When Jesus went to the grave of his friend Lazarus he appeared to look very much like all the rest of us. He is moved to tears. This is all very normal but then Jesus raises Lazarus back to life, at least for a few more years. Everyone was stunned.
But as always in the gospels things are not what they seem to be. One of Jesus’ titles that I like is that he is “Lord of Life” and today’s lesson shows us that Jesus is deserving of this title. In our English translation there is a problem in vs. 33, it says “when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” And in vs 38 it says again, “Then Jesus again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb.” It seems like Jesus is sad and grieved at the death of his friend. We have all been there and it seems rational and normal.
But the problem is that the translation from the Greek is not words of sadness but of anger. Here is my translation of vs 33. “When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was really angry and agitated.” But that doesn’t fit our picture of Jesus as a compassionate person. So the translators fixed the English to make Jesus appropriately compassionate when his friend died. But, anger and sadness are very different and would teach us a different lesson.
If you read the whole of chapter 11 from verse 1 then
anger at verse 33 makes more sense than does
sadness. The story begins with Jesus and
his disciples in
So Jesus delays on purpose! He healed many strangers, but when the word reaches him that one of his best friends is gravely ill, he delays a couple of days. It only makes sense if Jesus knew that this was not going to end with death. Yes Lazarus dies, but Jesus knows that death is not the end. Jesus has just announced that he is the resurrection and the life. From the beginning Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen, Lazarus was going to die. But if Jesus is the resurrection and the life we don’t have to fear death because it is as easily brushed aside by the God of life as is being asleep.
If you agree with me that Jesus knows all along what he was going to do, then it doesn’t make sense for him to be sad at the news that Lazarus has died. It makes more sense that as he looks around at Mary and all the mourners doing their wailing in the face of death that he should become angry and agitated. The lesson is that we don’t have to be afraid of death. Jesus is angry and upset that we let death consume us to that we live our lives in fear. It is his friend’s lack of trust in his Father which makes Jesus angry and troubled. It is time to go to the tomb to disrupt another funeral, to show them the God of life so that they may believe.
Jesus has come to move us out of our human culture which is based on the fear of death and he wants us to move into God’s kingdom which is based wholly and completely on God’s power of life.
Jesus came to reveal to us our humanly generated cultural foundations which enslave us and he "unbinds" us from them. Jesus came to lead us into God's culture, which is decidedly a culture based on life, since Jesus also came to reveal to us that the Living God has nothing to do with death.
On this all saints Sunday we remember all those who have gone on ahead of us to more life. They are not dead for we believe in the God of the living. In our baptism we were each transferred into God’s culture of life.
Jesus’ father is wholly and completely about life. Jesus did not stay angry at his friends, instead he forgave us and he gave his life for us. He was raised to a new life so that he could lead each of us there also. Let us follow our living Lord and also live wholly and completely for life and never toward death.
What do you think about Jesus being angry instead of sad?
If you are afraid of dying can you ever live effectively?
How does being afraid of death prevent us from ever being truly alive?