Notes on Lectures of the Florilegia Institute by Gil Bailie
Series: "The Gospel of John"
Tape #8; Re: John chs. 9 & 11
"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.
We can read all of the stories at more or less three levels:
The level of the events of the historical Jesus.
The way in which the evangelist has chosen to use this memory to make an
important point for his time.
The larger question of what this story says at a more universal level,
the anthropological level.
Introduction to the story of the man born blind.
The major event of the first century for Christians, besides the Christ
event, was the destruction of the Temple
John 9 -- The Story of the Man Born Blind [not yet completed]
Transition to the raising of Lazarus: Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment
Raskolnikov uses a modern form of the sacrificial delusion to justify his
murder of the old woman.
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.
Raskolnikov has Sonya read the raising of Lazarus story to him.
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.
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.
Introductory note to the story of Lazarus.
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.
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.
John 11--The raising of Lazarus (or see the alternative title suggestion
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.)
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.
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?
vv. 17-27: Jesus goes on to Bethany to find Lazarus having been dead for
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
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.'
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."
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.
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.
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.")
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.
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.'
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.
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.
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?
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.
vv. 38-44 -- Jesus raises Lazarus to life.
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
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.
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
Exploration of wailing rituals--examples of the "lamenting pack"
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 Café. 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.
Two stories about the transition between sacrificial death and ritual mourning.
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.
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."
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
Close with a Thomas Merton poem.
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?
"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.)
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.