Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Sunday School Lesson #19

Posted by Jim F. on May 19, 2007

Lesson 19: Luke 18:1-8, 35-43; 19:1-10; John 11

Luke 18

Verses 1-8: The chapter division here (an artificial division not in the original text) makes us not see the connection between the end of Luke 17 and the beginning of 18. Might Luke have any particular prayers in mind in verse 1? How about the desire mentioned in Luke 17:22? In verse 1, Luke tells us the teaching of the parable before he gives the parable. Why? After reading the parable ask yourself whether there are other ways to read it, perhaps ways that Luke wants to forestall. We will later see that Paul particularly likes the language that Luke uses here, “pray always” (see, for example, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Romans 12:12, and Ephesians 6:18) and “do not faint” (the word translated “faint” means “to become weary or exhausted” and can mean “lose heart”—for places where Paul uses the term, see for example 2 Thessalonians 3:13, 2 Corinthians 4:1 and 16, and Galatians 6:9). What kind of fainting or exhaustion do you think Luke has in mind? What does constant prayer have to do with being a Christian? Does it have anything to do with seeing the world with Christ as the light that makes sight possible (John 9)? What does not getting exhausted have to do with being a Christian? In verse 2, we find that the judge neither fears God nor regards man. What does the second mean? Are the two phrases parallel, and if they are, does understanding the first help us understand the second? The King James translation (verse 3) says that the woman “came unto” the judge, but a more accurate translation might be “she kept coming to him.” A better translation than “avenge” is “defend,” “plead my case.” What is the woman asking and why do you think she has to keep coming to the judge? In verse 6 why does Jesus tell his listeners to pay attention to what the judge said? The last part of verse 8 is poorly translated in the King James version. It says “though he bear long with them,” but most agree that something like “Will he be slow to answer them?” is more accurate. What is the import of verse 7 and the first half of verse 8? How does the parable explain God’s defense of his elect? Why compare the Father to an unjust judge? Isn’t that blasphemous? How is the question in the second half of verse 8 related to the parable and its explanation? This is the only parable that ends with an explicit question. Why? What is the answer to the question? How is that answer relevant to the context in which Jesus has told this parable?

Verses 35-43: When Mark recounted this story, he placed it immediately after James and John’s request to sit at the Lord’s right and left hand and his discussion with the apostles about what it means to be great in the Kingdom. Luke puts the event after Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man who could not give up his riches, the discussion with Peter about what things those who follow him are blessed with, and Jesus’ prophecy that he would soon be killed in Jerusalem. Do the different contexts into which Mark and Luke place this story give it different meanings? How do Jesus’ “handlers” deal with the blind man? To whom might we compare those people in our own experience? Are we ever among those who tell people crying for the mercy of God to hold their peace? If so, how do we do so? To whom might we compare the blind man with his cry for mercy? Are we blind? Do we need mercy? What can heal our blindness? The blind man calls Jesus “Son of David” (verse 39). What did he mean by that title? How is it relevant to the coming events, such as Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem?

Luke 19

Verses 1-10: The name “Zacchaeus” (“Zaccai” in Hebrew) means “pure” or “innocent.” Why does Luke tell us that Zacchaeus was the chief publican and that he was rich? Does that suggest anything about his character? Which suggestion, that of his name or that of his occupation, turns out to be more accurate? When we hear his occupation, “rich tax collector,” how does Luke expect us to think of Zacchaeus? Compare this parable to that of the blind man. How are Zacchaeus and the blind man in the same position relative to their culture? Do you think that Luke places this story near the story of the rich young man so that we can contrast the two? If so, in how many ways to you see a contrast? Of what significance is it that Jesus calls someone to him whom it would seem impossible for him to know about (verse 5)? Why was Zacchaeus joyful (Verse 6)? Who do you think murmured (verse 7)? What does verse 8 tell us about Zacchaeus? Is he describing what he has done all along or what he will do from now on? How do you decide? Compare Numbers 5:5-7, which gives the law of restitution. What does that tell us about Zacchaeus’s offer? What does Jesus mean (verse 9) when he says “this day is salvation come to this house”? Is he referring to himself or to what has happened to Zacchaeus? If the latter, why does Jesus say “to this house (or household)” rather than “to Zacchaeus”? Explain Jesus’ explanation of what has happened: “forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.” The language of verse 10 suggests that this event is related to the parables of the sheep, the coin, and the two sons (Luke 15). What specific connections can you see? (Notice, for example, the parallel between Luke 18:7 and Luke 15:2.) How does remembering that parable help us understand this event? How does understanding this event help us read that story?

John 11

Recall from the study questions for lesson 12 that many see the first part of the gospel of John as organized around seven miracles and accompanying sermons: (1) turning water into wine at the wedding feast and the discourse on being born again (John 2:1-12; 3:1-21), (2) raising the nobleman’s son to life and a discourse on Jesus as the living water (John 4:43-51; 4:1-42), (3) healing the man by the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath and explanation that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath (John 5:1-14; 5:19-47), (4) feeding the five thousand and teaching that Jesus is the bread of life (John 6:1-15; 6:22-66)), (5) by walking on the sea of Galilee Jesus comes to Capernaum mysteriously and the discourse on the inability of the Pharisees to understand him (John 6:16-21; 7:14-39), (6) healing the man born blind and the teaching that Christ is the light of the world (John 9; 8:12-59), and (7), the material for this lesson, raising Lazarus from the dead and the teaching of the resurrection (John 11; John 10:1-18). Why do you think John uses miracles as the signs of Jesus’ ministry and of his teaching? Four of the seven miracles are healings. Why is healing such an important sign of Jesus’ ministry? The second part of John’s gospel focuses on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, trial, death, and resurrection. How do these seven signs and sermons prepare us for that story? As you read the story of the raising of Lazarus, ask yourself how Lazarus is a type for every person: in what various ways can we be said to be dead? brought back to life?

Verses 1-2: The name Lazarus (Eleazar—”God has helped”) was a common name at the time. Why is it important that we know that Jesus has gone to the town of Mary and Martha? Why is it important that we know which Mary it is? (See John 12:3; it does not seem to be the woman in Luke 7:37-38.)

Verses 3-6: What do the gospels mean when they describe a person as someone whom Jesus loved? Didn’t he love everyone? Does Jesus love the true Christian differently than he does the unrepentant person? If not, why not? If so, how? In verse 4 Jesus says “this sickness does not lead to death.” Since Lazarus does, in fact, die, what can Jesus have meant by that? To what does this sickness lead? What would you normally think of someone who delayed coming to the bedside of an ill person whom he could heal? What would you think if that person said, “Waiting and letting him get worse before I heal him will show what a good doctor I am”? Is that what Jesus was doing? How do you think a non-Christian might respond on hearing this much of the story? Why would John tell the story this way? (Notice that he is the only gospel writer who tells the story at all, though the other gospels tell of other persons restored to life.) Why don’t we think the same things of Jesus that we might think of another person who acted in a similar way? Why is it important for Jesus to bring someone to life at this particular point in his ministry?

Verses 7-10: How is what Jesus says in verses 9-10 an answer to the disciples’ worry in verse 8? How would you explain what Jesus is saying in verse 9? (Note that there were twelve hours in the day during Jesus’ time, regardless of the season. During the winter, hours daytime hours were shorter than they were during the summer. What does Jesus mean by “There is no light in him” (verse 10)? Do you think that the disciples understood Jesus’ answer? Why or why not?

Verses 11-15: How do the disciples misunderstand Jesus? How is their misunderstanding nevertheless a kind of prophecy? Does that misunderstanding teach us anything about our relation to the Father and the Son?

Verse 16: When Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him,” is he speaking of dying with Christ or with Lazarus? (See the footnote in the LDS edition.) Why does John put Thomas’s exhortation at this point in the story, where it seems out of place, rather than earlier?

Verses 17-19: There appears to have been a common belief at the time that the spirit of a person hung around its body for three days after death. The idea was that a person might die but revive during the first two or three days afterward. If that was a common belief, would that help us understand why Jesus waited as long as he did? It seems that Jesus came to Bethany on the seventh day after learning of Lazarus’s illness? Are those seven days significant? If so, how? Why is it important that we know how far it was from Jerusalem to Bethany? How far was it from the Jordan, where Jesus was baptized, to Bethany? (See the map in the LDS edition of the Bible.) Who are “the Jews” who came to comfort Martha and Mary? To whom does John often refer with that name? (See passages such as John 2:6, 3:25, 5:10-18, 6:41 and 52, 7:1 and 11-13, 8:48 and 52 and 57, and 9:18-22; also compare verse 18 to verse 13.)

It is important to recognize that in John’s gospel the term “the Jews” does not refer to all who were from the tribe of Judah. Rather, it refers to a specific group of people in Jerusalem at that time, a particular social caste or political power. (Failure to see that has caused countless death and horror: Christians killing and otherwise tormenting those whom they took to be among “the Jews.”)

What does the fact that many of the Jews came to comfort Martha and Mary suggest about the sisters’ social standing? How is that relevant? Why is their presence in the story important?

Verses 20-22: Compare Martha’s and Mary’s behavior in Luke 10:38-42 to their behavior here. Do Luke and John portray them the same or do you see differences? Why does Martha go to meet Jesus? Why do you think Mary stays in the house? Does Martha accuse Jesus in verse 21?

Verses 23-27: Why doesn’t Jesus tell her straightforwardly that he will bring Lazarus back to life? Is Jesus giving this event a double meaning, showing two ways that the miracle will glorify the Father and, therefore, the Son (cf. verse 4)? What are some of the purposes that this miracle serves? Do we see one of those purposes in these verses? In verse 24 Martha confesses her belief in the resurrection and Jesus responds, “I am the resurrection.” How would she have most likely understood that response? What is jesus telling her when he says what he does? Why does verse 26 say “Everyone who is alive and believes in me shall never die”? Why do we need already to be alive? In verse 26, what does Jesus mean by “liveth”? Why is it important that Martha believe this? How is her belief related to the story as a whole?

Verses 28-32: Did Jesus call for Mary or was this Martha’s idea? What would the former suggest? What would the latter suggest? Why does Martha go to Mary secretly? Can we see Mary as a type for the Christian in verse 28? If so, for whom is Martha a type? Is Jesus waiting outside of the town? If so, why? Is Mary accusing Jesus in verse 32?

Verses 33-37? What troubled (and the best translation here is probably “angered” rather than “troubled” or “groaned in the spirit”) Jesus about this event (verse 33)? If weeping is appropriate (D&C 42:45), what was wrong with the weeping of this group? Is 1 Thessalonians 4:13 relevant? Why did Jesus weep (verse 34)? Presumably he knew that he was going to raise Lazarus, so what was there to weep about? Do some of the Jews accuse Jesus in verse 37? Is what they say different from what Martha and Mary have said (verses 21 and 32)? If so, how?

Verses 38-44: Why does John again tell us that Jesus was “groaning in himself” or angry (verse 38)? Why does Martha think that Jesus wants the tomb opened? When did Jesus tell Martha that if she would believe she would see the glory of God (verse 40)? If he is referring to what he said in verse 26, then “shall never die” and “shouldest see the glory of God” are parallel. Does that tell us anything about what he was saying in verse 26? What kind of life was he promising those who believe? What does it mean to believe? In verse 41, we see them take away the stone from the tomb, then we hear Jesus speak to the Father as if he has already said a prayer asking that Lazarus be returned to life. Is that what has happened? If so, why doesn’t John explicitly tell us about that previous prayer? The word “people” in verse 42 could perhaps better be translated “crowd” or “multitude.” Is Jesus putting on a show for them? How do you explain verse 42? John shows us Lazarus coming out of the tomb (verse 44), but nothing of his reunion with his sisters and friends. Why does John end the story so abruptly and move on to a related topic?

Verses 45-46: We’ve seen this division among “the Jews” before (e.g., John 9:16). What does it tell us about these events and about Christ’s effect on those who experienced his earthly ministry?

Verses 47-48: At this time, what was the relationship like between the priests and the Pharisees? Does that relation shed any light on the gathering that we see here? Do the priests and the Pharisees believe that Jesus performs miracles (verse 47)? If so, why are they opposed to him? What two things are the priests and Pharisees worried about losing (verse 48)? Why would they believe that if people follow Jesus the Romans are likely to take over the rule of Judea? The Romans already oversaw the Judean government and had troops in Jerusalem and other cities to enforce their power. So what would it mean for them to “take away both our place and nation”? When did the priests and Pharisees lose their place and nation? What brought that about?

Verses 49-52: In verse 50 Caiaphas uses the same reasoning—and perhaps exactly the same wording—that the Lord used with Nephi when he told Nephi to kill Laban (1 Nephi 4:13). How do you explain that? What do you make of it? Would Caiaphas have seen the two circumstances as different?

Verses 51-52: The first clause of verse 51 suggests that we could understand Caiaphas to have been referring to himself in verse 49. How so? What irony is John exploiting? When did the high priest ever die to save Israel? To think about that, consider that Hebrews speaks of Jesus as “the great high priest” (Hebrews 4:14). What Jewish ritual made that parallel explicit? In verse 52, to whom would early Christians have thought “that nation” referred? the phrase “the children of God that were scattered abroad”? How is Jesus’s death related to the gathering? Given the importance of the resurrection, why does John speak here only of Jesus’ death?

Verses 53-57: How is the raising of Lazarus related to the decision to kill Jesus? Why does Jesus go to Ephraim to wait for Passover (verse 54)? How was Passover a purifying festival? For what reason or reasons might Jesus’ passion and resurrection have taken place at Passover rather than at the fast commemorating the atonement, Yom Kippur?

29 Responses to “Sunday School Lesson #19”

  1. Robert C. said

    This part in John 11:50, “one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not,” is fascinating to me. If Caiaphas and Nephi are quoting a similar Hebrew idea, perhaps a proverb of sorts, then I think it has a lot of bearing on how Atonement would’ve been understood. Cheryl, I’ll be esp. interested on what a Girardian take might be on this….

  2. Katy Copeland said

    The reasoning behind a dead person lieing in wait for three days actually comes from Egyptian beliefs hundreds of years before Christ’s birth. I would suggest from skimming your blog that you spend your valuable time reading symbolisms of the time as followed by the faithful Jew for an example to understand such things as Jesus didn’t begin preaching until he was 30 because that was the age recognized as cognition of the faith. It would be a grand experience for you to understand the Bible through researching the Bibical times. Did you know that part of the written word at the time of Christ was in numbers as well as letters? The numbers represented letters and words. In other words the numbers 666 so feared by many as the ‘Mark of the Beast’ is actually letters or words and not numbers at all. Did you know that when an Apostle speaks to Parishioners of one Church in the Bible he says “Open your eyes so you may see.” Did you know that the reason the Apostle used that wording is because that Church was located in a city that had the only care center (like our hospitals) which took care of people with eye problems – thus “open your EYES.” You should have become a little enlightened and hopefully curious enough by what I’ve shared with you to “seek the truths” of the Bible to find your answers through study and research with the same time you presently type your questions of that which you don’t yet understand. The Bible also says “Seek and you will find.” Seek and Find are the words I hope for you in this the only reply to your blog that I’ll send.

  3. Robert C. said

    Katy, could you provide any books or references for us to learn more about these “symbolisms of the time”? I hadn’t heard the bit about hospitals and eyes before, and I’m quite curious about that in particular.

    Also, those of us who know Jim better know that he knows a vast amount regarding Biblical times. I think the point of these questions is to get us to think more carefully about the text, so that we gain more from really studying scripture, rather than just absorbing ideas from others. Most of us here understand the value of learning about the culture in the ways you suggest, but we also believe that we must think about the meanings and possible meanings of the text in order to get the most out of the scriptures.

    Thanks for the insights you shared.

  4. Rebecca L said

    Thanks, Jim! You have influenced my thinking about these chapters tremendously.

    In addition to seeing the publican in the role of the prodigal son, what about seeing the young rich man, who has “kept all the commandments” in the role of the elder son?

    John 12:37-43 goes part-way to explaining why the emphasis on miracles.

    Thanks again!

  5. Rebecca L said

    “Groaned within” as anger—

    There is a nice verse in Jeremiah 13:16-18 that brings together the themes of light/dark stumbling and weeping that we see in John 11:9-10;35. This seems to suggest that it actually is the unbelief of the Jews, and Mary’s despair that is the real source of Christ’s grief. Why would he weep for Lazarus whom he knows he is about to heal? I understand that he would be moved by Mary’s distress, but it seems even more likely, in the context of the Jeremiah verse, and the translation of “groaning within” as “anger”, that as Christ performs this culminating miracle and declares that he is the resurrection and the life, he also realizes that no miracle will convince, and that so many of his children will always be blinded by disbelief (see John 12:35-50).

    As far as the Mary-Martha issues go, I have a few random thoughts. First, I think most Mormon women have difficulty with the Mary/Martha story because we feel like Marthas but we wish we were Mary. It is not surprising that a church culture born in the crucible of poverty and pioneering and which today emphasizes self-sufficiency, food storage, and the art of homemade breadmaking should breed a few Marthas. It is hard to see how a Mary would have lasted on the trail. Frankly, as wonderful and unerringly right as Mary’s actions were in anointing the Lord’s feet and listening to his words, I have a grudging sympathy for Martha who probably would have liked to be doing those same things but felt, for reasons true or imagined, that she was stuck in the kitchen.

    John 11 gives us a welcome chance to revisit these relationships from a different perspective. I find it significant that Martha is on the lookout for Christ. Like the prodigal’s father, she comes to Christ, the note that Mary does not come is significant. What follows is a true confession of unsolicited faith when Martha declares, “But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.” When Christ then asks her if she believes that those who believe on him shall not die (v.26) she, despite the fact that her believing brother lies dead, replies with a rock-like faith that would make Peter proud: “Yea, Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God.”

    Martha’s faith is very positive and firm. Mary seems to be more overwhelmed by grief. Even the fact that the Jews who apparently came to comfort both sisters (V.19) really appear to be all wrapped up in Mary (v.31;45) might argue that Mary likes drama and finds her way to the lime-light. Martha finds it easier to slip away unnoticed.

    Finally, Martha’s relationship with the Lord is great. The very fact that she asks him to take her side in a family quarrel shows how familiar she is with him and it shows that she expects him to take her side. Their familiarity is underlined by the story in John 11 and even their discussion at the tomb. I take her comments not as faithless but as a warning. Can we understand his comments as accepting her previous declarations of faith and saying, in an almost loving and teasing way (since she has no experience of anything like this), “Now stand back and watch this!”

    Anyway, just some thoughts.

  6. nhilton said

    I don’t see the “groaned within” as anger. I see it as the opitome of empathy. Jesus here exemplifies “mourn with those that mourn.” (Mosiah 18:9) I can’t imagine that the ignorance of those around him would provoke him to anger. It seems more likely to me that he’s simply feeling their suffering even, perhaps, as he felt the suffering and pains of all in Gethsemane. This is certainly a prefiguring of the whole atonement scenerio and it would fit that the suffering of the savior would preceed the resurrection enactment.

  7. Rebecca L said

    #6 Nanette- I agree that the picture of Christ’s empathy is moving and that we see that in many scriptural locations, most notably the Book of Mormon. However, I lean towards the idea that it is our wickedness and blindness that grieves him more than anything else. If you look here you’ll see the linguistic background for the word. Given that, the scripture in Jeremiah seems to reconcile things nicely.


  8. Robert C. said

    RebeccaL #5, thank you very much for this defense of Martha. You’ll notice I (ambivalently…) sketch a defense of Mary here in the “Mary as the one who sees” paragraph—your thoughts have me rethinking all of this yet again.

    RebeccaL #7, I think this is very much a controversial point among scholars to this day, so I don’t think it’s wise to lean too heavily on Thayer’s Lexicon. The two main commentaries I looked this up in (Brown’s Anchor Bible and Beasely-Murray’s Word Biblical Commentary both take the view you describe, but both are also careful to discuss the counter views which seem to have significant (though non-majority, is my sense…) followings. Here is a sketch of the some of the counter points:

    * Early manuscripts seem to suggest “groaned” means empathy more than anger: “Turning to the passage in John, we find that the Greek Fathers understood it in a sense of getting agnry, while most of the early versions soften the emotion to one of being troubled. P45, P66, and Codex Bezae offer a reading which also softens the impact; they read “as if” before the verb (Brown, p. 426).

    * “Troubled” may be a Greek translation of an Aramaic expression for empathy: “Black, pp. 174-78 [An Aramiaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, 1954], suggests that these two Greek expressions are variant translations of the one original Aramaic expression which meant “to be strongly moved.” Boismard, EvJean, pp. 49-51 [St. John’s Prologue, 1957], agrees and offers examples from patristic citations of John where only one or the other Greek expression appears” (Brown, p. 426).

    * Jesus’ weeping mirrors Mary’s weeping: Actually, I think the weeping image encompasses both reproach (implicitly) and empathy. That is, Jesus weeps because Mary and the Jews are sad, but their sadness is tied up with an inability to see what will happen. I think this dual connotation of weeping holds in Jeremiah (I think 13:17 should be read in the larger context of 9:1 and 14:17 where empathy seems more implied…), as well as other scriptural passages (esp. Moses 7…). So, again, I really appreciate your defense of Martha because I think it (dialectically) complements the condemnation of Martha I sketched (or, defense of Mary at least), and the richness of the textual meaning only surfaces in considering both sides of this ambiguity….

  9. nhilton said

    Rebecca & Robert, I know the lexicon notes say “anger,” but I don’t buy it. I’m a monkey with my 3 pair of hands over eyes, ears & mouth –ah, not my mouth! :) Anywho, I think the groaning is more like in:

    Rom 8:22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.

    Rom 8:23 And not only [they], but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, [to wit], the redemption of our body.

    The depth of emotion is enormous for the Savior & the groaning is a consequence of this, but not a predominance of anger. I doubt Jesus is feeling anything akin to that mentioned in Jeremiah regarding Mary. I believe the day & night metaphore is simply an expression of walking with or without God in response to the disciples’ concern for Jesus’ safety.

    Mary isn’t doubting Jesus, but simply mourning the loss of her brother. He hasn’t born testimony to her, like he did to Martha just previously in v. 23-27. In fact, Martha’s faith in him preceeded the testimony he bears to her. See v. 22. She KNOWS he can raise Lazarus. I don’t think Mary was any less faithful.

    There’s no rebuke in Mary’s words, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” Only fact. Surely Jesus would have healed him BEFORE he died–thus the delay in his return to Bethany. She also expresses great faith in Jesus’ power. There is no rebuke to either sister for anything they say or do in this story, only an emphasis on Jesus’ love for them.

    So, for the next verse to contain any anger seems out of place to me. If anything, Jesus would be feeling happiness, gratitude and confidence in Martha & Mary’s faith. What a great vote of confidence they’ve just shown in him!

    I know the resurrection to be a reality, but while I’m in this life I still mourn deeply the loss of my loved ones, especially if it’s combined with any suffering on their part as they die. Martha & Mary have been through a lot with their brother the past days and I’m sure their emotions are at the edge. Since the Savior was so close to these 3 siblings surely he was doing what I mentioned in Mosiah, mourning with them. Who could be angry with people who have just lost a brother, no matter what their religion promised later? It would have been cavalier for the sisters to simply say, “We’ve been waiting for you. Glad you finally arrived, please bring our brother back to life now” with no other emotional expression. Inhuman. In contrast, the Savior shows a very human side of his character by groaning & weeping. In verse 35 “Jesus wept.” He’s not only groaning, he’s crying as Mary crys. His heart is on his sleeve.

    To say he wept only out of empathy for their emotions and support for their emotional suffering is minimizing what prompted his groaning. Jesus groaned for many reasons & “was troubled”, perhaps in part by their misunderstanding, but I don’t see his anger being warranted or provoked in this scene whatsoever.

    Re: Mary & Martha, Martha most especially, I recommend Camille Fronk Olson’s little book, “Mary, Martha, and Me: Seeking the One Thing That Is Needful.” I really liked the last 1/3 of the book & especially the inclusion of the “virtuous woman” from Psalms 31.

  10. nhilton said

    Oh, another thought, maybe Jesus is just bummed out that he waited so long & let Martha & Mary stress over their brother’s death so much. Maybe it’s remorse, not anger at all. Ya think?

  11. Jim F. said

    nhilton: I appreciate your analysis, and I understand why anger seems inappropriate at this point. In spite of that I think it (or something like it, perhaps “indignant”) is the best translation of the word in question, embrimaomai. Though Robert C has pointed to some people who would like to soften the interpretation of that verb to something like “deeply moved,” I see little linguistic evidence for doing so. (The best argument is that it is a Greek translation of an Aramaic expression, though there is no evidence for that argument.) So, I’m convinced by Beasley-Murray’s argument in Word Biblical Commentary (36:192-92): “inward anger” is what is meant.

    The verbs used in Romans 8:22-23 for “groaned” are related to each other (sustenazō in 22; stenazō in 23), but unrelated to the verb used in John. So those verses don’t help us understand this one.

    I don’t know what to make of Jesus’ anger or inward reproach in this story, but I don’t think we can easily dismiss it.

  12. Robert C. said

    If Jesus’ anger is directed toward Mary, I noticed a reference to an article that apparently argues that the anointing in chapter 12 is a reversal of chapter 11. From Ingesting Jesus: Eating and Drinking in the Gospel of John by Jane Webster:

    Both the narrative of the raising of Lazarus and the anointing of Bethany refer to each other (11:1-2; 12:1-2), suggesting that the dinner may have been motivated by gratitude. [Bernard P. Robinson (“Anointing by Mary of Bethany” in Downside Review, v. 115, 1997, pp. 99-111)] argues that Mary’s anointing with oil in the house reverses the account in John 11:28-37 in which Mary stays in her house until she is called and anoints Jesus’ feet with her tears, demonstrating her lack of trust in Jesus’ ability. [p. 93, fn 7]

    I’ve ordered the article and will follow-up when I’ve had a chance to read it (or, more likely, skim it…).

  13. Rebecca L said

    #12 I had been entertaining some thoughts along those lines as well. Here’s another– the Jews speak of Christ as one who healed the blind–“Why couldn’t he have healed Lazarus,” they ask? Then Christ “groans inwardly again”.

    Surely we need to read this second “groaning” at the mention of blindness in the context of the previous chapter John 9, the healing of the blind man and the discussion of true (i.e. hard-hearted) blindness as well as the concluding discussion of light/darkness and blindness of those who will not believe “though he had done so many miracles before them.” (John 12:37 ff.)

    Martha’s faith, before Christ says anything to her, is magnificent, confident, and solid. Re-reading it, I just love it. Thanks for the Jeremiah quotes, Rob. I think the larger context of Jeremiah actually supports the idea that it is unrighteousness that causes the Lord the most grief.

    Here’s another interesting sidelight sparked by Frank Kermode, Literary Guide to the Bible, p. 456-7 “…Jesus, calling forth Lazarus, “cried with a loud voice,” phone megale (v.43) the very expression used of his dying cry in Matthew 27:46. In each case the cry paradoxically signals a new birth.” Working off the idea of birth, is there something structural going on here? A circle pointing back to Nicodemus (who came in darkness), the transformation of water into wine, the seemingly beyond belief demand of re-birth now culminating in the greatest miracle of resurrection and the promise of a subtantive transformation for all? The image of birth is also echoed in the tomb/womb and even the burial clothes/swaddling clothes.

  14. Robert C. said

    RebeccaL, since your defense of Martha goes against most of what I’ve been reading elsewhere, I’m going to list some of the reasons I’ve encountered for taking a more negative view toward Martha’s faith—not because I don’t think your points are valid or b/c I believe everything that I’m reading, but in an effort to think through this story more carefully, and to hear any responses you can come up with. I hope no one takes a lack of response to these points from you, me, or anyone else here as simply conceding the points because I think we simply might not have time to work on this more thoroughly….

    Several commentators note that there are striking similarities between the account of the woman at the well and the raising of Lazarus, esp. regarding Martha. In this sense, Martha might be taken as someone who doesn’t see Jesus for who he really is. More specifically, Martha seems to be expressing hope in an eventual resurrection, but not in an immmediate one. Martha’s reaction in v. 39 might be taken as an expression of doubt that makes her earlier expressions of faith suspect (“half-expressed hope” is how Raymond Brown phrases it…). Also, Mary’s sitting in the house might be taken as “proper mourning” whereas Martha’s running out to greet Jesus might be viewed as a ploy to attract attention, to see and be seen where the real action surrounding Jesus is.

  15. cherylem said

    For me the issue with the Mary/Martha story is that the whole resurrection narrative – the explanation, the plea, everything, is with women, and seemingly this is not an unusual situation. This is a significant event, a significant doctrinal exposition, between the Lord and women. The women are robust in their action and their conversation.

  16. nhilton said

    Interestingly, the same scriptural passage read with different voice inflection brings a VERY different reading. Teaching this in class today, depending on WHO read or HOW they read Martha/Mary’s conversation with the Lord resulted in a very different understanding. I think a lot of presupisition comes to any reading of the passage. So it’s not suprising to me that different “scholars” have different views on what REALLY happened. Until we get the big picture unfolded to us by the Lord himself, I think our interpretation and internalization of this most significant event of Lazarus’ raising, must be facilitated by the Holy Ghost. Really, for Jesus not to groan within himself because of OUR lack of understanding, we must rely on the Spirit to communicate to us what these scriptures mean–to us individually and us universally.

    RobertC’s #14 thoughts on Martha strike me as off base with who this sister is to me, personally. Even is these are “devil’s advocate” interpretations, I find them strongly misdirected from who Martha was really & who she is suppose to represent to me.

  17. Jim F. said

    With cherylem and nhilton, I think Robert C’s readings (which aren’t really his) don’t work. I don’t know what to make of Jesus’ anger, though I don’t see how to get around it, but I also don’t read the story as one in which either Mary or Martha is portrayed negatively. Indeed, I see exactly the opposite.

  18. Robert C. said

    I should add that Raymond Brown (Anchor Bible) has an interesting discussion of Jesus’ anger as an anger directed toward general suffering in the world caused by Satan’s presence (and trace) in the world, incl. the condition of death. Also, I think Mary and Martha need not have actually expected Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead (as I think verse 39 implies) to have exhibited great faith. In fact, I think there’s a sense in which God’s grace should perpetually surpass our expectations and hopes….

  19. Rebecca L said

    Robert, Thanks for bringing up these points. Surely the topic bears more careful consideration than we may be able to give it now (on to next week’s lesson, right?). I would only add that I loved Cherlyem’s comment about the centrality of women in this resurrection experience and thought about how fittingly that foreshadowed the death and resurrection of Christ himself, as well as underscored the womb/tomb image. Also, I agree with Nhilton that the account you refer to of Martha doesn’t ring true. Two points spring to mind in that regard 1) if Martha was trying to get attention she didn’t succeed. No one seems to notice she was even gone, whereas when Mary gets up to leave the Jews (who are now only listed as HER comforters) get up to follow. 2) I read Martha’s comment about the resurrection as gently pushing Christ to do more than let Lazarus wait for the inevitable resurrection. She has just previously told him he can STILL do something about it so her faith in that shouldn’t be in doubt.

    Finally, a note on the “groaning” and I agree that we ultimately won’t know why Christ groaned until he tells us himself, but you may find this reference, that a class member brought up, interesting: “And it came to pass that when they had knelt upon the ground , Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel.” (3 Ne 17:14)

    Different context, different original language, but interesting echoes with our texts. I don’t know, Jim, is there any basis for a theory of literary repetition since Christ is the inspiration behind Joseph Smith’s translation?

    Anyway, these events are very consisent for me. Christ cries because of our wickedness. He is approaching his final week of life, performing the greatest miracle yet witnessed, still they will not believe. It is like his cry in Jeremiah, “If ye will not hear it my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears..”(Jer 13:17)

    Does this interpretation add to our understanding of Mary’s subsequent actions? Is her anointing of Christ, like that of the woman taken in adultery, also a penitent act? I have no doubt she was fully reconciled with Christ and I do not intend to slight her by the interpretation I have offered. I see Martha as representative of those faithful who are “looking for the Lord.” Mary is also one of the faithful, but one who is distracted, maybe even overshadowed momentarily by misunderstanding, but who also comes “quickly” when called. Perhaps she is also a model of penitence and reconciliation.

    This whole exchange had me radically rethinking the “other” Martha-Mary story and wondering if part of Christ’s admonition to Martha to let Mary alone, was that Mary, even more than Martha, needed the strength and insight she would gain from sitting that evening at Jesus’ feet.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  20. Rebecca L said

    Strike “woman taken in adultery” for “woman who was a sinner”.

  21. Robert C. said

    Rebecca L #19, great insights. I esp. like how you describe Mary in terms of penitence. I’ll have to try and play devil’s advocate with you more often if it leads you to post such great comments!

  22. Cherylem said

    Remember we had a discussion regarding the annointing stories here: https://feastuponthewordblog.org/2007/03/04/sunday-school-lesson-10/

    I don’t think the annointing story in John represents Mary as penitent, and it is important NOT to conflate this annointing story with the one in Luke 8. In fact, I would not combine the Mary/Martha stories in John with the one in Luke at all (Luke 10:38-42).

    However, regarding the Lucan story, I did have a conversation regarding this very recently with Justin Kelley, a Jesuit Priest who teaches at the University of Detroit Mercy. His interpretation of Mary’s silence and sitting at Jesus’ feet (in Luke) was that she was sitting at Torah; that all disciples sitting at Torah would be more or less silent, following the customs of the day, listening to the teaching of their master.

  23. Marilyn said

    I want to share what I did with my lesson with on this reading block. Our lesson focused on the story of Christ’s raising of Lazarus from the dead. I told the class that this event set in motion all which will take place in Jerusalem over the next few weeks. The Lord is about to perform a miracle that in many ways surpasses all other miracles He has performed up to this point. It is the miracle that will push the Jewish leadership past the point where they can no longer tolerate his life to continue.

    We read all of John 11, looking for ways in which this miracle was different from His other miracles.

    1. Jesus delayed his coming. This was very uncharacteristic of Him, since he usually responded immediately to other’s needs. This delay was part of His orchestration of this event to come.
    2. This miracle would not be able to be explained away. Lazarus had been dead for 4 days. Jewish tradition was that the spirit lingers near the body for 3 days after death.
    3. Prayed vocally to the father, showing His divine calling. There could be no question in the minds of the disciples about who had sent him and by whose authority he was acting.
    4. This was a very dramatic miracle, with Jesus crying with a loud voice. A crowd gathered as witnesses, Mary and Martha totally not expecting what would happen next. Martha tried to stop him because she apparently thought he was going to enter into the cave to see Lazarus and mourn. That would have defiled him to be near a dead body.
    5. A multitude of Jews were converted by this miracle, which caused the following to happen:
    6. Leaders are now convinced that they have to destroy Him

    Here are a select few of the scriptures, notes and questions I used in the lesson:
    v. 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.
    The restoration of physical life is a sign of eternal life. It will glorify God in that it will bring Jesus’ death.
    v. 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, These phrases (v. 33, 38) express deep internal emotion. What Jesus troubled about?
    34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.
    35 Jesus wept. Why did he weep? The class members discussed the thoughts that it couldn’t have been because Lazarus was dead, because He knew it wouldn’t be long. They decided it was because he was mourning with those that mourn, feeling sympathy for Mary and Martha. This is the usual explanation and is possibly correct, but I suggested it wasn’t complete, by asking, “Can you think of another time in his mortal or His pre-mortal life when the Lord wept?” Somebody in the class remembered God’s conversation with Enoch in Moses

    Moses 7: 28 And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?
    29 And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? …..
    33 And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood; …….
    37 But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?

    I suggested it was because he knew that this miracle would finally condemn those who would still turn against him, and they would suffer and their children, and their children’s children after them. His great love for all his children, even when they reject Him, is what made him weep.

    When there was only a few minutes left to class I pulled out this last piece.

    The Parable of Lazarus the beggar (This parable is the only one of Jesus’ many parables that actually has a name for any of the characters in the story, and it foreshadowed the Jews’ response to the raising of Lazarus. The parable of Lazarus and the rich man was specifically designed to describe those who were so wicked that they would reject the testimony of one who had returned from the dead):

    Luke 16: 19 ¶ There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

    20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
    21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
    22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
    23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
    24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
    25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
    26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
    27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:
    28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
    29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
    30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
    31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

    There wasn’t time for anything but me to read this fairly quickly, but as I read, I could watch my class members’ faces. Many of them had that “Ahah!” look on their faces. Suddenly that old parable took on meaning that had never been there before, and it also supported my suggestion about why Jesus wept.

    It was exciting for me to watch them discover something that I had found in my study during my week of preparation.

  24. Robert C. said

    Marylin, this is fantastic—thanks for sharing your insights and lesson experience!

  25. Jim F. said

    Good stuff Marylin. Thanks.

  26. I go along with you actually, I do think! Would it possibly be a possibility for you to get your webblog translated in to Greek? English is my 2nd language.

  27. kirkcaudle said

    Is Koine Greek your first language??

  28. Jim F. said

    KIrk, I’m betting on modern Greek.

  29. KirkCaudle said

    Yeah, so would I.

    I guess asking for a New Testament lesson to be posted in Greek just threw me off. Not that there is anything wrong with the a New Testament lesson in modern Greek, just struck me funny for some reason.

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