Lazarus, Come Out!
(The Jesus Diary Continues)
Everyone knew Lazarus was sick. I knew it. Jesus knew it. But nobody knew exactly how sick. Maladies of all varieties plagued our days. People became ill all the time. Most survived and moved on to lead happy lives. But many didn't.
Worst of all, some became dreadfully ill and yet didn't die. They wished they had. These were the lepers, a particular class of people who were shunned due to their horrible disease and its infectious nature. By law, they were exiled, set apart, quarantined in hideous ghettoes of filth and misery.
Many times even the family members of lepers were shunned since the Pharisees contended that the disease was due to sin, either on the part of the one infected or his family. Best to avoid them all, they argued.
But Lazarus did not have leprosy. When he became ill, his sisters, Martha and Mary, frantically alerted Jesus. He was a friend of the family and very close to the two sisters. Lazarus was his special friend.
Therefore I found it quite surprising that, when Jesus was told of his friend's illness, he tarried for a couple of days rather than immediately rushing to his side. Perhaps he felt that the illness was not serious. But it was. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus was already dead and buried.
Up to now I, and many others, perceived Jesus to be superhuman. To my mind he was the Deity, the Son of God that he had declared himself to be. All of his activities, his miracles and cures constantly reaffirmed this in my mind. He was a beloved automaton, relentless in his ability to conquer evil and sin and multitudinous infirmities. He was untouchable, unshakeable.
But then he surprised us.
Jesus was marching toward the tomb where Lazarus lay with an almost businesslike intensity. We watched with anticipation, not sure exactly what he was going to do, but confident that it was going to be something dramatic, perhaps even miraculous. A few of us noticed his eyes seemed very moist.
Jesus stopped abruptly no more than ten yards from the tomb. He stood still for a brief moment, eyes fixed on the tomb. He raised his hands to his face. His head fell to his chest, his knees buckled and he crouched as if in a spasm of pain.
We watched in silent wonder, mystified at what we were seeing. But then the silence was broken by his sobs. His shoulders trembled. His whole body quaked as tears fell from his eyes, dampening his beard.
Our eyes opened as well, and as one we said, "How he must have loved him!"
Composing himself, Jesus ordered the tomb to be opened.
"There will be a stench!" someone cried. "He's been dead four days!" cried another. People started holding their noses.
"Roll away the rock!" Jesus demanded. "Release him!" And so the rock sealing the tomb was rolled away. I was surprised that it took three burly men to move it.
"Lazarus, come out!"
We peered into the darkness of the tomb. Slowly a figure began to appear. A white blur began to glide as if on wheels toward the entrance to the tomb. "It's Lazarus!" Mary cried.
"Unwrap him," Jesus said. "Give him something to eat. He must be hungry after four days in that tomb!"
Gleefully, Martha and Mary undid the burial cloths, allowing their brother to breathe freely again. He saw Jesus and ran to embrace him. Tears from the two friends moistened the ground.
Martha and Mary provided a feast. We toasted Lazarus on his re-birth day with wine that Jesus had provided. It was excellent, as I knew it would be. As I was enjoying this fine vintage I reflected on what I had just witnessed: the shocking humanness of the Son of God. His love for his friend superseded his divinity and revealed a man that was very much like me. Or you. I loved him even more for it, because his emotionalism confirmed that he knew what my life was like and the feelings that mark my days. Boldly, I proposed a toast to Jesus: "L'Chaim!"
But not everybody was celebrating. The Pharisees had followed Jesus to Bethany like a pack of wolves, intent on bringing his movement to a rapid end. He had foiled them consistently for as long as they could remember. This had only deepened their hatred and their desire to eliminate his threat to their power.
Obviously they couldn’t grab him now, not with all those admirers celebrating this latest miracle. They would have to bide their time. To be patient. To wait for a better time. They would not have to wait long.
(The story is adapted from The Jesus Diary, which is available at Amazon.com and Walmart.com as well as other online retailers and can be ordered at any book store. The Big Tent, which uses the same anonymous diarist to recount the Acts of the Apostles, will be available May 1 of this year.)