Ezekiel delivers the ultimate promise from God, quoting him:
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them . . .
Paul tells Romans the same thing:
If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,
the one who raised Christ from the dead
will give life to your mortal bodies also . . .
This is great news, to say the least. It solves the ultimate mystery. These two short (5th Sunday Lent, 3/9/08) passages lead to John’s long account of the raising of Lazarus.
He’s sick and not long for this world, or so people thought. Jesus decided to use him to make the Ezekiel point about graves opening — and to anticipate the Paul point about resurrection.
The body was in Judea, where they were laying for Jesus. “You’re sure you want to go back there?” his people asked him. He answered mysteriously about a twelve-hour day (of daylight, we presume) and stumbling in the dark, meaning let’s go before it’s dark.
There was the back-and-forth with the dead man’s sister, who unwittingly sets him up for his clinching argument, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
He immediately puts it to her: “Do you believe this?” She can’t say yes fast enough. This was Martha, who got something of a bum rap earlier for getting tied up in housework when something big was happening — the biggest she would ever come up against. It was a mistake she wasn’t going to make twice.
She sends for Mary, who gets up to go and meet Jesus outside of town. “The Jews,” present everywhere you turn in these stories, follow her. She arrives shaking with grief. He catches his breath at the sight: this Mary broken up, racked with sobbing. He groans and cries.
“The Jews” see it. Some of them get nasty about it: “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?”
Jesus goes into action. Roll the stone away, he says. The body will smell awfully, says Martha, the practical one. Didn’t I tell you not to be that way? Jesus says. The stone is removed, Jesus prays to the Father, he issues the call: “Lazarus, come out!”
He comes out: “Untie him and let him go,” says Jesus, and the rest is history — the gospel truth, we might say.
As for those “Jews,” they are pretty much understood to be the Jewish authorities. “Johannine [John] Christians” were Jews in conflict on the basic issue of messianic identity. This gospel, a sustained argument for Jesus as messiah, is for Jews who knew Greek, to convert them or to defeat them in an argument.
The late Rev. Raymond Brown, a Catholic scholar of the first water, concedes anti-Jewish sentiment here. At the very least, there was rivalry, sometimes intense. That’s how it was in those days.