Friday, August 23, 2013

Visiting Bethany (part 6 of 6)

As the Gospel of John reports, with many witnesses present and presumably able to confirm or deny the story that is being told, Jesus calls Lazarus forth from the tomb.  It is reported that, as a result of this display of life-giving power, many people came to believe in Jesus.  Whether they came to believe in Him as a miracle-worker or as the Messiah is not specified.  However, it can surely be imagined that many that had witnessed the event, and who had perhaps witnessed the whole of His coming to Bethany (the veritable parousia that had taken place), happily joined with Mary and Martha in calling Him “Lord,” “Christ” (Messiah), and “Son of God.” 

This verbal elevation of Jesus to the position that was categorically reserved for the king of Israel (or one who would be king---remember, these are not titles of divinity in and of themselves), without the requisite approval from or sanction of Rome, among a number of other issues that are swirling around Jesus, is shown to have sparked the Pharisees and chief priests and council to declare “If we allow Him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation” (11:48). 

It seems that the author wants those that hear or read the story to understand, along with what these men clearly understand, that Jesus’ actions are intensely political.  The author appears to be making this point in the way he shapes his narrative, deftly and somewhat subversively pointing to the fact and the ways of the coming kingdom of God in which Jesus rules over all kings. 

So Jesus, as is discovered in the text, was acclaimed by the people for His miraculous work in raising Lazarus, which was the culmination of a great number of miraculous works and the point in the narrative where the tide turns and an onward rush to the climactic conclusion of crucifixion and Resurrection begins.  It is quite likely that He gained the honor and respect and worship of all in Bethany upon the event of this visit, which would be significant in an honor and shame culture.  A first century hearer or reader would presumably be inclined to accord this Jesus honor as well.  If he or she understood the underlying movement of the narrative that suggests that Jesus is a greater King than Caesar, then it is possible that this honor is accorded to Jesus at the expense of the Caesar.  

Figuratively, the whole of the community, upon Lazarus’ return to life, would have bowed at the feet of Jesus.  Had Caesar visited Bethany, the response would have been expected to have been the same.  All would have bowed at his feet in recognition of his power and rule and dominion over “the whole earth”.  The main difference is that when Jesus came to Bethany in his quasi-parousia, He brought life, and it was the bringing of life that would have induced the authentic worship and real honor.  While it is true that Caesar would also have received a form of worship, in the end, in spite of all the good that he might very well have done or have been able to do for the people under his rule, ultimately, men and women would only fall at Caesar’s feet because he demanded it, carrying with him the threat and power of death.    

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