“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’
“Jesus wept. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
“Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb; it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?’
“So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’
“The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’”—John 11: 32-44
This episode is among the most unusual, even the most strange and affecting, among all of them in the four gospels.
From the viewpoint strictly of storytelling, it shifts perspectives, with Christ addressing Martha and Mary, making his way through the crowd, addressing his Trinitarian “Father,” and having moments of interior consciousness (Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled”).
Moreover, for the inevitable doubters of this very public miracle hearing this years later, John includes the grittiest details associated with the event: the bandage- and cloth-bound, risen Lazarus, and even the gruesome invocation of a stench associated with removing the stone.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, in George Stevens’ reverential but slow-moving 1965 Biblical epic The Greatest Story Ever Told, this appears to have been the one event to call out all the great director’s skills.
As you’ll see in this YouTube clip, the scene dispenses with the all-star cameos that are so distracting elsewhere in the film.
Instead, Stevens frames everything—including the climactic moment when Jesus urges his friend to “Come forth”—as if we were viewing a great Renaissance tableau—maybe something like The Raising of Lazarus, by the Italian painter Sebastiano del Piombo, in the image accompanying this post.
How unusual is this chapter in the ministry of Jesus? Well, the Lazarus story is not told in any Gospel other than John’s. This story has the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” And of course, it ultimately foreshadows the Easter that the Church year looks forward to and that Christians hope for.