There’s a lot of love in this story about death and life. In much of John’s Gospel, Jesus can speak in a way that’s rather aloof, as if he’s not at all emotionally attached to this world. But in this story, Lazarus is referred to as “the one whom [Jesus] love[s]” and when Jesus meets the grieving family, Jesus is “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.”
Jesus no longer sounds like an indifferent professor ruled by cold logic. Jesus weeps, or as this translation renders the phrase: “Jesus began to weep.” We sometimes make jokes about how “Jesus weeps” is the shortest verse in the Bible, but it might also be among the most profound.
Why would Jesus weep? If God already has everything in the universe figured out, why would God bother to have feelings? Could it be that life really does have meaning, and death really is a kind of permanent separation that brings on feelings of loss? Could it be that God truly cares about humanity and the whole created universe?
If Jesus can be moved to tears because of love for a friend, then perhaps this whole salvation thing isn’t just a simple equation to be worked out. Perhaps there really is something to relationship.
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, wrote a book called Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, which refers to the twelve steps supporting people in recovery for substance addictions, developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. Rohr gets at the heart of the challenge of living deeply in this life. He writes,
“When religion does not give people an inner life or a real prayer life, it is missing its primary vocation. Let me sum up how Jesus and the twelve steps of AA are saying the same thing but with different vocabulary: we suffer to get well. We surrender to win. We die to live. We give it away to keep it. This counter-intuitive wisdom will forever be resisted as true, it’ll be denied and avoided until it is forced upon us by some reality over which we are powerless. And if we are honest, we are all powerless to the presence of full reality.”
There’s no way into abundant life that doesn’t lead more deeply into life. However Jesus imagined life to be, this story is where we see that he really embraces life, even to the point of weeping for his friend.
Could that love for Lazarus be part of what brought Lazarus back to life? And this story about Lazarus is an extreme example, but isn’t it a familiar refrain, that love is what brings people back to life? After an illness, or suffering with an addiction, or working through a heartbreak, or experiencing some kind of failure—isn’t love part of the healing that brings life?
Has anyone ever saved your life? Is there a person you can point to who has saved you? And even if you can identify one person who was present to you at some crucial moment, it was probably a community around you who helped bring you back to life.
After Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb, he gives instructions to the rest of the people gathered: unbind him, and let him go. Lazarus cannot unbind himself in this case, so it becomes the work of the community to surround him, to take away the bandages and help him breathe again. And maybe, like Martha said, maybe it was kinda stinky. I hope they were gracious and had a sense of humor about it—life is messy sometimes, and new life, I can imagine, is even messier.
What are we willing to strip away, to unbind people, so that new life can happen? And are we willing to admit that attention to the lives of others is what uplifts all of life, even our own?
There’s a quote you may have heard: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” The quote is attributed to an aboriginal activist named Lilla Watson, but she has said she didn’t create that quote alone but wrote that quote along with several other aboriginal women leaders in the context of community.
First of all, can you imagine a humility that doesn’t even allow for full credit for a quote but desires to share the credit with others? And second of all, can you imagine working together so closely with other people that you don’t feel like you even need all the credit, but are happy to share? Perhaps because you see that your own liberation is connected with others.
So many people around us are left for dead, dismissed as though their lives do not matter. Refugees are turned away at the border or who risk their lives to cross the border. Trans kids and their parents are wondering how their lives will be affected by legislation and executive orders. People without homes see even their encampments destroyed. Neighborhoods of people live in fear of crime and gun violence.
Can these bones live? Can hope sustain us to fight another day? Can we see where our collective liberation is united together? Can we trust the God who calls us, even out of death?
May God ignite our imaginations and open our vision to perceive the healing of the world, and may God’s answer to us be a resounding yes.
 This idea is explored by Jennifer Garcia Bashaw in her article on the Working Preacher website: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-in-lent/commentary-on-john-111-45-7  Heard in the “Unlocking Us” podcast with Brene Brown interviewing Richard Rohr, December 14, 2022.