He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go. (Jn 11:43-44)
Once again this Sunday we have a very interesting scriptural quotation to examine that leaves us with many questions. First, when Jesus calls Lazarus out from his tomb, did Lazarus walk out of the tomb? Jesus does not command Lazarus to “walk out” but to “come out” or “come forth”. The Catholic Revised Standard and New American versions and the King James translation do not read that Lazarus “walked out” but that he “came out” or “came forth”. In fact, how could he have walked out if his feet were tied? Further, the first two respective translations record that “the dead man came out”. Was Lazarus still dead when he came out? The King James translation refers to Lazarus a bit differently: “he that was dead”. Does this mean that at this point Lazarus was now alive even though his face was still bound? And if he was alive, how still could he come out since his feet were still bound which we know to be the case since they needed to be unbound.
There is no mention in St. John’s gospel narrative that Lazarus struggled to loosen his own bonds. This may be because Lazarus did not struggle (or because this is not the detailed Gospel of St. Mark)! Did Lazarus not struggle because he was still dead at his coming out? Did Lazarus levitate from his tomb? Did he come to life only after he was untied and let go, such that Christ wanted those who participated in the untying to experience the palpable return of the breath of human life to this one who had been entombed for four days? We can only respond to these questions by saying that the event itself was certainly more amazing than the amazing narration of it; for all who were present were in the presence of the “resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25).
For this 5th Sunday in Lent we have placed on our parish bulletin cover a work by the late Renaissance painter Sebastiano del Piombo entitled The Raising of Lazarus (1519 – National Gallery, London). Del Piombo was a Venetian who after studying under Bellini travelled to Rome to study the works of Raphael and Michelangelo. This painting of del Piombo once hung side by side in the Vatican with Raphael’s Transfiguration (1520).
Here we see all the early Mannerist reactions to the miraculous raising: a man and woman kneeling in adoration, a man and woman (above Christ’s left arm) in fear and astonishment, three woman above them preparing for the stench of the dead body, two men to the left of them embracing in joy that the Messiah has come! Of course there is Lazarus being unbound and full of new life. Beyond the conversing crowd which flanks Christ, we see a deep, beautiful landscape with hill and lawn, bridge and water, painted in Venetian brilliance.
We might ask ourselves what our reaction would have been at the raising of Lazarus. Would we have adored, turned away, covered our noses, embraced in celebration; or would we have heard the command of Jesus and ran toward the “dead man” releasing him from his bonds of death.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services