11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”
12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.
14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really trust. Come, let’s go see him.”
16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too — and die with him.”
17 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. 18 Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, 19 and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. 20 When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”
Sometimes it can seem hard to hard to get a feel for what characters in the text are thinking or feeling (and in general we should be careful reading in too much), but other times the interiority of the characters seems to jump right off the page, like I think it does here. It doesn’t take much to sense Jesus’ frustration with his disciples when he has to explain his euphemism to them.
It also doesn’t take much to pick up on how thick-headed they were being or especially the sunny disposition Thomas displayed. The Greek has “die with him,” and it is unclear if Thomas was referring to the dead Lazarus or to Jesus, whom he expects to be dead upon arrival. I say this because translations vary in their effort to point clearly to one or the other, but Thomas’ meaning is the same either way. Jesus is taking them back near Jerusalem, where he was recently almost stoned to death. All the disciples seem quiet reluctant to make this trip or even understand what is going on.
The other feeling evident in this text is the confidence Martha exudes toward Jesus. She doesn’t wait for Jesus to get to her, she meets him outside town and all but asks Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead. She basically says, ‘You could have healed him before and you still can. And, oh look, I’ve met you out here on the way to his tomb. Why don’t we go there right now?’ Martha expresses trust in Jesus – the very thing his group of 12 is still lacking at this point. Once again we see relationship with Jesus upending the prevailing social order. The last become first. Of all the people in this passage, Martha has most reason to be upset (her brother has just died, the others are afraid of what might happen) and the least reason to trust Jesus (he didn’t show up when she sent for him). But she does trust Jesus. In life or death, she knows the Father will listen to the Son and she knows the Son is her friend and so she acts boldy on what she knows because that is what trust (faith) does.
I think for a lot of us, Jesus is still hoping we get to a point where we really trust too.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.