John 11:1-45

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

This is a long and complex story, probably the longest story in the whole lectionary in terms of learning the story but it is an extraordinarily powerful story and it is not difficult to learn if you recognize the structure. The first six episodes present Jesus and the disciples talking about Lazarus' illness and his death. It is a series of enigmatic sayings about why is he staying, why is he going back, why is he not saying clearly that Lazarus had died? The questions of the disciples and the overall issue of Lazarus being ill and dying drive it.

The second section is the conversation with Martha. The location of this conversation is outside Bethany and it is introduced by Martha's statement, "Lord if you had been here,my brother would not have died." The climax of that section is Martha saying "Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world." Thus, it ends with a confession of belief.

Mary's conversation with Jesus is the third section of the story and it ends with the response of the Jews to Jesus weeping, "See how he loved him” but some of them said,'Couldn't he that opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?'" This section of the story establishes a highly sympathetic relationship with the Jews as a character in the story.

The last section is the raising of Lazarus, which ends with, "Many of the Jews believed in him." It is important to note that two of the sections end with statements of belief, first by Martha and then by many of the Jews. The structure of the story is then disciples,Martha, Mary, and the raising of Lazarus. Each of these sections has a discernible beginning and ending. Recognizing that is the first step in learning the story.

Another structure of memory that is built into the story is the verbal threads. The first section has the verbal thread of Lazarus' illness. The section begins with that theme; "a certain man was ill." The beginning of the second episode is: "this illness does not lead to death." Notice that the illness is the beginning and end of the first episode, "a certain man was ill" then ends with "he whom you love is ill." Likewise in the second episode,the beginning and ending are about the illness. In this case Jesus heard it and said, "this illness does not lead to death" and at the end, "after having heard that heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer." In the first two episodes then, the verbal thread of Lazarus being ill is the connecting thread.

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