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Daily Scripture and Prayer

October 2020

Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church

Daily Scripture and Prayer....October 2020....Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church This month we will pray and ponder John chapter 11. This is the pivotal moment in Jesus’ ministry. After this there is no more waiting, no more going back, no more slipping through the authorities fingers. In this passage Jesus takes his determined, grief filled and exhausted first step to the cross. A little background may help you understand better. The story of Jesus’ raising Lazarus is the final “sign” (a happening that points beyond itself to a deeper and durable reality) in John’s Gospel. It is the story, not so much of one man’s illness death and resuscitation, as it is the story of the hope of all of Jesus’ beloved. That hope is that those who believe in Jesus will “come forth” from death to new life. John intends that we understand this “coming forth” in both a literal sense (eternal life after death) and in a spiritual sense (new life now as a result of faith). The point is that Jesus has power to make things new, even when there is no human hope left. He is life. He is love. He is mystery. It is not necessary, nor is it theologically helpful, to ponder exactly what happened in a scientific sense, nor to explain how it happened. What is important to the heart of faith is to grasp that Jesus, in every way that matters, offers us what he offered Lazarus.

Mourning rituals in the ancient world. In Jesus’ day, embalming was not practiced in Judea. For this reason burial ordinarily occurred on the day of death. Bodies were ritually washed, anointed with oil and spices and wrapped in clean cloth. Many of the rituals of grief that precede funerals today, by necessity, followed those of Jesus’ day. The tombs were ordinarily outside the city limits to avoid the possibility of ritual contamination as a result of contact with a corpse. Tombs were sealed with stones to keep animals out. Women and men walked separately to the tomb in a burial procession. Traditional prayers and wailing followed. Afterwards, families returned home and begin a 30-day mourning period. Ordinarily, when they were not involved in domestic duties, women sat quietly on the floor at home throughout this period. Many Rabbis taught that the soul hovered near the body for three days after death. After that, there was no hope of resuscitation.

October 1 – John 11:1-2 – Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. [Bethany was a small town east of Jerusalem and was often Jesus’ base camp when he was in Jerusalem. It is interesting that Lazarus was apparently less well known to John’s community as it was unusual to introduce a man by reference to his sisters. The name Lazarus means, ‘God Helps.’ There were several important anointing stories in the gospels. Some argue that they are all variations of one story. Others, myself included, argue that there is strong evidence of an anointing tradition of women in the early movement. It had a near sacramental quality and a number of women in works outside of the scriptures are identified as ‘the anointing women.’ The word ‘ill’ means terribly sick.]

October 2 – John 11:3 – So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” [The Greek word for love used here is phileis (from philios). This word refers to deep emotional fondness and caring. It is different from agape, which is a kind of unconditional ethical commitment to act on behalf of kind of loving. Philios is what binds families and friends together.]

October 3 – John 11:4 – But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” [There are a couple of things to notice here. First, remember that Jesus is NOT saying that God causes illness or hardship in order to somehow make God look good by performing a miracle! NO! What he is saying is that God uses everything, even illness, to the good. Even illness can be an occasion for revelation of God’s love and goodness. Another way to paraphrase what Jesus says here might be, “In this circumstance we will see God’s activity.” Second, there is a double article in the phrase ‘the Son of God.’ This indicates that Jesus is the unique Son, unlike any other. Finally, and most profoundly, the word for glorified, is associated with the cross in John. The early community understood the cross as Jesus’ coronation and ultimate glorification. In hearing these words, the would remember that the raising of Lazarus is directly responsible for the cross. Jesus knows it too.]

October 4 – John 11:5-6 – Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” [Greek helps us here! The word for ‘love’ that Jesus uses is a form of agape. What this means is that rather than act immediately on his emotional fondness for the family, he chooses to do what is in their ltimate best interest and for the greater good. He will love them to death so that death will no longer rule them. This is powerful stuff. Without understanding these differences it can seem like Jesus is just apricious or mean or scared. The exact opposite is the case. I think that a comma after though would help the reading as well. Remember that most of the scripture, especially OT, is originally written without punctuation marks. It is helpful to remember that Jesus’ timing is often different from our own and always purposeful.]

October 5 – John 11:7 – Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” [Jesus chooses the time to go to them and he chooses the time of his death.]

October 6 – John 11:8 – The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” [Even his disciples who have not been very quick on the uptake understand the consequences of this action. In part at least. They know it will be a life threatening trip.]

October 7 – John 11:9-10 – Jesus answered , “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” [Jesus is saying that just as day light is limited, so is the time for Jesus’ work on earth. He is saying that it is time for them to get it. They have to walk in the Light because so many don’t and that will soon become clear.]

October 8 – John 11:11 – After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” [Fallen asleep is a euphemism for death but the disciples think he is speaking literally.]

October 9 – John 11:12-13 – The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought he was merely referring to sleep. [The word ‘be all right’ is the same word we translate as saved. It means to be delivered, recovered, whole again. Once again we can almost feel Jesus’ despair as he speaks on one level and they hear on another.]

October 10 – John 11:14-15 – Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” [The word for ‘plainly’ is paresia, which refers to speech that is not figurative. There are several words for ‘death’ in Greek. This one, the most common, is thanatos. It is used in two ways. First, it is used to refer to the separation of the soul from the physical body and the subsequent decay of the physical. This is a very Greek concept and does not exist in Hebrew. The second usage refers to spiritual death as the separation of a person from God through sin to such an extent that one can no longer apprehend God’s presence. Someday we’ll do a study about how the Bible understands death, but for our purpose today, Jesus is referring here to physical death. ‘That you may believe’ literally means come to trust. It is not passive at all. It means to put ones whole energies into trusting. He is still trying with these guys! Not only does he want them to trust him, he wants them to trust in the final reality of the cross/resurrection itself.]

October 11 – John 11:16 – Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” [Thomas is so wonderful. He doesn’t fully get it. None of them do. We don’t. But still he is ready to die with Jesus.]

October 12 – John 11:17 – When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. [‘Four days’ reminds us that there is no hope of a mistake here. That even his spirit has departed.]

October 13 – John 11:18-19 – Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. [See note about mourning rituals above. The word ‘consoling’ refers to the traditional communal wailing.]

October 14 – John 11:20 – When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. [We don’t know exactly why Martha went and Mary stayed back. Some speculate that Martha, as the oldest was expected to greet guests. Others speculate that somebody had to stay home with the guests and because Martha was the head of household (another interesting story) that it was Mary’s job to wait until second. Some suggest it was simply a matter of their personalities.]

October 15 – John 11:21 – Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” [There is the feel of complaint here, not just statement of fact. She expected more of him and does not see the bigger picture. How could she?]

October 16 – John 11:22 – “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” [Is she hoping for something? Is she simply saying, “You let me down but I still believe in you?]

October 17 – John 11:23-24 – Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” [See note above on the Day of the Lord.]

October 18 – John 11:25-26 – Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” [This is a pivotal verse in John’s gospel and indeed in the entire New Testament! Jesus again uses the Divine Name (I Am) in reference to himself. ‘Resurrection’, anastasis, means to rise up or cause to stand. Here Jesus is not simply asking us to believe in his resurrection. Rather he is inviting us to trust in resurrection itself as a state of being. This is who God is, the ever renewing eternal energy of Love that animates everything and will lose or waste nothing. Death becomes basically meaningless in this understanding. The word ‘life’ is zoe, the life force itself gushing up eternally. ‘In me’ is interesting. It means to live into or within. It is a very strong word. What he is saying is that those who live into their growing trust in who God is as Jesus has displayed, will be unaffected by their death. The tense in the last clause of the second sentence indicates that this is a living reality now, not just in the future. He knows that until we can decide to simply trust that this is real and real for us,
significant transformation will be very hard indeed.]

October 19 – John 11:27 – She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” [This is formal commitment language. The word ‘believe’ here means to put ones energies into.]

October 20 – John 11:28-29 – When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. [Something has happened to Martha in this encounter and she wants her sister to experience it too. This verse reminds us of the shepherd images of his sheep hearing his voice. He is calling for Mary and she hears his voice in her heart and goes at once.]

October 21 – John 11:30-31 – Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still in the place where Martha met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. [Perhaps he is showing caution here. Or perhaps he knows what he has to do must take place at the tomb and if he went to the house first, he might be prevented. He has decided that this is his time.]

October 22 – John 11:32 – When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” [Mary offers the same complaint and confidence that her sister did. Only here she falls at his feet. This action a gesture of both worship and submission.]

October 23 – John 11:33 – When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. [This is a very hard verse in Greek, not that the words are difficult but rather that the meaning is tough to swallow. The word ‘greatly disturbed in spirit’ is a strong word indeed. It means angry or indignant. It is not a compassionate word. The word ‘deeply moved’ means shuddered, agitated, or troubled with great intensity. These are not gentle Jesus meek and mild words. Nor are they loving fondness words. So what is going on here? Obviously we can’t know for sure. Many scholars believe that Jesus anger and agitation are directed toward death itself and the pain that it causes. Pious Jews in Jesus’ day understood death to be the greatest enemy of God. God was the God of creation, life and blessing. Satan was the one who was seen to undermine these gifts by hastening death. Premature death was a horror and people saw it as a victory for evil in some spiritual battle. Perhaps it was death and evil’s perceived victory that angered him so. We just don’t know for sure. Suffice it to say that he is VERY upset.]

October 24 – John 11:34 – He said, “Where have you laid him?” They told him, “Lord, come and see.” [The you is plural. Jesus realizes that it is the whole community that has misunderstood [death.]

October 25 – John 11:35-36 – Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” [Oh how Jesus in his humanity must have been suffering here. He is weeping for Lazarus, for the seeming victory of death, for broken humanity and for what he must know that what he is about to do will set in motion for him.]

October 26 – John 11:37 – But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying.” [Even in times of shared lament and sorrow, people are divided about Jesus, his motives and his capacities.

October 27 – John 11:38 – Then Jesus, greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. [This was common burial practice. It might interest you to know that in the early centuries of the faith, mystics gave great significance to cave stories. In the Bible lots of special revelation happened in caves, Elijah, Lazarus’ cave, Jesus’ tomb. They understood the cave to symbolize the feminine principle of the divine womb. So when one dies and is buried (in the cave) one returns to God’s womb to be raised in new birth.]

October 28 – John 11:39-40 – Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”[Martha cannot believe that Jesus is asking her to do this! He reminds her to trust him because something amazing is about to happen.]

October 29 – John 11:41-42 – So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” [Looking upward was the traditional stance for prayer in those days. We later developed the heads bowed stance because that is how simians show submission. Jesus used the word Pater, for Father here as opposed to the word Abba that he often uses in prayers such as the Lord’s prayer. Pater carries the sense of the Father’s greatness that is unknowable to the senses. Abba is all about intimacy and closeness. It is like saying, ‘Daddy.’ Here is his praying based on Psalm 118:21. The conservative Jews present would have been offended at the intimate way Jesus is addressing Pater.]

October 30 – John 11:43 – When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” [The shepherd is calling his sheep. Along with that loud call, you can also hear the sounds of final straws breaking for the establishment Jews. Healing is one thing. Raising people from the dead is something altogether else. If a person can do that, that person cannot be controlled and must be stopped.]

October 31 – John 11:44 – The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” [Lazarus comes out with the trappings of death still clinging to him. He has been raised but he will need the help of the community to be completely set free. All new life passes through death in one way or another and requires a community in order to live it out free from the old ways that still cling.]