Lectio notes: John 11:17-44


In today's section of the Gospel (New Advent page), Jesus arrives to the family in mourning, and deals with his interactions with Martha and Mary.  Here we come across one of the most confronting verses in the Bible, and the shortest verse in the King James Version: Jesus wept.

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17 Venit itaque Jesus: et invenit eum quatuor dies jam in monumento habentem. 18 (Erat autem Bethania juxta Jerosolymam quasi stadiis quindecim.) 19 Multi autem ex Judæis venerant ad Martham et Mariam, ut consolarentur eas de fratre suo. 20 Martha ergo ut audivit quia Jesus venit, occurrit illi: Maria autem domi sedebat. 21 Dixit ergo Martha ad Jesum: Domine, si fuisses hic, frater meus non fuisset mortuus: 22 sed et nunc scio quia quæcumque poposceris a Deo, dabit tibi Deus. 23 Dicit illi Jesus: Resurget frater tuus. 24 Dicit ei Martha: Scio quia resurget in resurrectione in novissimo die. 25 Dixit ei Jesus: Ego sum resurrectio et vita: qui credit in me, etiam si mortuus fuerit, vivet: 26 et omnis qui vivit et credit in me, non morietur in æternum. Credis hoc? 27 Ait illi: Utique Domine, ego credidi quia tu es Christus, Filius Dei vivi, qui in hunc mundum venisti. 28 Et cum hæc dixisset, abiit, et vocavit Mariam sororem suam silentio, dicens: Magister adest, et vocat te. 29 Illa ut audivit, surgit cito, et venit ad eum; 30 nondum enim venerat Jesus in castellum: sed erat adhuc in illo loco, ubi occurrerat ei Martha. 31 Judæi ergo, qui erant cum ea in domo, et consolabantur eam, cum vidissent Mariam quia cito surrexit, et exiit, secuti sunt eam dicentes: Quia vadit ad monumentum, ut ploret ibi.32 Maria ergo, cum venisset ubi erat Jesus, videns eum, cecidit ad pedes ejus, et dicit ei: Domine, si fuisses hic, non esset mortuus frater meus. 33 Jesus ergo, ut vidit eam plorantem, et Judæos, qui venerant cum ea, plorantes, infremuit spiritu, et turbavit seipsum,34 et dixit: Ubi posuistis eum? Dicunt ei: Domine, veni, et vide. 35 Et lacrimatus est Jesus. 36 Dixerunt ergo Judæi: Ecce quomodo amabat eum. 37 Quidam autem ex ipsis dixerunt: Non poterat hic, qui aperuit oculos cæci nati, facere ut hic non moreretur? 38 Jesus ergo rursum fremens in semetipso, venit ad monumentum. Erat autem spelunca, et lapis superpositus erat ei. 39 Ait Jesus: Tollite lapidem. Dicit ei Martha, soror ejus qui mortuus fuerat: Domine, jam fœtet, quatriduanus est enim. 40 Dicit ei Jesus: Nonne dixi tibi quoniam si credideris, videbis gloriam Dei? 41 Tulerunt ergo lapidem: Jesus autem, elevatis sursum oculis, dixit: Pater, gratias ago tibi quoniam audisti me. 42 Ego autem sciebam quia semper me audis, sed propter populum qui circumstat, dixi: ut credant quia tu me misisti. 43 Hæc cum dixisset, voce magna clamavit: Lazare, veni foras. 44 Et statim prodiit qui fuerat mortuus, ligatus pedes, et manus institis, et facies illius sudario erat ligata. Dixit eis Jesus: Solvite eum et sinite abire.

And the English:

[17] Jesus therefore came, and found that he had been four days already in the grave. [18] (Now Bethania was near Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off.) [19] And many of the Jews were come to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. [20] Martha therefore, as soon as she heard that Jesus had come, went to meet him: but Mary sat at home.[21] Martha therefore said to Jesus: Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. [22] But now also I know that whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. [23] Jesus saith to her: Thy brother shall rise again. [24] Martha saith to him: I know that he shall rise again, in the resurrection at the last day. [25] Jesus said to her: I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, although he be dead, shall live: [26] And every one that liveth, and believeth in me, shall not die for ever. Believest thou this? [27] She saith to him: Yea, Lord, I have believed that thou art Christ the Son of the living God, who art come into this world.[28] And when she had said these things, she went, and called her sister Mary secretly, saying: The master is come, and calleth for thee. [29] She, as soon as she heard this, riseth quickly, and cometh to him. [30] For Jesus was not yet come into the town: but he was still in that place where Martha had met him.[31] The Jews therefore, who were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary that she rose up speedily and went out, followed her, saying: She goeth to the grave to weep there. [32] When Mary therefore was come where Jesus was, seeing him, she fell down at his feet, and saith to him: Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. [33] Jesus, therefore, when he saw her weeping, and the Jews that were come with her, weeping, groaned in the spirit, and troubled himself. And said: Where have you laid him? They say to him: Lord, come and see. [35] And Jesus wept.[36] The Jews therefore said: Behold how he loved him. [37] But some of them said: Could not he that opened the eyes of the man born blind, have caused that this man should not die? [38] Jesus therefore again groaning in himself, cometh to the sepulchre. Now it was a cave; and a stone was laid over it. [39] Jesus saith: Take away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith to him: Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he is now of four days. [40] Jesus saith to her: Did not I say to thee, that if thou believe, thou shalt see the glory of God? [41] They took therefore the stone away. And Jesus lifting up his eyes said: Father, I give thee thanks that thou hast heard me. [42] And I knew that thou hearest me always; but because of the people who stand about have I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. [43] When he had said these things, he cried with a loud voice: Lazarus, come forth. [44] And presently he that had been dead came forth, bound feet and hands with winding bands; and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus said to them: Loose him, and let him go.

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The Catena Aurea includes some commentaries on Jesus' dialogue with Martha leading her to a fuller understanding of who he was:

BEDE. Our Lord had not yet entered the town, when Martha met Him: Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was t coming, went and met Him: but Mary sat still in the house.

CHRYS. Martha does not take her sister with her, because she wants to speak with Christ alone, and tell Him what has happened. When her hopes had been raised by Him, then she went her way, and called Mary.

THEOPHYL. At first she does not tell her sister, for fear, if she came, the Jews, present might accompany her. And she did not wish them to know of our Lord's coming.

Then says Martha to Jesus, Lord, if You had been here, my brother had not died.

CHRYS. She believed in Christ, but she believed not as she ought. She did not speak as if He were God: If You had been here, my brother had not died.

THEOPHYL. She did not know that He could have restored her brother as well absent as present.

CHRYS. Nor did she know that He wrought His miracles by His own independent power: But I know that even now, whatsoever You will ask of God, God will give it to you. She only thinks Him some very gifted man.

AUG. She does not say to Him, Bring my brother to life again; for how could she know that it would be good for him to come to life again; she says, I know that You can do so, if You will but what You will do is for your judgment, not for my presumption to determine

CHRYS. But our Lord taught her the truths which she did not know: Jesus says to her, Your brother shall rise again. Observe, He does not say, I will ask God, that he may rise again, nor on the other hand does He say, I want no help, I do all things of Myself, a declaration which would have been too much for the woman; but something between the two, He shall rise again.

AUG. Shall rise again, is ambiguous: for He does not say, now. And therefore it follows: Martha says to Him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day; of that resurrection I am certain; of this I am doubtful.

CHRYS. She had often heard Christ speak of the resurrection. Jesus now declares His power more plainly: Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. He needed therefore none to help Him; for if He did, how could He be the resurrection. And if He is the life, He is not confined by place, but is everywhere, and can heal every where.

ALCUIN. I am the resurrection, because I am the life; as through Me he will rise at the general resurrection, through Me he may rise now.

CHRYS. To Martha's, Whatsoever You shall ask, He replies, He that believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: showing her that He is the Giver of all good, and that we must ask of Him. Thus He leads her to the knowledge of high truths; and whereas she had been inquiring only about the resurrection of Lazarus, tells her of a resurrection in which both she and all present would share.

AUG. He that believes in Me, though he were dead: i.e. though his flesh die, his soul shall live till the flesh rise again, never to die more. For faith is the life of the soul.

 And whomsoever lives, in the flesh, and believes in Me, though he die for a time in the flesh, shall not die eternally.

ALCUIN. Because He has attained to the life of the Spirit, and to an immortal resurrection. Our Lord, from Whom nothing was hid, knew that she believed, but sought from her a confession to salvation: Do you believe this? She says to Him, Yea, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ the Son of God, which should come into the world.

CHRYS. She seems not to have understood His words; i.e. she saw that He meant something great, but did not see what that was. She is asked one thing, and answers another.

AUG When I believed that You were the Son of God, I believed that you were the resurrection, that You were life, and that he that believes in you, though he were dead, shall live.

Mary, by contrast, already has a somewhat deeper understanding:

AUG... Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet.

CHRYS. She is more fervent than her sister. Forgetful of the crowd around her, and of the Jews, some of whom were enemies to Christ, she threw herself at her Master's feet. In His presence all earthly things were nothing to her; she thought of nothing but giving Him honor.

THEOPHYL. But her faith seems as yet imperfect: Lord, if You had been here, my brother had not died.

ALCUIN. As if to say, Lord, while You were with us, no disease, no sickness dared to show itself, amongst those with whom the Life deigned to take up His abode.

AUG. O faithless assembly! While You are yet in the world, Lazarus your friend dies! If the friend cries, what will the enemy suppose? Is it a small thing that they will not serve You upon earth? Lo, hell has taken your beloved.

BEDE. Mary did not say so much as Martha, she could not bring out what she wanted for weeping, as is usual with persons overwhelmed with sorrow.

Christ had delayed effecting the miracle in order to ensure it could not be disputed.  But he was not unmoved by the sorrow of the family that this caused:

CHRYS. Christ did not answer Mary, as He had her; sister, on account of the people present. In condescension to them He humbled Himself, and let His human nature be seen, in order to gain them as witnesses to the miracle: When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, He groaned in His spirit, and was troubled.

AUG. For who but Himself could trouble Him? Christ was troubled, because it pleased Him to be troubled; He hungered, because it pleased Him to hunger. It was in His own power to be affected in this or that way or not. The Word took up soul and flesh, and whole man, and fitted it to Himself in unity of person. And thus according to the nod and will of that higher nature in Him, in which the sovereign power resides, He becomes weak and troubled.

THEOPHYL. To prove His human nature He sometimes gives it free vent, while at other times He commands, and restrains it by, the power of the Holy Ghost. Our Lord allows His nature to be affected in these ways both to prove that He is very Man, not Man in appearance only; and also to teach us by His own example the due measures of joy and grief. For the absence altogether of sympathy and sorrow is brutal, the excess of them is womanly...

ALCUIN. Because He was the fountain of pity. He wept in His human nature for him whom He was able to raise again by His divine.

AUG. Wherefore did Christ weep, but to teach men to weep?

BEDE. It is customary to mourn over the death of friends; and thus the Jews explained our Lord's weeping: Then said the Jews, Behold how He loved him.

CHRYS...Jesus therefore again groaning in Himself, comes to the grave. That He wept, and He groaned, are mentioned to show us the reality of His human nature. John who enters into higher statements as to His nature than any of the other Evangelists, also descends lower than any in describing His bodily affections.


Calling forth Lazarus prefigures our own:

AUG. Christ went to the grave in which Lazarus slept, as if He were not dead, but alive and able to hear, for He forthwith called him out of his grave. And when He had thus spoken, He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. He calls him by name, that He may not bring out all the dead.

CHRYS. He does not say, Arise, but, Come forth, speaking to the dead as if he were alive. For which reason also He does not say, Come forth in My Father's name, or, Father, raise him, but throwing off the whole appearance of one praying, proceeds to show His power by acts. This is His general way. His words show humility, His acts power.

THEOPHYL. The voice which roused Lazarus, is the symbol of that trumpet which will sound at the general resurrection. (He spoke loud, to contradict the Gentile fable, that the soul remained in the tomb. The soul of Lazarus is called to as if it were absent, and a loud voice were necessary to summon it.)

And as the general resurrection is to take place in the twinkling of an eye, so did this single one: And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was as bound about with a napkin. Now is accomplished what was said above, The hour is coming, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.

ORIGEN. His cry and loud voice it was which awoke him, as Christ had said, I go to awake him. The resurrection of Lazarus is the work of the Father also, in that He heard the prayer of the Son. It is the joint work of Father and Son, one praying, the other hearing; for as the Father raises up the dead and quickens them, even so the Son quickens whom He will.

AUG. Although according to the Gospel history, we hold that Lazarus was really raised to life, yet I doubt not that his resurrection is an allegory as well. We do not, because we allegorize facts, lose our belief in them as facts.

AUG. Everyone that sins, dies; but God, of His great mercy, raises the soul to life again, and does not suffer it to die eternally. The three miraculous resurrections in the Gospels, understand to testify, the resurrection of the soul.

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