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Bible Commentaries
John 11

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-56

XI 1-44 Lazarus called from the Tomb —This is the supreme miracle of the public life, the one which manifests ’the glory of God’ most signally on account of its circumstances; it is also most decisive in its results, for it led the Sanhedrin to decree Jesus’s death. It invites meditation rather than annotations. The narrative divides itself thus: (a) the Saviour’s journey to Bethany, 1-16; (b) the meeting with Martha and Mary, 17-32; (c) the miracle, 33-44; (d) the reactions, 45-53; (e) the retreat of Jesus to Ephrem under virtual sentence of death, 54-56.

1-16 Bethany (the name being variously interpreted by scientific and popular etymologists as House of poverty, of affliction, of Ananias, of obedience) was situated on the eastern slope of the southern shoulder of Olivet, less than 2 miles (3,000 yards) ESE. from Jerusalem. The village where Martha and Mary lived is mentioned without name in Luke 10:38, but is here named by Jn and described as the village of Mary and Martha her sister.

2. Mary is named as the anointer with reference probably to Luke 7:37 rather than to John 12:3. Although the matter is likely to remain a disputed question, there is a sufficiency of indications in the Gospels to give reasonable assurance to those who, with St Gregory the Great and the Latin Liturgy identify Mary of Bethany with the sinner of Luke 7:37 and Mary Magdalene; cf. §§ 739b, 753g. The sickness of Lazarus (Grecized from Eliezer) is set at the head of the narrative. His sisters, knowing the danger to the life of Jesus in Judaea decided to inform him only at the last moment. Lazarus died while the messenger was on the way to Transjordania, i.e. to some place not far from that other Bethany, 1:28.

3. In the circumstances no request is conveyed but a simple intimation: ’Behold, he whom thou lovest is sick’. Aug. says beautifully: ’It is enough that thou know; for thou dost not love and leave it at that’.

4. In the ordinances of God’s providence the sickness was not unto death but, through the raising of Lazarus, for the glory of God, who thereby glorifies his Son, the worker of the miracle. Note especially that Christ foretells this miracle no less than four times, 4, 15, 41, 42.

6. Jesus, therefore, though he loved the family at Bethany, waited two days.

7. His subsequent ’Let us go into Judaea. again’ alarmed the disciples.

9-10. With the little parable of the day and the night Jesus tells them that nothing can happen till the evening of the Passion comes.

11. Then he announces the sleep of Lazarus his friend which the Evangelist renders by a Gk verb from which we get our word ’cemetery’, to signify the ’dormitory’ of the dead.

12-14. As the disciples take him to mean ordinary sleep (a good sign in a sick man) he then says plainly that Lazarus is dead.

15-16. Being absent he did not intervene to cure him—a subject of joy, because of the salutary effect which his greater intervention will have on the faith of his disciples. When Jesus repeats: ’Let us go’, Thomas speaks a word of decision—the decision of a generous pessimist.

17-32. The death and burial of Lazarus took place probably within a few hours of the departure of the messenger. So four days had elapsed when Jesus came to Bethany.

19. The mourners (called Jews without the usual hostile meaning) were many, on account of the nearness of Jerusalem, and mourning was maintained with gradation of rigour for 3, 7, and 30 days—compare our Catholic 3rd, 7th and 30th day. Mary was the more celebrated of the sisters, 11: 1, but Martha was the mistress of the house.

20. Hence she went to meet Jesus. The dialogue is magnificent. Note the feminine delicacy and vaguely conceived hope of Martha’s first word.

23-24. In answer to our Lord’s assurance: Your brother shall rise again she makes profession of her faith in the final resurrection, a religious tenet of Judaism that had been growing in clearness since the Maccabean persecutions (cf.2 Mac 12:43 f.). No doubt she had a latent desire of something more immediately consoling.

25-26. Jesus demanded an act of faith in himself as, the resurrection and the life’, in the sense of his being their cause or giver, cf. 6:39, 40, 44, 54.

27. Martha’s response was magnificent. Though she did not think clearly of the miracle that was to be, she must have felt that the words portended something unusual.

28-32. She called Mary, who came and, with more emotion, repeated Martha’s original words.

33-44. Deeply moved by sympathy (e+?µß??µa+??Ta?) Jesus asked to be led to the tomb. 35. The sentence ’And Jesus wept’ loses some of its original force by the addition of ’and’ to Jn’s asyndetic manner, and loses something in accuracy by use of the same verb as that which denotes the weeping or crying of Mary and the Jews. The Gk word (e+?da+´????e?) means that Jesus broke into silent tears.

36-37. This sign of friendship moved some, and excited criticism in others, who asked if Jesus could not have prevented his friend’s death.

39. Again giving expression to his feelings of compassion (the verb seems to suggest that Jesus, felt angry with Death or the Prince of Death), he ordered the tomb to be opened. Martha only thought of the decaying body of her brother and had to be reminded. that she must only have faith in him who will presently show her the glory of God.

41-42. As man Jesus had already made the submission of prayer to his Father and now publicly thanks him for the answer to it already granted and just about to be realized. Jesus wished to make the raising of Lazarus a clear proof of his divinity by calling God to witness to the miracle before it had been wrought. They took the stone from what seems to have been a subterranean cavern without an antechamber and closed not with a round stone running in a level groove but with a horizontal stone.

43. From this cavern Jesus calls the dead man. Jn has three Gk words for what were probably only two Aramaic words spoken by Jesus with the solemnity of a loud voice.

44. Lazarus came forth, bandaged as he was and with hands and feet and eyes impeded by the attire of the grave. In order to bring the astonishment of the bystanders to the concrete matter of fact before them, Jesus said simply: ’Loose him and let him go’. From the 4th cent. the tomb of Lazarus was shown where stands the present village of El-’Azariyah (from Byzantine Lazarion).

45-53 The Pharisees resolve to kill Jesus —The miracle had the usual opposite effects. Some believed; others blinded by the light denounced the matter to the enemies of Jesus among the Pharisees. A miracle was no crime, but the growing popularity of the wonderworker was a danger to the worldly hopes of Judaism.

47. The chief priests and Pharisees (scribes) gathered in council. The whole discussion centred on the influence which these undoubted miracles were gaining for Jesus. If things go on thus, all will believe in him, and that will mean the end of the temple of Jerusalem and of the Jewish nation.

49. The gruff counsel of Caiphas was interposed to cut the debate short.

50. He insisted ’that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation perish not’.

51. In the sense of the speaker it was merely a political utterance, but God, as Jn remarks, gave the words of the Pontiff of the year (such Caiphas was from a.d. 18-37) a higher prophetic meaning.

52. Jesus was to die, in order to gather the scattered children of God into one as ’the Israel of God ’, Galatians 6:16.53. From this moment the death of the Son of God is decreed by the chief Council of the Jews. They will choose a suitable time and make show of legal forms, but the matter is decided. g 54-56 Jesus retires —His hour was not to sound till the Pasch of which he was to be the Lamb. He therefore retired from Jerusalem to spend the remaining weeks away from hostile manoeuvres. The city of Ephrem to which he went is probably the present village of E?-?ayibeh, about 12 miles NE. of Jerusalem on the edge of the wilderness of Bethaven. Early pilgrims to the Pasch were already beginning to move. There was much talk about Jesus, especially because the chief priests and Pharisces had given orders that his whereabouts should be reported in view of having him arrested.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on John 11". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/john-11.html. 1951.
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