Gospel John 11:1-45
‘By now he will smell…’
Lazarus was a good mate of Jesus. In fact, it seems that they had known each other for some time and were close. Jesus wept when he heard the news of his death.
There is much to consider in the passage before us. The depth of Jesus’ sorrow is expressed in sighs and in weeping. It was obviously a difficult thing for him, as it is for us, to experience the death of a loved one.
But it is in the midst of this suffering, of his own sorrow, that Jesus reveals the glory of God, by raising his friend from the dead. The reality of his activity here is brought home by the inclusion of Martha’s concern – ‘by now he will smell!’ Surely, she is grieving, and she just wants her deceased brother to rest peacefully. Uncovering his bloated, stinking carcass would only exacerbate their grief.
What follows in this story is fantastic, in the sense that it really is the stuff of fantasy. Jesus raises his old mate, from the dead.
The difficult thing here though, is that this is not fantasy. Jesus really did this.
It would be easy to try and brush this off – Jesus wept, shared the pain of the others, and told them, ‘Lazarus will always be with us… It’s like he is alive again… He lives on in our hearts.’ We have all been to funerals where this kind of fluff has been shovelled at us. In the face of suffering we often do not know how to act. We do not want to acknowledge it, and so paper over it.
If he were just to paper over the pain and sorrow of Lazarus’ loved ones, then this would simply be a weak, fluffy, fairy dust story, that doesn’t hit the ground. If that were the case, then there would be no reason to re-tell the story 2000 years later.
However, there is perhaps nothing more real than that little detail included here, that quite simply, he stank. When he emerged for the tomb, Lazarus was still covered in the burial garments and bandages. He was dead. And now he is not.
Those who witnessed this were no doubt astonished, and we are told that they came to believe in him. Faced with that kind of evidence, it seems to me that only the hardest of hearts would not.
And here we are with the testimony of those who witnessed this miraculous act…