Father MacIntyre’s Commentary on John 11:1-45

Our Lord was still in Peræa when a message was brought that Lazarus, whom lie loved, was sick. But He waited for two days before starting for Bethania indeed, until He knew, without the aid of messengers, that Lazarus was dead (6, 11, 12, 13). Like the other miracles recorded by St. John, the raising of Lazarus is symbolical. It typifies the great truth, “I am the resurrection and the life : he that believeth in me although he be dead, shall live.” But the miracle also marks a crisis in our Lord s own life. For in consequence of this miracle the Sanhedrin finally resolved to put Him to death, the High priest declaring that Jesus must die, whether guilty or no, to remove all danger of resentment on the part of the Romans against the nation (Jn 11:47-51).

Joh 11:1  Now there was a certain man sick, named Lazarus, of Bethania, of the town of Mary and of Martha her sister.

Bethania (see verse 18 and cf. Jn 1:28). It was on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives.

the town of Mary and of Martha. Better, perhaps, village. St. John writes as if supposing that the sisters are already known to the reader. They must therefore be identified with the sisters, Martha and Mary, of Luke 10:38-42. Nothing is said in St. Luke of Lazarus. Many therefore conclude that he was much younger than his sisters. The name Lazarus is an abbreviated Greek form of Eleazar whom God helps.

Joh 11:2  (And Mary was she that anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair: whose brother Lazarus was sick.)

And Mary was she that anointed (η αλειψασα) the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. Does this look forward to the narrative that follows (Jn 12:3; cf. Matt 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9), or does it look backward to the event narrated in Luke 7:36-38? The answer is difficult. Yet St. John’s usual manner of writing seems rather to imply that the participle recalls an event that had happened before the period referred to in the narrative in which the participle occurs. Thus the participle in Jn 7:50 (ο ελθων προς αυτον) refers back to Jn 3:2 (cf. Jn 19:39), and the participle in 18:14 (ο συμβουλευσας) to the narrative in Jn 1:49-51. But only one anointing had been recorded as having occurred before the present event in our Lord’s life, viz , the anointing described in Luke 7. Hence St. John recalls that anointing, and supplies, what St. Luke had omitted, the name of the woman. We conclude, therefore, that the woman who was a sinner is identical with Mary the sister of Lazarus.

The reasons for identifying Mary of Bethania with Mary Magdalen are much slighter. St. Luke certainly gives no hint that Mary who is called Magdalen (Lk 8:2) is the same person as the sinner of the immediately preceding narrative (Lk 7:36-50). It is noteworthy, too, that St. John introduces Mary Magdalen (Jn 19:25) in such a way that the very epithet Magdalen seems chosen to distinguish her from the Mary of chapter 11. At any rate, although so careful in such matters he here gives no note of identification, but rather marks a distinction. The sister of Lazarus is always simply Mary (Jn 11:1, 2, 5, 19, 20, 28, 31, 32, 45, 12:3) and her village is Bethany; the other Mary is always Magdalen (Jn 19:25, 20:1, 18), i.e., Mary of Magdala, in Genezareth. A similar mark of distinction is observable in St. Luke (cf. Lk 10:39, 42 with Lk 8:2, 24:10). There is, it is true, a strong Western tradition, from the time especially of St. Gregory the Great, that Mary of Bethany is the same as Magdalen (see Roman Breviary and Missal for 22nd of July); but the Fathers are not unanimous, and the tradition is not decisive. Under these circumstances we follow the presumptive evidence of St. John’s language identifying Mary of Bethany with the sinful woman, but distinguishing her from Mary Magdalen. Yet even the identification of Mary of Bethany with the sinful woman is very problematical; for, although St. John s language points in the direction of identification, St. Luke s narrative more naturally suggests distinction (cf. Lk 7:36-50 and Lk 10:38-42).

Joh 11:3  His sisters therefore sent to him, saying: Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.

His sisters therefore, i.e., because he was sick. The request for help lay in the simple message that Lazarus was in danger.

Joh 11:4  And Jesus hearing it, said to them: This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God: that the Son of God may be glorified by it.

And Jesus hearing it, said to them. The phrase to them is an insertion.

This sickness is not unto (προς) death (i.e., is not to result in death), but for (υπερ = for the furtherance of) the glory of God. “Even that death itself was not unto death, but rather unto the working of a miracle” (St. Aug., Tract xlix. c. 6).

Joh 11:5  Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister Mary and Lazarus.

Now Jesus loved (ηγαπα: a delicately chosen word, not the more emotional φιλεις of verse 3). This verse explains what follows. The verse does indeed explain what follows, but most NT scholars see no significant difference in St John’s use of the various Greek words of love: agape and philien.

Joh 11:6  When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he still remained in the same place two days.

Because our Lord loved Lazarus, He therefore remained two days in Persea, so as to make the miracle on behalf of Lazarus more striking.

Joh 11:7  Then after that, he said to his disciples: Let us go into Judea again.
Joh 11:8  The disciples say to him: Rabbi, the Jews but now sought to stone thee. And goest thou thither again?

The Jews but now sought (were seeking) to stone thee: see Jn 10:31.

Joh 11:9  Jesus answered: Are there not twelve hours of the day? If a man walk in the day he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world:

Are there not twelve hours of the day? (see on Jn 1:39). To the anxiety of the disciples for His safety our Lord opposes His own perfect assurance that His hour has not yet come. This is done in figurative language. While the twelve hours of daylight lasted a man might walk without dashing his foot against an obstacle, but when the light is withdrawn, then he dashes his foot. Christ had received His working day from the Father, and until that day had come to a close his enemies had no power over Him, nor would Christ Himself waste
that day.

Joh 11:10  But if he walk in the night, he stumbleth, because the light is not in him.
Joh 11:11  These things he said; and after that he said to them: Lazarus our friend sleepeth: but I go that I may awake him out of sleep.
Joh 11:12  His disciples therefore said: Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.

Lazarus, our friend, sleepeth (κεκοιμηται: has fallen asleep). This was known to our Lord, not by message, but by immediate knowledge.

The opening words of the sentence (verse 11), These things he said: and after that (better, this) he said, mark a separation between the two discourses, which are separated by a pause.

Lazarus was said, on account of the resurrection so soon to follow, to be asleep. “To his sisters he was dead, to the Lord he was asleep. He was dead to men, who could not raise him again; but the Lord aroused him with as great ease from the tomb as one arouseth a sleeper from his bed. Hence it was in reference to His own power that He spoke of him as sleeping: for others also, who are dead, are frequently spoken of in Scripture (e.g., Matt 9:24, 27:52; 1 Cor 15:6, 18, 20; 1 Thess 4:13, 14) as sleeping” (St. Aug., Tract xlix. c. 9).

The disciples, whose minds are filled with anxiety for our Lord’s safety, do not attend to the second part of the sentence, I go that I may awake him, but are absorbed in what corresponded so much to their wishes, Lazarus sleepeth. If Lazarus was asleep, the crisis of his illness was over, and there was no need for Christ to enter Judea (verse 12). If he sleep, he shall do well (σωθησεται = he will be cured).

Joh 11:13  But Jesus spoke of his death: and they thought that he spoke of the repose of sleep.
Joh 11:14  Then therefore Jesus said to them plainly: Lazarus is dead.

Lazarus is dead. This plain declaration, coming after the statement, This sickness is not unto death (verse 4), would cause painful surprise. Hence our Lord says that all had happened designedly for the sake of the disciples themselves.

Joh 11:15  And I am glad, for your sakes; that I was not there, that you may believe. But, let us go to him.
Joh 11:16  Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples: Let us also go, that we may die with him.

Didymus. The Greek for the Aramaic Thomas, meaning “twin.”

that we may die. He evidently believed that a return to Judea meant death (verse 8).

Joh 11:17  Jesus therefore came: and found that he had been four days already in the grave.
Joh 11:18  (Now Bethania was near Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off.)

Jesus therefore came. That is, came into the neighbourhood of Bethany (verse 30), which was fifteen furlongs (less than two miles) from Jerusalem (verse 18: cf. Jn 6:19).

and found that he had been (εχοντα cf. Jn 5:5) four days already in the grave (μνημειω = sepulchre). According to custom, the funeral would take place on the day of death (verse 39; cf. Acts 5:6, 10). It is unnatural to suppose that Lazarus was already dead when our Lord sent the message of hope to the sisters (verse 4). The narrative obviously suggests that the death did not occur before the words of verses 7-11 were spoken. Thus our Lord spent four days on the journey.

Joh 11:19  And many of the Jews were come to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.

Many of the Jews. Probably people of position from the district and from Jerusalem itself. Since the narrative implies that Lazarus was buried not in a common cemetery, but in his own private sepulchre, in a cave (verse 38) probably, according to custom, in a garden his family must have been fairly well-to-do.

to comfort them. This would be in obedience to the Rabbinic injunction. Mourning for seven days seems to have been obligatory (Judith 16:24), but it really lasted for thirty days. There were three days of weeping, a special week of sorrow, and twenty days of less intense mourning.

Joh 11:20  Martha therefore, as soon as she heard that Jesus was come, went to meet him: but Mary sat at home.

Martha therefore. Martha appears to have been the eldest of the family, and to have had care of the household. The description of the sisters perfectly corresponds with that given in St. Luke 10:38.

Joh 11:21  Martha therefore said to Jesus: Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

If thou hadst been here. This is what the two sisters must have frequently said to each other (cf. verse 32) from the time they had sent their message to our Lord (verse 3). But even death has not destroyed their hope; for their belief in Christ’s power can beg for the resurrection of the dead. The rumours of the raising of the widow’s son at Nairn had gone forth throughout all Judea (Luke 7:17). Why should not Lazarus be raised? Martha makes the appeal (verse 22.) For a very different and-in my opinion-more plausible interpretation of the figure of Martha see The Gospel of John, by Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B.

Joh 11:22  But now also I know that whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.

God will give it thee. She does not yet understand that Christ is God; but she believes in His Divine mission (verse 27) and in His power to restore Lazarus now also (και νυν even now).

Joh 11:23  Jesus saith to her: Thy brother shall rise again.
Joh 11:24  Martha saith to him: I know that he shall rise again, in the resurrection at the last day.
Joh 11:25  Jesus said to her: I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, although he be dead, shall live:

I am the resurrection and the life. Not merely by supplication to the Father, but by His own power, Christ is the source of life. “Thou sayest my brother shall rise again at the last day: true, but by Him through whom he shall rise then, can he rise even now, for I am the Resurrection and the Life. The Resurrection because the Life” (St. Aug., Tract xlix. c. 14).

he that believeth in me, although he be dead (better, even though he die, i.e., bodily), shall live (i.e., shall come to the resurrection of life (Jn 5:25, 29) = I am the resurrection).

Joh 11:26  And every one that liveth and believeth in me shall not die for ever. Believest thou this?

And every one that liveth, and believeth in me, shall not die for ever (i.e., shall have eternal life, shall live in the spirit; till the flesh also rise again, never more to die = I am the life: cf. Jn 6:39, 40).

Believest thou this? Martha’s answer shows that she had not fully understood. But she makes a most emphatic act of faith in Christ as the Messiah, and in His power to do what as yet she only imperfectly understands.

Joh 11:27  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.

Yea (you = very emphatic assertion), Lord, I have believed (perfect = I have believed and do believe) that thou art Christ, the Son of the living God, who art come (that cometh) into this world (ο ερχομενος = the Coming One = the Messiah: cf. Jn 6:14; 1:15).

Joh 11:28  And when she had said these things, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying: The master is come and calleth for thee.

Secretly. That is, to escape being overheard by the assembled Jews.

calleth for thee.  “The evangelist has not said where, or when, or how the Lord called for Mary, namely, that in order to preserve the brevity of the narrative it may rather be understood from the words of Martha” (St. Aug., Tract xlix. c. 16).

Joh 11:29  She, as soon as she heard this, riseth quickly and cometh to him.
Joh 11:30  For Jesus was not yet come into the town: but he was still in that place where Martha had met him.

Where Martha had met (υπηντησεν: aorist in relative sentence for pluperfect) him: see verse 20.

Joh 11:31  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.

The Jews therefore. They followed Mary, thinking that she was again going to weep at the sepulchre of Lazarus. It was the custom to visit the grave, especially during the first three days. By this following of the Jews the great miracle had the presence of many witnesses.

to weep there. The verb κλαυση used here and in verse 33 means to weep audibly, to cry; whereas the verb εδακρυσεν, used in v. 35, means to weep silently.

Joh 11:32  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.

When Mary therefore. “When she came to Jesus she was forgetful of all around. She could only fall at His feet, and repeat the poor words with which she and her sister had these four weary days tried to cover the nakedness of their sorrow. For the rest it was far better to add nothing more, but simply to worship at His feet. It must have been a deeply touching scene: the outpouring of her sorrow, the absoluteness of her faith, the mute appeal of her tears. And the Jews who witnessed it were moved as she, and wept with her. What follows is difficult to understand. But if with a realization of Christ’s condescension to, and union with humanity as its Healer, by taking upon Himself its diseases, we combine the statement formerly made about the resurrection (I am the Resurrection and the Life) we may, in some way, not understand, but be able to gaze into the unfathomed depth of that fellow-suffering which was both vicarious and redemptive” (Eders. L.c., p. 435).

Joh 11:33  Jesus, therefore, when he saw her weeping, and the Jews that were come with her weeping, groaned in the spirit and troubled himself,

Groaned (ενεβριμησατο) in the spirit. This verb is found five times in N. T., twice in St. John (here and verse 38), twice in St. Mark 1:43; 14:5, and once in St. Matthew 9:30. Now, in Matthew and in Mark 1:43 it means to enjoin or to charge with stern admonition; in Mark 14:5 it is translated “to murmur at” = to be angry with. This is its classical sense to be very angry, to be moved with indignation. In this sense it is used by St. John. We notice, therefore, that our Lord was at once angry and sorrowful. Sorrowful for the death of Lazarus and the grief it caused (verses 33, 35). But angry at what? St. John’s references to the prince of this world, against whose empire our Lord came on behalf of mankind (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), give us the idea that our Lord’s anger was against Satan, who was a murderer from the beginning (Jn 8:44). The death of Lazarus, like the sin of Judas (Jn 13:21), was Satan s handiwork, and as such troubled our Lord. It should be noted that Jesus’ response is motivated specifically by the weeping of Mary and those who came with her. A more plausible explanation is given my Moloney, who sees the weeping of Mary as a failure of faith in him.

and troubled himself. “For who could trouble Him save He Him self? Therefore, my brethren, first give heed to the power that did so, and then look for the meaning. Thou art troubled against thy will; Christ was troubled because He willed. In His own power it lay to be thus and thus affected or not. For the Word assumed soul and flesh, fitting on Himself our whole human nature in the oneness of His Person. … By this Word, wherein resided the supreme power, was infirmity made use of at the beck of His will ; and in this way He troubled Himself” (St. Aug., Tract xlix. c. 18).

Joh 11:34  And said: Where have you laid him? They say to him: Lord, come and see.

Where have you laid him? “Thou knewest that he was dead, and art Thou ignorant of the place of his burial? . . . Similar in character was God’s voice in Paradise after man had sinned: Adam, where art thou?” (St. Aug., Tract xlix. c. 20).

Joh 11:35  And Jesus wept.

And Jesus wept (see on verse 31). Thus He teaches us the lawfulness of moderate sorrow for the loss of friends and the charity of weeping with those that mourn (see verse 42). I think something else is intended here. Recall from an earlier comment (verse 31) that the word used for wept here is different from that used in verses 31 & 33. Jesus is not weeping at the death of Lazarus but out of frustration at those who continue not to believe. Recall that he deliberately delayed coming to Lazarus earlier because he loved him and his sisters (Jn 11:4-6). It is against the background of this delay (also emphasized in Jn 11:21, 32; and implicitly in Jn 11:37, 39) that the weeping of Jesus should be seen. The words of the Jews in the following verse, “behold how he loved him,” and the response of some of them to this in verse 37 shows their ignorance of the motivations and the power of Jesus.

Joh 11:36  The Jews therefore said: Behold how he loved him.
Joh 11:37  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?

But some of them said. There is no hint in the words that follow of unbelief, or scepticism, or irony, or malevolence; they are a most natural expression of simple wonder that He, who had worked so great a miracle on the man born blind, should now seem to weep helplessly over Lazarus. I disagree with this. The words of both groups have to be seen as johonnine irony in light of the earlier verses concerning the delay of Jesus. Further, the question of the second group in verse 37-”Could not he that opened the eyes of the man born blind have caused that this man should not die?”-suggests that they were part of the crowd that witnessed the miracle. Concerning this crowd John had noted that they were divided among themselves about Jesus (Jn 9:16), and they certainly could not have been unaware of the animosity of the Jewish leaders to him (Jn 7:1, 13, 19-20, 25, 32, 44, 8:20, 37, 40, 59). It seems likely that those who reported to the leaders what Jesus had done were from this second group (Jn 11:46).

Joh 11:38  Jesus therefore again groaning in himself, cometh to the sepulchre. Now it was a cave; and a stone was laid over it.
Joh 11:39  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.

He is now of four days. It was the common Jewish idea that corruption commenced on the fourth day, that the drop of gall which had fallen from the sword of the Angel and caused death, was then working its effect, and that, as the face changed, the soul took its final leave from the resting-place of the body (Eders l.c., p. 434).

Joh 11:40  Jesus saith to her: Did not I say to thee that if thou believe, thou shalt see the glory of God?

Did not I say to thee? For such had been the purport of His reply to the messenger (verse 4).

Joh 11:41  They took therefore the stone away. And Jesus lifting up his eyes, said: Father, I give thee thanks that thou hast heard me.
Joh 11:42  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.

Father, I give thee thanks. The miracle has not yet been wrought; but our Lord knew that the Father always heard Him (verse 42). He returned thanks not for Himself, but for the bystanders. Salvation comes through faith in Christ (Jn 5:40; 6:40; 8:24), and that faith is the Father’s gift (Jn 6:44). The miracle, therefore, was a great grace, leading the bystanders to believe that Christ was the Son of God (verse 4), the Resurrection and the Life (verses25, 26), the Sent of the Father (verse 42), and one in power with the Father (Jn 10:30). Not for the raising of Lazarus, then, but rather for the ordering and arranging of all the circumstances to so salutary a result, is thanksgiving made.

Joh 11:43  When he had said these things, he cried with a loud voice: Lazarus, come forth.

Lazarus, come forth (λαζαρε δευρο εξω). Literally, “Lazarus, hither, outside!”

Joh 11:44  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.

Bound feet and hands. The body was dressed, and, at a later period, wrapped, if possible, in the worn cloths in which originally a roll of the law had been held.

winding-bands (κειριαις). The word occurs only here in N. T.

his face (οψις). Used only here, Jn 7:24, and Rev 1:16. The Greek word οψις (opsis) is derived from ὀπτάνομαι (optanomai), from which comes our word “optical.” The word οψις (opsis) refers to the act of seeing. Dead men don’t see; the fact that the cloth is covering his “act of seeing” emphasizes that Lazarus, once blinded by death, is now alive and capable of seeing. I suspect that due to the close connection between this sign/miracle and that of the healing of the blind man the rare word opsis was chosen for a reason. Some of those who witnessed the raising of Lazarus came to believe because of what they had seen (verse 45), while others went away and told the Jerusalem Pharisees who had witnessed the healing of the blind man and dis-believed, meriting Jesus’ condemnation that they were willfully blind (Jn 9:35-41).

napkin (σουδαριω), Literally, sweat-cloth the Latin sudarium.

Loose him. St. Augustine applying this passage says, “What is the coming forth but the open acknowledgment thou makest of thy state, in quitting, as it were, the old refuges of darkness? But the confession thou makest is effected by God, when He crieth with a loud voice; or, in other words, calleth thee in abounding grace. Accordingly, when the dead man had come forth, still bound; confessing, yet guilty still; that his sins also might be taken away, the Lord said to His servants: Loose him, and let him go. What does He mean by such words? Whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” Tract xlix. c. 25).

Joh 11:45  Many therefore of the Jews, who were come to Mary and Martha and had seen the things that Jesus did, believed in him.

Many therefore of the Jews. According to the Greek text, “all of the Jews”, and they were many, who had witnessed the miracle, believed:  πολλοι ουν εκ των ιουδαιων  οι ελθοντες προς  την μαριαμ και θεασαμενοι  ο α εποιησεν επιστευσαν εις αυτον. This is incorrect. the Greek word πολλοι simply means many, much, large, etc.

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One Response to Father MacIntyre’s Commentary on John 11:1-45

  1. Pingback: Resources and Commentaries for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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