’t know. “When all the congregation saw that Aaron had died, all the house of Israel mourned for Aaron thirty days.” That ritual mourning brought the people together.
      2. Canetti quoting Spencer and Gillen, who saw this thing happen: story of the death of a king among native peoples. They work to coincide their sacrificial frenzy with the actual moment of death. [Great quote.] “Ferocity of lament.”
    3. The alternative to this is not stoicism. Stoicism is just another form of it. So it’s not as though, ‘Oh, this is emotionality, and we have to not be emotional.’ Passage from Moby Dick, when Ishmael goes into the whaleman’s chapel, the puritanical version of wailing. “Death has conquered them… refusing resurrection…” The stoic version is just as much a capitulation to death.
  8. Close with a Thomas Merton poem.
    1. How to live in the light of the resurrection. It involves more than simply having peace about one’s own death or the death of others. It is a radical form of coming alive. And it is not something that treats death as insignificant. Death is a great sadness; and if we didn’t experience its sadness, then it would not have its spiritual effect for us. “I’ve often thought of death as God’s most brilliant invention. None of us would have ever thought of it. We would have thought of all kinds of gizmos to get creatures to come to their senses. We would never have thought of death. But the problem is the power of death, the seductive power of death. And this is, I think, what made Jesus angry. He saw it as the occasion for the re-configuration of the cultic religion.” How to live in the light of the resurrection?
    2. “To My Brother Reported Missing in Action 1943” (Bailie’s father was killed in action in 1944.) Portion: “When all the men of war are shot and flags have fallen into dust, your cross and mine shall tell men still: Christ died on each for both of us.” (Like Paul saying that Christ lives in him, or Jesus that I and the Father are one.)
    3. So Jesus goes up to the tomb, calls Lazarus out, and says to those involved in the ritual wailing, “Untie him and let him go.” Don’t fall into that cultic thing; live in the light of the resurrection.
Print Friendly