Bible Tuesday for Lent V, 2017
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.
The book of Ezekiel is one of prophecies and mystic visions meant to give guidance, chastisement, and hope to the Israelites exiled under Babylonia. The above passage is a vision of hope.
In his vision, Ezekiel is brought to the valley at the foot of Har Megiddo, where many fierce battles of Israel took place. No doubt the last battle there against Babylonia left many Israelite soldiers dead in the fields with no one to bury them. Ezekiel is shown this field full of the bones of Israel’s fallen army and commanded to prophesy to these dead. As the obedient Ezekiel declares the words given him, God reconstructs Israel’s army. But Ezekiel must prophesy to the breathe to fill the lungs of these soldiers that they might truly live.
In Israelite culture, breath, or “ruach” in Hebrew, is the life force. It is synonymous with “spirit”. In the last verse when God says, “I will put my spirit within you and you shall live,” this had the double meaning that God will put breath and God’s spirit within them. All this is to fulfill God’s promise that God will redeem Israel from captivity to Babylonia.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.
The psalmist cries out to God for attention. As in other psalms, this psalmist points out that, if God does not forgive and save, no one would be left to praise God.
It is noteworthy that the psalmist points out to God that the reason people praise God is because God forgives them, as opposed to punishes them. This psalmist is decided vigilant in waiting for God’s response to his/her supplication. Then, as if to bolster his/her own faith in God, the psalmist admonishes all Israel to have faith and hope in God.
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
It is passages like this which are the foundation of the doctrine of baptism. The stories of the giving of the Holy Spirit in the gospels (Jesus’ Easter Sunday upper room appearance) and the books of Acts and Paul’s writings, Christians believe that, in baptism, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in people through baptism. Paul explains that because the Holy Spirit dwells in the baptized, those who are baptized are vessels of the Holy, the Divine. Because of this amazing mystery, there is the you which dies and is buried/cremated (the flesh), and there is the you which is eternal (the spirit).
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. 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, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent 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 strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
In John’s gospel, Mary, sister of Lazarus, is the woman who pours perfume on Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair. Mary appears in the gospel of Luke as the sister who sat at Jesus feet and “chose the better part.”
Four days – In ancient Jewish folklore, the spirit of a person lingered around the body for three days before departing or allowing the person to revive. Here, Lazarus is dead for four days, making it clear that Lazarus didn’t just revive but was actually raised from the dead by Jesus.
“told them plainly” – In the gospel of John, Jesus “speaks in parables that the blind may see and those who see may become blind.” Since the disciples do not understand Jesus when he speaks in “parables”, they are blind but being made to see.
Like the blind man healed in last week’s text, Lazarus is dead, not to punish Lazarus or his sisters, but that God might be glorified through Jesus raising Lazarus. Indeed, it is this act that alarmed the Temple leaders enough to put a price on Jesus’ life.
Why did Jesus weep? Why was he greatly disturbed? The gospel does not explain. In the gospel of John, Jesus is calm, cool, collected, and in control, except at this moment. When faced with the death of a very close friend, Jesus sobbed and became very upset, with grief that is not given words. I am grateful to know that Jesus really does know exactly how horrible death is when it happens to a best friend or a spouse, and when it happens to one’s self.
“Unbind him and let him go.” – Jesus has released Lazarus from death, at least for a while. He commands those who witness this resurrection set Lazarus free from the grave and its clothes. Later, on Easter morning, when Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into the disciples and apostles, he gives them the “The Keys”. “The Keys” are both the command and the power necessary to carry them out: “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you lose on earth will be losed in heaven.” Here, Jesus gives an example of what we are to do with those keys. We are to free people from the horrible ramifications of death as best we can until we are around God’s table in the feast that has no end.