Monday 27 May 2019

Martha's perspective: Mary Magdalene and the death of Lazarus in the Fourth Gospel

I have been reading Chapter 11 of the Fourth Gospel (the 'raising of Lazarus' episode) to understand the role of Mary and Martha, sister of Lazarus.

I am reading this with the conviction that Mary of Bethany is the same person later referred to as Mary Magdalene, and that she was the wife of Jesus (they married at the water-into-wine feast in Cana, described earlier in the Gospel). I also assume that Lazarus was the 'beloved disicple', and author of the Fourth Gospel. All this is covered in my mini-book on the Fourth Gospel.

This means that - at the time of the events described in John: 11, Lazarus was still dead - and therefore he must have been writing on the basis of some other person's account. Therefore, this section is one of the few parts of the Fourth Gospel where the author is not an eye-witness.

The internal evidence of Chapter 11 suggests that the eye-witness the resurrected consulted was Lazarus's sister Martha, since she is the central character.

Mary was not, I assume, available to be consulted; since the Gospel was written some time after Jesus's ascension; and Mary, as the wife of Jesus, had presumably died-resurrected-ascended with her husband (as seems to be indicated when Mary met Jesus as the tomb and he made the 'touch me not' series of comments indicating they will both ascend to Heaven to be together. In other words, at the time of the Fourth Gospel was written, Mary was 'dead'.

So, we get the events of the raising of Lazarus from Martha's perspective. This is why her conversation is reported in detail, but not the conversation between Jesus and Mary (since Martha was not present (Mary is made merely to repeat a part of what Martha had said).

A striking aspect of this passage, is contextual: the suggestions that Mary was important and had some kind of following - as would be expected for the wife of Jesus.

Apparently Mary was 'in the house', with a group of The Jews, who then followed her when she came to Jesus (supposedly thinking she was going to weep at the grave). And in verse 45 there is a reference to The Jews who came to Mary.

It seems likely that Mary - wife of Jesus and sister of the recently-deceased disciple of Jesus - was a person of some importance, and the focus of public interest or concern, but Martha was not.

John.11 [1] Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. [2] (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) [3] Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. [4] When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. [5] Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. [6] When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. [7] Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. [8] His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? [9] Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. [10] But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him. [11] These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. [12] Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. [13] Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. [14] Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. [15] And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. [16] Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him. [17] Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. [18] Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: [19] And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. [20] Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. [21] Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. [22] But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. [23] Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. [24] Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. [25] Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: [26] And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? [27] She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. [28] And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. [29] As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. [30] Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. [31] The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. [32] Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. [33] When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, [34] And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. [35] Jesus wept. [36] Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! [37] And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? [38] Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. [39] Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. [40] Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? [41] Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. [42] And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. [43] And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. [44] And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. [45] Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. [46] But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.

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