John 11:33-44

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

This is one of the most graphically ambiguous stories in regard to Jesus' identity in the whole of the gospel tradition. Jesus here is supremely human and at the same time, in his raising of Lazarus, demonstrates the power of God. So this is a particularly rich story in relation to the characterization of Jesus and that's where I would suggest that you especially pay attention.

Now Mary begins this story. She comes to where Jesus was, sees him, and kneels at his feet and says the same thing that Martha said to him when she came and met him earlier in the story: "Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died." Whenever there's a repetition of exact words like this in the biblical narrative, it is in order to make contrasts. In this case my sense is that Martha's question has an edge of critique to it.Martha is standing and speaks with a tone of judgment or criticism. Mary's response is to kneel at Jesus' feet and to weep. Hers is more an expression of grief.

The description that follows is an inside view of Mary's grief, of the grief of the Jews who came with her, and of Jesus' grief. I don't like the translation "greatly disturbed"because disturbed in English has the connotations of being a little wacko or of being out of sync or out of control. Jesus is troubled in spirit, he is grieving in spirit. A number of other translations are possible. Probably troubled is best, but whatever conveys his deep grief and his being deeply moved—overcome with emotion beyond his control—that's what you want to convey.

The most important thing is the tone or the emotion that you convey. This is an inside view of Jesus seeing Mary weeping, seeing the Jews who came with her also weeping,and of his being deeply moved and joining them in their grief. That's the tone of his question, "Where have you laid him?" It's the tone of their reply, "Lord come and see."And it's the tone to use for "Jesus wept." Now in the NRSV, the translation reads, "began to weep" which is a very literal translation of the verb. It's not inaccurate, but and is unnecessary. The sentence is stronger if it's simply two words: "Jesus wept."

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