The Raising Of Lazarus
Mary’s stay in the house of Hosea and Rhoda was difficult for her. While we waited for the Seventy to return, she had to restrain herself. One good thing about her stubbornness, at least for me, was her refusal to leave Capernaum to stay with Cleopas and his wife. Her service to the Lord, Jesus reassured her, would come in due time. She must, as a guest in Hosea’s household, do her part. She must, James added to the list, grow up and not scamper about like a teenage maiden, looking for a mate. As if it was a form of punishment or training for her, she not only had to help Rhoda around the house, but was expected to watch and take care of her children. Jesus checked up on her each day, allowing me brief visits once in awhile, but for appearances sake my special friendship with Mary Magdalene was at an end.
Despite the cloud still hanging over Peter’s house with me as a resident, most of the disciples approved of my defense of Mary. forgiven me for my lapse. Already closer to my group after the Transfiguration, Andrew and Philip grew even more friendly toward me since I gave those women a piece of my mind. James, Bartholomew, Thomas, Simon, Matthew, and Judas had never really wavered in our friendship, and now that Mary was off limits to us and, as James saw it, no longer an object of temptation, John saw himself as my kindred spirit. John’s brother James, like Peter, however, was another matter. Though John’s attitude had changed after Jesus’ coaxing, it would take awhile of proving to his brother James and Peter that I was in step with the goals of Jesus’ ministry. I had no illusions that Esther and Dinah would warm up to me again, but Bernice was ordered by Peter to be polite and courteous and, after a while, seemed genuinely gracious. In time, I hoped Esther and Dinah would also forgive me, but, as Jesus once told me, spiteful people have long memories. Thanks to Peter’s family, I had learned a lesson about human perception: it isn’t what you do but what you appear to do. Appearances, however innocent, mattered. Because of Jesus’ influence, it didn’t take long for my relationship with Mary to be forgotten by everyone or at least pardoned. Jesus also made a great effort to heal the division between some of the disciples. When John and his brother James bragged about their elevation to Peter, Jesus reprimanded them for their attitude. “In my Kingdom,” he said aloud for our benefit, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” That hour when he spoke these words, only a few days after the incident in Peters’ house, we appeared united again. Of all the guests in this crowded house, however, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon, Judas, and our brother James remained my closest friends.
Then, during the last few days before the Seventy returned with success stories about their preaching and conversions to the Way, three things occurred that almost put me on the outs with the others again. Elamech, Rebecca’s father, stormed up to Peter’s door demanding to see Jesus.
“You dare corrupt my youngest daughter with your abominations!” he shouted.
Since I had completely forgotten to warn Jesus about the people Mary and I attempted to convert, this shocked everyone in the house. Calmly, though, Jesus said to the scarlet-faced man, “Elamech, your daughter was invited to join, but she never came forth. Yet she will be saved. Your tyranny won’t prevent her from having eternal life. One day, she will be born again.”
“What nonsense is this?” Elamech snarled. “You play with words, preacher? You think I’m a fool?” Using different words than Nicodemus once used, he rolled the words around in his mouth, “Born again?… Born again?… Is this a riddle, preacher? Like the moth Rebecca will shed her old life and start anew.”
“That’s one way to put it,” Jesus smiled. “Please come in, Elamech. Don’t stand there in the sun.”
“I don’t want that man in my house!” Esther screamed.
“Esther,” Peter growled, “shut up!”
Seeing Elamech shake his head now, Jesus stepped outside to chat with the man. We will never know exactly what he said to him. He most certainly gave him his message of salvation. They walked along the shore of Lake Gennesaret in deep conversation for several moments, until they disappeared from sight. When Jesus returned, he exclaimed, “Praise my Father, the Most High! Elamech’s one of us now!” After Elamech’s angry introduction into our lives, Rebecca was brought over with her sisters. All three followed their father’s example and were given the ritual and baptized. Considering how it began, this was a remarkable series of events that day. Unfortunately, the remainder of the afternoon was marred by the appearance of people arriving at Peter’s house that Mary had referred to Jesus: the old woman, who said Mary promised Jesus could cure her husband of his senility, and then, an hour later, the drunk, whom we had mistakenly thought was addled in the head. I watched from the sidelines with the others as Jesus talked to the supplicants. Because I was responsible for what Mary said and did out there, I took the blame for forcing Jesus’ hand. Though, as he said later in private with me, it was against God’s plan to alter the natural stages of aging and ludicrous to attempt to cure a drunk of his addiction for wine, what else could he do? Matthew, Simon, Bartholomew, and Judas thought it was funny, but Thomas and the fishermen were united in their disapproval of me for placing Jesus in such a position. It seemed obvious to me that Jesus was given his father’s blessing to unscramble the old man’s mind, which was necessary for him to understand the rite, but he was greatly conflicted with dealing with the drunk. A look of enlightenment came over the old man’s face as he listened to Jesus say the words and then perform the rite of baptism, which Jesus repeated for his wife who brought him to Peter’s house. When the drunk arrived later, however, he turned and frowned at me.
“Uh oh,” Bartholomew murmured.
“Jesus,” Peter called from the background, “let him sober up first. He can barely talk.”
As if to test the man on how inebriated he was, Jesus asked him a few questions.
“Sir, what is your name?” He smiled tolerantly.
His jaw slack and eyes drooping, the man’s mouth tried forming the word, “Jer-jer…”
“Jeremiah?” offered Jesus.
“Uh huh.” He bobbed his head.
“Do you live in Capernaum?” Jesus persisted.
“…Ju-shal-lem,” Jeremiah tried saying the word.
“You’re from Jerusalem,” Jesus clarified. “Where do you live now?”
The man thought a moment, scratching his matted hair. “…No home,” he managed to say. “…Live in field… on street.”
As expected compassion beamed on Jesus’ face. That moment, as the man stood on wobbly legs in the doorway, Esther hissed, “Don’t let him in. He smells!” Peter shushed her testily. Jesus turned around at the audience of critics and scolded them severely. “For shame. Have you forgotten why I’m here? Can you not see that this man is sick—no less so than the blind or deaf man. His ears are stopped up by the effects of wine and he is blind from drink.”
At this point, Jesus performed one of his great cures, for he was not only forced to cure the body from the ravages of wine but change the man’s behavior as well. As in the case of the old man, he couldn’t even perform the rite until Jeremiah’s mind was cleared. The first step in making Jeremiah spiritually as well as physically whole, therefore, was to cure his drunkenness and the damage done to his brain.
“In the name of my Father,” he began, “for the sake of your soul, I banish the demon wine.” “It’s a demon of your own making,” he made it clear. “Unlike those poor souls, who are blind, deaf, and diseased by chance or birth, you, Jeremiah, have done this to yourself. Therefore, you must, on your own account, live by your pledge to God…. Do you Jeremiah bar Hemmon accept the saving grace of God and, in order to have life everlasting, repent of your sins, which are many, and pledge to sin no more?”
Blinking his eyes during his cure, he looked out in a daze as would a man awakening from a deep sleep. “Yes, Jesus,” he answered clearly. “I promise.”
“Kneel,” Jesus murmured, motioning for a skin of water.
Obligingly, Bernice scurried forward with a pitcher.
Jesus intoned the formula with no less passion than when he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, sprinkling water liberally on his bowed head: “In the name of the Father and holy spirit upon you, I baptize you with water as a symbol of your rebirth. Rise Jeremiah, and begin your new life. Go find work: pick fruit or wheat, sweep floors, become an apprentice to a blacksmith or tanner—do what you must to stay sober, but, more than anything else, pray. Pray when you awaken, pray for your morning, afternoon, and evening meals. Pray before you fall asleep. Prayer to the Father is balm for the soul and medicine for the body and spirit. It heals all wounds, physically and mentally. More than anything, however it protects you against yourself. For the rest of your life, it will be your shield against sloth and temptation!” “Prayer is your greatest weapon against Satan!” concluded Jesus. “Without it, you’ll fall back into sin!”
“I will, master.” Jeremiah gave him a nod. “But what if I can’t find work?”
“Try very hard,” Jesus counseled him. “Clean yourself up. We’ll give you clean clothes. If you somehow fail, find Azariah, leader of the Seventy. He will help you find work. It’s important that you have courage and resolve, Jeremiah. Prayer will help, but God expects you to also help yourself.”
Stepping outside with the new convert, Jesus walked down the shore as he had with Rebecca’s father.
“Jesus cures drunks now?” Judas murmured half-seriously. “What next?”
“As far as miracles, he’s done about everything!” marveled Simon.
“I dunno,” Matthew shrugged, “what’s so different about curing Jeremiah than stopping Barabbas in his tracks?”
“It’s not the same,” James waved dismissively. “Jesus used nature—the wind and dust—to blow his gang away. This time he went beyond healing the body and nature and healed the mind—the way someone thinks.”
“Jesus can do anything!” Thomas mumbled in awe.
“He read my mind,” Bartholomew offered. “That seems similar.”
“Not really,” I shook my head. “He didn’t change your mind like Jeremiah; he just read it.”
“That wouldn’t be too hard,” quipped Judas. “It’s a miracle his brain lasted this long!”
“What about you?” Matthew frowned. “How did your brain last so long? For awhile we thought you were possessed!”
“Judas’ brain was a miracle.” I reminded the disciples. “After that knock on his head, it’s a marvel he’s alive.”
After reminiscing about my cure of Judas, I waited for acknowledgement that never came. It almost seemed as if they thought my cure ill-conceived. Secretly, perhaps, they wished Judas dark sleep had been permanent, but I had, because of the pronouncement from a Pharisee, who thought I was a sorcerer for raising him from the dead, grown proud of this event. It was proven by one of our enemies. How ironic was that? It was Jude, in a sweeping statement, who gave me credit for this deed.
“Listen up!” he called through cupped hands. “Everyone knows the greatest miracles are raising folks from the dead!”
“I agree.” Philip nodded enthusiastically. “Jesus told us that Justus’ brother and Jairus’ daughter had been asleep, but we know they were dead!”
“I was talking about Jude’s cures!” Judas clarified. “I’m sorry I disappointed some of you.” He looked around at the group. “Thanks to Jude, I’m quite alive!”
“That were certainly impressive.” Andrew gave him a nod. “We’re glad you’re alive. It must be true: Jude revived you. Jesus couldn’t have done better himself, but they’re not the greatest wonders. Jesus mightiest deed was taming the storm. Like his command of the wind against Barabbas, the forces of nature were under his control. How can you beat that?”
“By walking on water!” John countered. “That was beyond belief—awesome, fantastic. Only the Son of God could do that!”
“Have all of you forgotten?” his brother exclaimed. “What about his feeding the multitudes. He did that twice with handfuls of food. That has to be his greatest feat!”
Jude said in the background. “Jude didn’t revive me, he brought me back to life!”
“All right.” Peter acknowledged him, with a note of sarcasm. “Jude raised you from the dead. Who can say which miracle is greatest? But let’s get passed the miracles. Jesus doesn’t want us to think everything he does is a miracle. The most important wonder about the master is his message. Jesus made it very plain that miracles often get in the way of the message. We’ll always have the blind, deaf, lame, and diseased. These are earthly matters. The body must still die, be buried, and rot. It is the good news, matters of the soul and spirit, that offer the sinner eternal life. The soul is indestructible and will live forever in heaven or hell.”
Earlier I slandered Peter by saying that he wasn’t too bright. I realized then how much he had changed from that plodding, rustic fisherman. He was still narrow-minded about some matters. He had shown resentment against James and me for our alleged status as Jesus’ brothers and continued to treat Jesus’ controversial picks, Matthew, Simon, Thomas, and especially Judas, as outsiders. But he was changing each day. He was doing his best to live up to his role as the ‘Rock.’ To prove this change most dramatically, he appeared suddenly, as I sat brooding about matters, with words of encouragement.
As the other disciples looked on, he looked down thoughtfully. “Your heart’s in the right place,” he said aloud, “so is Mary’s. She might be lazy, but what you said about her impressed the other men. Most of them agree with you. It impressed Jesus and me too. If Jesus believes she’ll be an instrument of the Lord, that’s good enough for me. You’re a good influence on Mary, Jude. I’m sorry for the way my family abused her. You did right by defending her. Tomorrow morning I plan to visit Hosea’s house and apologize myself!”
“Thank you, Peter,” I replied, comforted by his words. “It’s good to hear your support. “The other men and I have wondered about something,” I added delicately, “… Why did Jesus pick you, John, and James over us?”
“That’s something I can’t explain,” Peter’s answered carefully, in a muted voice. “…. Why did Jesus choose me as the Rock and not an educated man like James or someone clever like you? He could have chosen much stronger and smarter men for his disciples. Instead he chose men, who had nothing common with each other. In the beginning the twelve included ignorant fishermen, a tax collector, a temple spy, and an old man who can barely walk. As Jesus brothers, you and your brother had a special bound with Jesus in those early days that made many of us jealous. Thomas, a man who questioned everything, was added suddenly one day, and lastly Judas, a man with a shadowy past appeared only moments after we saw Satan for the first time. Now, with the exception of Thomas, who still doubts on occasion and Judas, whose knock on the head hopefully made him a changed man, we’re united in our faith and our love for Jesus.” “That’s all that matters,” he said, patting my head. “As far as John and his brother James high and mighty attitude after the transfiguration, Jesus took us aside after our experience and made it plain that there are no favorites in heaven and earth. He loves all of us equally, certainly his own brothers. He once told me in private how important you are. He has misgivings about some of the disciples, who quarrel amongst themselves. I plan to help heal the differences between the fishermen and the rest of you.” “Most of it has been our fault,” he added, pointing to his group. “There can’t be fishermen, publicans, scribes, agents, or adventurers in the twelve. There has to be apostles united as one mind, who serve equally the Son of God.”
After those words, which summed up the change I saw in Peter, the Rock, he walked away solemnly, deep in thought. He had been speaking to the others, as much as me. From that day forward, I record in my chronicle, the twelve grew closer, with Jesus’ shepherding and Peter’s prod.
Those days before he turned his back on Capernaum for the last time, Jesus had waited anxiously for the Seventy to return. They had been given up to two weeks to finish their missions, and now in the middle of the second week, they began trickling in with mixed results of their success. They had even greater problems than we had during in our missions: inept delivery of the message, squeamishness during baptisms, failure to perform miracles, and dissension among the pairs. Along with the failures, though, there were many successes in winning converts and boasts of great healings.
Despite the number of less successful ventures, Jesus was satisfied so far with the overall results. The successes outnumbered the failures. Most of those not so successful were at least honest about it and promised to do better. While he waited for the remainder of the Seventy to return, the Twelve were sent out to visit some families in town. Such visitations would one day become common during the dark times to comfort believers and shore up their faith. On that day, however, I think Jesus also had in mind to keep us busy and re-sharpen our wits. It was the easiest assignment we would ever have, since we were among grateful believers, some of whom had been healed during the rite. At two believers’ household, I was able to see Mary Magdalene, and, after visiting with Hosea and Rhoda, chat with her a spell. When I rejoined the other twelve on the way back to Peter’s house, I was buoyed by my visit with Mary, hopeless though it seemed. Everyone was in a jovial mood after the hospitality of our hosts. Andrew had just been bragging to us about the pastries Abram and his wife Henna had given him in appreciation for Jesus’ healing of Abram’s blindness. All of us, in fact, had received cordial treatment from the converts. Judas, though he had done little serious preaching, had even been plied with wine. But then, as we approached Peter’s home, we saw Jesus talking to someone in front of the house. Andrew immediately identified him as one of Lazarus’ neighbors and friends.
“Uh oh,” his tone changed. “That’s Oran, who lives next door to Lazarus. This can’t be good!”
“He seems angry.” I grew alarmed. “Why is he storming away?”
As we trotted up to Jesus, James ran up to him. “Jesus,” he cried, “why was Oran angry? It is bad news?”
“… Lazarus is very sick,” Jesus’ voice caught in his throat.
“We knew that.” Judas reached over to pat his back.
“No, he’s very sick!” Jesus emphasized the word. “Sick unto death, as Oran explained.”
“Well, let’s go!” Peter pointed to the road.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “So why was Oran upset?”
“Peter, Jude,” he chided gently. “I can’t leave yet. The flock isn’t complete. There’s five more pairs who haven’t returned. I have to wait.”
“But he’s your friend!” John looked at him in disbelief.
“I know,” Jesus said softly, “but the Seventy need more instruction. They will stay with converts in town until I gather them together one last time. They are, as the Greeks say, the ecclesia—the congregation of which we have begun.”
“The Seventy can wait!” Judas scowled.
“Yes,” piped James, “they’re not as important as Lazarus. The man’s dying. Let them wait!”
“I’ll pray on it,” Jesus murmured, a far-off look registering on his face.
As he walked away from us down to the shore, Peter held us back rudely with his arms.
“No, stop, leave him alone,” he snapped curtly. “Jesus knows what’s best.”
“Really,” replied Philip, “this time I’m not sure.”
“Tell me something, Peter,” muttered Thomas. “I don’t understand this. Is he going to let Lazarus die?”
“I don’t know,” Peter confessed. “Right now Jesus doesn’t know. But let’s not forget: he listens to God!”
“God doesn’t want Lazarus to die!” spat Judas.
“How do you know what God wants?” Simon retorted. “Your always questioning God. Yet I’ve never seen you pray!”
“Let’s go talk to Oran.” I heard Matthew murmur to me. “Surely Jesus will change his mind.”
“Tsk tsk….That poor fellow,” I shook my head. “It’s a long walk back to Bethany, but it might be too late already. By then Lazarus will probably be dead.”
Seeing Jesus walk the opposite way, I ran with Matthew, until we were in shouting distance of Oran.
“Hey, Oran,” Matthew called through cupped hands, “hold on a moment. Let’s talk!”
“What for?” he shouted back. “Jesus has made up his mind.”
Travel worn and weary, as we approached him, he looked so forlorn and pitiful we insisted that he return to Peter’s house and accompany us to Bethany when all of the Seventy had returned. Oran shook his head vehemently and backed away, insisting on returning to Lazarus’ house with the news.
“Jesus answers to God,” I said lamely. “He’s never wavered on this. At least rest and let Esther fix you a meal before you leave.”
“No.” He shook his head again. “Jesus’ mind is set. He’s not going to budge. Don’t worry about me; I have friends in Cana. I won’t set foot in that house!”
“Come on, don’t be foolish!” Matthew shouted. “Cana’s a long way from Capernaum. You need rest and food.”
“I told you,” he insisted resolutely, “I won’t set foot in that house. I’d rather be with friends. Jesus isn’t a friend. How could he not come to his cousins’ bedside. He’s saved hundreds from blindness, deafness, and disease, but he won’t heal his friend!”
When we returned to the house, Jesus was nowhere in sight. Peter, to his credit, had followed him down to the shore. After receiving hateful looks from Esther and Dinah, I was happy to see a friendly face on Bernice.
“I’m sorry for what I said,” she said contritely. “I just left Hosea’s house. Mary and I are friends again.’
“God bless you.” I gave her a spontaneous hug. “I know your mother and grandmother riled you up. That means a lot to me.”
“You love her, don’t you?” She looked at me slyly.
“In my own way, yes,” I said cautiously. “Jesus wants us to lover everyone!”
“That’s impossible.” Bernice sighed. “Who could love Pharisees, priests, and scribes?”
“My dear child,” I studied her with affection. “You, as I, have seen only the worst of them. Jesus won’t give up on them, either.”
Bernice confided to me that hour that Esther resented the fact that Peter chose Jesus over his family. Even after Jesus cured her of her fever, Dinah, her mother, had also been resentful of Peter’s absence. But Bernice, who would one day become a martyr for the faith, had made the decision to follow her conscience. Inspired by Mary, whom she admired very much, she decided that she, too, would become a preacher one day. I advised her, however, to talk to Jesus first. I knew he would counsel her to wait until being called. I reassured her that the Lord would do just that. After discussing her future ambitions, our conversation naturally turned to Jesus.
To my surprise Bernice thought Jesus had done the right thing. All of the Seventy hadn’t returned, she remarked, and Jesus first concern must always be for the Way. Because she was only fifteen years old, I was greatly impressed with her understanding of what was going on. I had been torn in the middle of the argument of who Jesus should chose: Lazarus or the Seventy. Now, looking into those innocent brown eyes, I was swayed back to the Seventy. Jesus had informed us recently that the Twelve would be leaders, and the Seventy would be pastors of future ecclesia in the Way. Right now there was only one congregation, he had explained, which included the Twelve, our family members, and members of the Seventy. All of the other converts would one day gather together into their own congregations, too, but right now there was only one congregation or ecclesia composed of the disciples, our family members, and members of the Way in Capernaum, our home base. I didn’t share my fear with Bernice those moments that when Jesus spoke of the future ecclesia he was talking about a time when he would no longer be alive. That would he too terrible for her young mind.
On the day when the last members of the Seventy finally returned, Jesus wasted no time in placing them with families of converts in town as he had done for the other preachers, and then, after sending word out to them, gathered them all together for one final blessing. On the morning of our return to Judea, he spoke to them on the same hill on which he gave his first great sermon. It seemed as though the entire town gathered on the hillside as Jesus gave them a parting speech. With few exceptions among the members, it would be the last time they heard his sterling voice.
After a very hearty breakfast, an effort on Esther’s and Dinah’s part to make up for the debacle earlier in the week, we were physically and mentally ready to travel. I slipped out while Jesus was saying his final words to the Seventy and their supporters and said goodbye to Mary. Grateful for the short time I had as her confidant, I was satisfied with how things turned out. I regretted that we had caused a dissension in Peter’s family, but, thanks to Bernice’s contrite nature, we now had the support of his daughter, if not his mother-in-law and wife.
Esther, Dinah, Bernice, Azariah, and his wife, were joined by the Seventy and converts from Capernaum, as we began our journey to Bethany. Perched on his mule, in a colorful blanket a convert had given to him, Bartholomew stood out like a Syrian merchant among the disciples. It was, in spite of the warm and tearful goodbyes cast by well-wishers, a somber occasion. There seemed little doubt that Lazarus would soon be dead or already in his grave by now. Listening to the grumbling of some of the disciples, made me realize how weak and fickle was human nature. One moment they were praising him, and the next moment they became his critics. It was the opinion of most of the disciples that Jesus should have gone to his cousin’s sick bed and made the Seventy wait. Andrew, once a disciple of John the Baptist, reminded us that Jesus had made a similar decision when a disciple of the Baptist informed Jesus of John’s fate. Not one of us, however, doubted that there was a deeper meaning to Jesus’ decision. After all, Peter reminded us again and again, Jesus answered to God.
During the muted discussions on the road, the disciples grappled with the meaning in Jesus’ actions, which seemed so clear to me. I had already convinced Matthew, Simon, and Bartholomew that Jesus had done the right thing. What remained for us to understand was why Jesus insisted on going to Jerusalem after our trip to Bethany. The last time we were there Jesus had created quite a stir turning over money tables, dispersing animals, and rebuking the temple priests. It was, I said, recalling Daniel’s scroll, like going into the lion’s den. Jesus, who was following scripture, had a death wish. No one said it, but I know it was on all of our minds.
To no one’s surprise Judas, inspired by this talk of Jesus’ fate, uttered another criticism. He wasn’t worried about Jerusalem. After all, that is where the conquering Messiah would begin his reign. He was, he admitted bitterly, disappointed that Jesus had not fully used his powers. With Jesus’ abilities, he believed, he could sweep away the old order and make Israel great again. This notion, which was no different than most Jews’ hopes, was, of course, based upon Isaiah’s warrior Messiah. In many ways, I recalled that moment, Isaiah, who also gave us the suffering servant, was to blame for the general mindset of Jews. What Judas wanted now, however, was even more extreme. In his thinking, Jesus wouldn’t need an army to defeat the Roman oppressors, he could defeat them at a word and glance. Had he not tamed the storm and, with the breath of God, swept Barabbas and his gang away? Had he not done every imaginable miracle and held the masses spellbound by his words. He was the King of Kings—the Deliverer and Restorer. Why did he waste his time in these backwaters? Why was his vision so small? He should take the opportunity when entering Jerusalem to show who he really was. Why all this talk of doom and gloom? Why would he predict his own death?
“Never! Never!” Judas vowed, clinching his fist. “Jesus is the master of his destiny, given godlike powers to shape the world…. Why doesn’t he use them?
“Why don’t you ask him, yourself?” grumbled Simon.
Simon had been walking directly in front of Judas’ and was therefore the first person to respond to his protest. Straggling in a single file behind Jesus, we had been greatly affected by the heat and monotony of the road. Now, in what was a delayed response for the remainder of us, Judas outlandish statement penetrated our dulled minds after Simon’s question. Jesus couldn’t be bothered and strode ahead, as if attempting to blank out his controversial words, but the fishermen were prodded to action.
“What did he say?” Philip asked Andrew.
To avoid disturbing Jesus’ peace of mind, Andrew whispered in Philip’s ear what he heard.
“Whoa!” hooted Philip. “What an ass!”
“What?” John tapped his arm. “Tell us what he said!”
Andrew whispered into the other disciples’ ears. When he shared the information with his brother, Peter slapped his forehead in disbelief. By now, Judas had fallen back ten or more cubits behind the group.
Shielding his eyes from the sun, Peter called through cupped hands, “Judas, you numbskull. After everything you’ve seen and heard, you say such a thing? Are you serious? Are you completely mad?”
Looking back at his receding figure, I heard Judas giggle madly to himself. “What’s he laughing about?” I muttered. “Look at him carrying on!”
“Nothing,” replied Matthew. “He’s mad as a bat!”
“He’s nothing but trouble.” James shook his head.
“So why does Jesus put up with him?” asked Thomas. “Judas wants the other messiah—”
“A warrior and conqueror,” I jumped in quickly, “like King David—sword in hand, not a messiah bringing salvation to the world.” “It started with Isaiah’s dual prophecies,” I pointed out, “two different people. Our stiff-necked people picked the king!”
John and his brother James, who now thought they were the elect, shushed us.
“Keep it down, men,” cautioned John, “Jesus will hear!”
“Yes,” groused his brother, “he doesn’t need to hear that!”
“Really?” Peter laughed sourly. “That man foments mutiny and you think he doesn’t know. Jesus knows everything!”
“I know,” John said with a shrug, “but he’s trying to ignore it. Look how far he’s ahead of us! He knows Judas’ mind. Let’s keep it down until this matter with Lazarus is over.”
“It’ll never be over!” Judas called from the rear.
Suddenly he caught up with us, his face red, huffing and puffing, as he labored for breath.
“Jesus is in denial!” he shouted. “He must wake up and use his power!”
“Shut up!” Simon screamed at him. “Why can’t you just shut up?”
Matthew and Thomas restrained Simon as he went for Judas. For a moment, I confess, I was tempted to hit Judas, myself. Looking down from his mule, awakened from twilight sleep, Bartholomew mumbled incoherently, “Wha-What happened. What’s the matter?”
“Jude did it again.” I called over my shoulder. “Simon, stop it!” I cried, assisting Matthew and Thomas. “Judas isn’t right in the head!”
In long anxious strides, Peter raced back to the fracas. No damage had been done, but Judas had caused discontent once more in our group.
“Judas!” Peter wrung his finger. “Your words are poison. You upset everyone with your venom. Why can’t you hold your tongue? If you don’t approve of what we’re doing, leave. You’re no use to us the way you are!”
Shaken by his rebuke, Judas shook off Matthew’s and Thomas’ arms, and fell back again, glaring with hatred at the Rock.
“That’s it,” Peter made shooing motions, “go away. Scoot! Find some other place to spread your hate!”
A chorus of voices chanted, “Go! Go! Go!” Suddenly Jesus awakened from his torpor, scurrying anxiously to the scene. Looking squarely at Peter as if he was the ring-leader, he called order to his disciples, “What’s going on here? Why was Matthew and Thomas restraining Judas? What did he do wrong?”
“He wants that other fellow,” Peter snarled. “He thinks your wasting your power.”
“Oh yes.” Jesus gave Judas a studied look. “Our voice in the wilderness…. The voice in his head.”
Jesus, of course, already knew what was happening. Judas expression changed abruptly, as Jesus confronted him, from a dark scowl to a look of panic. “Uh… I’m sorry, Jesus,” he sputtered. “I-I just want you to seize the moment. Soon it will be too late!”
“Why will it be too late?” Jesus raised an eyebrow. “Explain to us what you mean.”
“There are Pharisees, scribes, and agents lurking everywhere,” the words poured from Judas’ mouth. “If you go to Jerusalem in your frame of mind, you’ll walk right into a trap.”
“Do you hear that men?” Jesus looked around at the group. “Judas, like some of you, is tempting me to inaction. He’s going against my Father’s will.”
“Right!” Judas nodded obligingly. “How thoughtless of me.”
The remainder of us were stunned by Judas words and Jesus’ tepid response.
“What?” Simon looked at him in disbelief. “That’s all you’re going to say?”
“Going against your Father’s will?” muttered Matthew, “that was an understatement.”
“It’s purest denial.” Peter exclaimed. “Didn’t you hear him, Jesus. He wants to force your hand: make you destroy your enemies and take control. That man’s out of control!”
“He has to go!” Andrew set his jaw.
“Yes, Jesus.” I lurched forward. “Andrew’s right. I thought the very same thing—all of us did. He has to go!”
“Enough!” Jesus raised a hand. “I answer to my Father, not to men. You of all people, Jude, should understand this.” “And you Peter.” He wrung a finger. “You’re my rock. Act like it. We’re twelve, not eleven. You all know this. So Judas must stay. Accept God’s will.” “Don’t worry Judas,” he turned to him then. “I will minister several days in Jerusalem. Alas, I’d rather slip in unnoticed with other pilgrims, but when I enter, you’ll have your king!”
We were all speechless, biting our tongues and fuming impotently under our breaths. Jesus had stopped just short of commanding us to accept this lunatic, and Judas stood there grinning like an ape. Despite Jesus’ rebuke, he knew very well that we would try to protect him. This included protection against Judas’ big mouth. Questions, I’m certain I shared with the others, swirled in my head. What if Judas spouted off at the wrong time in the temple, calling Jesus to smite his enemies and claim his throne? What if his challenge ignited them finally into action? He had gotten worse in the past few days. Peter was right: he was out of control. Had Judas interpreted Jesus suggestion that he would enter Jerusalem as its king, as complying to his wish? Why would Jesus say such a thing?
Looking with amazement at him, as we resumed our journey, I felt helpless and confused. This same look of dismay and incredulity was shown by the other men. Ironically Judas was right, I realized. Jesus appeared to be in denial, but was this really true? On everything else, Jude was dead wrong, and yet Jesus had turned our concern on its head. His allusion to entering Jerusalem as a king that seemed to compliment Judas’ outlandish words, was pure sarcasm, and yet it trivialized the main issue on our minds. What’s more it seemed to justify Judas’ belief of what he saw as Jesus’ true purpose. The grin of self-satisfaction on his freckled face seemed proof of this. Though it was plain that Judas was obsessed with the notion that Jesus would become a warrior king, Jesus’ main concern was that the rest of us were trying to prevent his father’s will. Judas was worried, like us, about Jesus’ frame of mind, but, unlike us, he wanted Jesus to take the opportunity in Jerusalem to make his stand. More questions therefore reeled in my mind. Why did Jesus continue to humor this man? What was his purpose in keeping this thorn in his side? He must have seen through him from the beginning, so why did he not rebuke him too? I also wondered then, without sharing these questions with anyone else, whether Judas purpose was to test Jesus and sharpen his resolve. This seemed like a absurd notion, and I dispelled it from my mind…. My questions would not be answered for many days. There was a reason for Judas’ presence much darker than I had imagined. That he might spout off and make a scene in the temple was the least of our concerns.
As we approached Bethany our final detour before re-entering Jerusalem, I tried putting my worries away, but it was useless. I, more than the other disciples, appeared to understand the absolute danger Jesus faced. The reason for this insight is because I knew, as did our brother James, that Jesus had always been headstrong since childhood. He never wavered in his opinions or decisions. I was there from the very beginning, sensing, as Andrew and Philip, Jesus’ first disciples, something ominous about one of the titles the Baptist gave Jesus: the Lamb of God. It should have been obvious now to all the disciples what this meant. Was it simply my lack of faith and human doubts that made me fearful for him? Or was it a premonition of things to come? The most I could do, to comply with Jesus’ wishes, would be to keep this sense of doom to myself and counsel James to do the same.
Turning to us now, Jesus prepared us for what lie ahead. “Our friend Lazarus sleeps,” he announced suddenly. “I go that I may wake him up.”
In an effort to seem optimistic perhaps, Peter took Jesus literally. “Lord,” he exclaimed cheerfully, “Lazarus may still be alive. Is that what you mean?”
“You know very well what I mean, Peter,” Jesus shook his head. “Lazarus is dead!”
“Oh dear,” muttered Thomas, “I wonder how long.”
“For your sakes, my disciples, not just Lazarus.” Jesus looked around the group solemnly. “I bring him back. Come, men, let’s go to our friend.”
In the near distance we could hear voices. There was no one in our around Lazarus house at the edge of town, but when we entered Bethany a crowd of men, women, and children, many of whom must have been Lazarus’ friends, lined each side of the street. Several townsfolk who recognized Jesus called out rebukes:
“There he is, Lazarus’ friend and cousin!”
“Where was he when Lazarus needed him?”
“Why did he wait so long?”
“He saved hundreds. Why didn’t save him?”
“For shame, Jesus! For shame!”
“Don’t listen to them!” Peter consoled him.
Our hearts went out to Jesus. Placing an arm around Peter’s and John’s shoulders and looking back sympathetically at the remainder of us, it was Jesus who comforted us. “Don’t lose heart,” he said bravely, “this was predestined. Your every movement was meant to be.”
Following after us, the rebukes worsening with each step, it appeared as if the entire town had come out to castigate Jesus, and yet not all of the townsfolk were angry. Many of them appeared to be admirers of Jesus, touching his robe reverently in silent awe. At the opposite end of town, in the nearby hills there were countless tombs. Because Jesus had passed by the house and gone straight to this graveyard, we shuddered to think of what came next: Lazarus was obviously already in his tomb.
A second, much smaller crowd, had gathered near one of the tombs: Martha, Mary, Orin (the friend who had informed Jesus of Lazarus illness), and a handful of other women—all of the women cloaked in the dark clothing of mourning.
Martha ran to Jesus, weeping and wringing her hands. “Lord,” she said scornfully at first, “if you had been here, Lazarus would have lived!” Orin snarled at him, and Mary couldn’t look at Jesus in the face. In the next breath, however, while most of the townsfolk glared at Jesus, Martha showed great faith. “Jesus,” she said, catching her breath, “…even now I know you can save him. Whatever you ask of God, he will do.” This struck those villagers within earshot as absurd.
“He’s been in the tomb for four days!” Orin spat.
“You waited too long,” Mary cried bitterly. “He has begun to decay!”
Looking away from Mary, Jesus said to Martha, “ Your faith is great. Your brother will rise again.”
“I know, master,” replied Martha, “at the resurrection on the last day.”
Then Jesus summed it up for his disciples and all those standing around the tomb: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, shall he live. And who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
“Do you believe this?” he asked Martha.
“Yes, Lord,” she exclaimed boldly, “I believe you’re the Messiah, the Son of God!”
“What about you, Mary?” he looked at the younger sister. “Why do you doubt?”
“Mary,” scolded Martha, “answer Jesus!”
“I’m sorry, Martha,” Mary sniveled, “he’s too late. Until judgment day, we have one life. The dead don’t return!”
We, Jesus’ disciples, were greatly moved by Martha’s acknowledgment of him. No one had told her who he was. To Mary, however, he gave a sad, disappointed look. Suddenly, a third emotion overcame Jesus as he dropped his face into his hands and wept. The twelve disciples stood on each him, moved by his sorrow. I couldn’t help comparing Lazarus’ dutiful sister, Martha, with the sister Jesus said had the better part. “Now who has the better part?” I whispered to James.
“That is where you laid him.” Jesus said, pointing to the tomb. “Remove the stone!”
“But Jesus,” Andrew gasped, “he’s going to stink!”
“Come on men,” he demanded sternly, “do it. Remove the stone!”
“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Thomas groaned.
“Don’t be squeamish,” snapped Peter, as we approached the stone. “We’ve been around lepers and demoniacs. What’s a little smell?”
The crowd were silent with horror. When we rolled the circular stone aside, an odor I recalled from my travels assailed my nostrils. I could just imagine how it effected the other men. Jesus closed his eyes that moment and prayed, as he had never prayed before, for the greatest miracle of them all. Afterwards, as everyone else gagged and held their noses, he moved closer to the entrance. In the dark recess of the tomb lie his cousin and friend, now wandering in the land of the dead.
In a loud, commanding voice, Jesus called out, “Lazarus, come forth!”
“This is madness!” Orin stormed from the scene.
Few people followed his example for what would be a defining moment in Jesus’ ministry. Despite the odor, all eyes were focused on the entrance of the tomb. Judas had turned away and vomited. Thomas almost suffocated, himself, by pinching his nose with his fingers as he tried blocking out the smell. As Bartholomew sat on his mule, the beast stirred beneath him, neighing in alarm at this unnatural event. For a few moments everyone stood still with pent-up breath. Then suddenly, when it seemed as if Jesus had asked too great a favor from God, there was a faint shuffling sound, the noise a man or woman might make dragging a lame or injured leg. A collective gasp rose in all of our throats. A figure appeared at the mouth of the tomb—Lazarus wrapped in linen, reminding me of an Egyptian mummy I had seen. The smell of herbs and death lingered for a few moments. With arms outstretched and unbinding legs, the risen man walked stiffly over the ground, toward his savior. The resurrection, predicted by Daniel, Samuel, and the Psalmist, which the Jews believe will occur at judgment day, had been given new meaning by Jesus. Not only did he give his listeners the basis for salvation—believe in him to have eternal life, he had demonstrated this when he raised Lazarus from the dead. No longer would Jesus, when spreading the good news, refer to God or my Father to suit his audience, now he was the resurrection and the life, who offered heaven as a reward for faithfulness. Martha, the greatest of Lazarus’ sisters, was the first person outside of Jesus circle to acknowledge him as the Son of God in front of a hundred or more witnesses. In so doing, she helped shape the latest image of him.
The unbinding of Lazarus, as Jesus instructed, tested our faith. After what we had seen, though, none of us dared act squeamish. Even Thomas, who had almost passed out, pitched in to help, and Judas, to make up for getting sick, jumped in eagerly for the task. In less than a few moments, Lazarus sat on a stool, the wrappings lying pell-mell on the ground, staring vacantly into space. This climactic hour shook the disciples greatly. Like the other men, I could scarcely frame my thoughts. As James managed to say with great reverence, “Lazarus was a righteous man, but Jesus had called him from heaven.”
“Is he all there?” asked Simon. “Speak to us!” he called through cupped hands.
“At least give us a sign,” suggested Philip.
Matthew snapped his fingers in front of his face, James tapped his shoulder, and Judas playfully tickled his nose. When these actions elicited no reaction, Thomas stared into Lazarus’ eyes.
“He’s not there,” he concluded. “The trip was too much!”
“Poor Lazarus,” Matthew studied him. “It must’ve addled his brain.”
“He’ll be all right,” Peter said, tousling his hair, “at least he could walk.”
“Stop it!” Jesus waved us off. “Give him some time. He’ll come around.” “Lazarus,” he murmured, placing a hand on his head, “say something,… anything… just one word.”
“Uh…uh…” Lazarus tried forming a word.
“Uh oh,” John sighed. “He forgot how to talk.”
“My uncle had stroke and couldn’t talk,” Thomas shared with us. “It came back in stages…. First he remembered his name, then he recalled members of his family…Then it all came back to him all once.”
“What happened after that?” Andrew gave him a searching look.
“He died,” confessed Thomas.
“He isn’t going to die!” Jesus yelled. “You saw me tame a storm and walk on water. What is so impossible about calling back the dead?”
“Jesus,” Judas said, shaking his head. “This time you can’t make light of it. Lazarus had been dead in the tomb for four days. He had crossed over. That void in between, called Shemayim or Heaven, has never been crossed. Is it a wonder he’s in this state?”
“Lazarus is not addled,” Jesus said shrilly. “He’s not in a state. Peter’s right: he’ll be all right.” “Martha and Mary,” he summed Lazarus’ sisters, “sit beside your brother. Please comfort him.”
By now the crowd had awakened from its trance. Several men and women wanted confirmation of his previous miracles, as if the resurrection of Lazarus wasn’t enough.
“Rabbi.” A woman, with a child in her arms, came forward. “Did you really change water into wine?”
“You have said it.” Jesus nodded.
“I heard you stopped a storm.” A young man raised a hand. “And you frightened Barabbas the bandits away.”
“News travels.” Jesus shrugged his shoulders.
From the most trivial acts to Jesus’ greatest wonders, members of the crowd plagued Jesus was questions, always followed by Jesus refrain, ‘You have said it.’ Then the skeptics stepped forth.
“Is it true?” a young man finally asked. “Are you the Son of God?”
“You have said it,” Jesus repeated wearily.
The pattern was the same. By Jesus’ enigmatic reply, the answer was left up to the inquisitor. ‘You have said it’ left the young man to decide for himself. At any rate, he was outnumbered by his supporters. It always took a miracle, as Peter once put it, to soften up a crowd. The resurrection of Lazarus really shook things up. By his miracles, not his words as it should be, he had won over most of Bethany. Fortunately, this time the skeptics hadn’t yet come out in force. After countless questions about Jesus divinity and past wonders, it was obvious what came next. For several hours, until late in the afternoon, we assisted Jesus with making converts at the communal well. It would be the last time he used this method and wouldn’t have been used at all if many of the townsfolk hadn’t requested the rite. Jesus couldn’t miss this opportunity, incorporating in the rite the words he had said to Martha. The words ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ and what followed, gave the simple formula new meaning. On this day, as Lazarus recovered from his resurrection, Martha, Mary, and Orin (who had a change of mind) insisted on being baptized with their neighbors and friends.
We were almost finished, when a stream of sick and lame people streamed in, which extended our performance of the rites during Jesus’ cures. This seemed anticlimactic to what he did for Lazarus, and yet Jesus treated the supplicants equally, regardless of how insignificant was their ailment. When the rites were completed and there were no more people seeking cures, he was greatly taxed. Martha and Mary had moved Lazarus into the house to prevent him from being seen as an oddity. Inside the house, as Martha prepared our meal, Mary played the doting sister, propping Lazarus up with pillows to keep him from falling to the side.
“All right,” Jesus said hoarsely, “get me a cup of wine.”
Not knowing whom he wanted to perform this task, I ran over to fetch a pitcher ahead of Mary, looked in it, and satisfied it was wine, scurried back to place it in Jesus’ hand. Mary looked at me with irritation but said nothing.
Putting the cup to his cousin’s lips, Jesus simply said, “Drink!” and Lazarus took a swig. Though wine dribbled from the corners of his mouth, he had at least responded to a command. Already, as Thomas included in his uncle’s awakening, Lazarus knew his name. Now Jesus asked him where he was. “Bethany,” Lazarus said almost perfectly.
“Do you remember us?” Martha’s face loomed in front of him.
“Martha and Mary,” he said clearly.
The sisters embraced their brother. The rest of us stood back in awe.
“What happened?” He blinked, looking around the room. “I was in a dark place, then there was light. I saw my parents and long lost friends.” “Oh Jesus.” He wept. “Why did you bring me back?”
“Because of your return and what Martha said,” Jesus answered obliquely, “the word is out. Your death and resurrection has defined me. For this you are blessed among all men!”
That hour, as we looked down at Lazarus, he still looked like someone who had come back from the dead, but in the days ahead, as Judeans flocked to Bethany to hear Jesus speak, his coloring came back, his appetite returned, and he became, in all of our eyes, a new man. Lazarus, who would live to be over a hundred years old, would serve as a reminder to everyone that there was nothing on earth and heaven that Jesus couldn’t do. During those heady days, Jesus was known to one all as both the Messiah and Son of God.