Holy Monday, Holy Week, John 12:1-11

Poor Lazarus

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus. (John 12:9-11, NRSV)

LP and I are watching the 2003 movie “Gospel of John,” starring Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond of LOST fame) as Jesus. We’re watching the three hour version, so we took a break last night somewhere toward the end of the Farewell Discourse, saving the rest for tonight. (LP is on vacation this week, so we can indulge in cinematic Bible all we want, as long as my schedule permits.)

I love the Holy Monday text about the anointing of Jesus, except that I don’t. I love the story of a woman anointing Jesus. I don’t particularly love this one, which places the story in the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, conflating the foot-bathing, hair-wiping story from Luke with the kingly head anointings from Mark and Matthew. I usually get so hung up on the way the story has been adapted and the emphasis on Judas as a thief (seriously? if John is going to tell us in a few chapters that the devil only went into him after *Jesus* gave him a piece of bread?) that I never focus on the last few verses.

But in watching the movie last night, I saw the unspeaking actor who plays Lazarus standing by a window, watching the crowd outside worriedly, and I thought, “Poor Lazarus.”

Jesus brings him back to life, and then the authorities want to put him to death again. Yet another tool for cosmic glory, like the man born blind?

It’s six days before the Passover, the third Passover in John’s gospel, with its repeated trips to the Temple for various festivals. It’s a story about a power struggle between God’s agent and messed-up religious authorities who just don’t get it. It’s full of contradictions: “I come not to judge.” “I come to judge.” Everybody who loves Jesus is a Jew; everybody who hates Jesus is a Jew; the sign that the time has come is the arrival of the Greeks, asking to see him. And oh! The parentheticals! Even as narrated by Christopher Plummer, they are hilariously explanatory.

It’s the sixth day before the Passover, and they are having dinner, with Martha serving, and Mary wiping Jesus’ feet (clean in the movie, by the way, unlike the dusty paws of the disciples in the later scene) and there is Lazarus, looking gently befuddled. This may just be that a non-speaking part was given to a non-actor, but it works. He has been feverish, and he has been zombie Lazarus (mostly in shadow (see how John brings out the parentheses in me?)), but here he is with his fluffy hair and beard and soft face and no words. No words. A bystander to a collision of powerful forces, collateral damage and undamage, dead and undead, and what next?

It doesn’t even matter if he really died, does it? It’s the perception of what Jesus has done that matters.

Poor Lazarus.

2 thoughts on “Poor Lazarus”

  1. I'm not familiar with that movie. Will have to look for it.Just got back from my MIL's funeral. Dh's family is conservative Christian and the funeral was a lot of "us vs. them". I guess it was what the rest of the family needed, but such a hard time for me and our son. Do these people not see the parallel of themselves with the Pharisees in the gospels when they profess to know exactly who is "saved" and who isn't. ARGH! Sorry…just was thinking about it again when reading about Lazarus in your post….had to spew a bit.

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