Lazarus!…Come out!

Jesus wept.
Then the Jews said,
“See how he loved him!”
(John 11:35-6).
Jesus is weeping when he finds the tomb,
weeps at the stone across the entrance.
Take away the stone (John 11:39).
Which is when Martha,
out of confusion or spite,
mentions the smell:
by this time there is a bad odour,
for he has been there four days.

She knows this is nonsense –
she prepared the body herself –
but she can’t allow Jesus to go unchallenged.
He has arrived too late,
and there is nothing
he can usefully do.
Jesus wept.
Is that all?
Martha wants more, and in this episode the Gospel of John has lost shape in the move between languages. Translation scrapes off an edge of intensity,
until modern English texts have Jesus
deeply moved in spirit and troubled
(John 11:33, New International Version).
In the Greek original he is embrimomenos,
he is angry. He weeps, yes, but Martha is right: weeping is not enough. He is utterly furious:

All the blood went to his [Jesus’s] head, his eyes rolled and disappeared, only the whites remained.
He brought forth such a bellow you’d have thought there was a bull inside him, and we all got scared. Then suddenly while he stood there, trembling all over, he uttered a wild cry, a strange cry, something from another world. The archangels must shout in the same way when they’re angry…
‘Lazarus!’ he cried. ‘Come out!’

(Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation,1961, p. 427)

The Greek tradition, as represented by the novelist Kazantzakis, preserves the emotional truth of the scene. Jesus had learned this tearful anger many years earlier from Lazarus, on the shore of the lake in Galilee. Lazarus, too, had been enraged by the harshness of the hand of god.
At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus weeps for his friend as his friend had wept for his brother Amos, with anger as well as pity. Jesus weeps for then and for now, for himself and for Lazarus, and for the worst which is yet to come.

Richard Beard, from Lazarus is Dead,
Harvill Secker, 2011.


The above references to Amos are part of the back-story which Richard Beard constructs in order to explain the mystery of Jesus’s delay in getting to Lazarus at Bethany.  Lazarus is Dead is a very clever, very modern fable, artfully constructed and quite fascinating.  It is a most entertaining and informative read, packed to the gills with (rather too much) medical detail about the illnesses that could have killed Lazarus; and a diverse selection of cultural sources for the Jesus/Lazarus story, including Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation, one of my favourite Jesus novels, which was used as the basis for Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, probably my favourite Jesus movie!


My primary inspiration for this blog-post came, as is so very often the case, from Coleman Barks and his Rumi-work. This particular quatrain delighted me with its rejuvenative exuberance:

I called through your door, The mystics
are gathering in the street. Come out.

“Leave me alone. I am sick.”

I don’t care if you’re dead.
Jesus is here,
and he wants to resurrect somebody.


Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)
tr.Coleman Barks
from Rumi: The Big Red Book
HarperCollins 2010


One comment on “Lazarus!…Come out!”

  1. Interesting insight into an area I hadn’t thought about.

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