1 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. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O LORD God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus says the LORD God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 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.”
7 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. 8 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. 9 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.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
11 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.’ 12 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. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 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.
Ezekiel is one of the three “Major” Prophets – so called because of the length of the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a priest who was among the first group of persons deported to Babylon by the Babylonians when they captured Jerusalem in 597 BCE.
The Book of Ezekiel is in three parts: (1) Chapters 1 to 24 are prophesies of doom against Jerusalem before the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE; (2) Chapters 25 to 32 are prophesies against foreign nations; and (3) Chapters 33 to 48 are prophesies of hope for the Judeans written during the Babylonian Exile (586-539 BCE).
Like other prophets, Ezekiel “prophesied” by speaking for YHWH (translated as LORD in capital letters). Prophesy in the Hebrew Bible is not about telling the future. A prophet was one who spoke for YHWH.
Today’s reading is the “Valley of the Dry Bones” in which Ezekiel was called by YHWH to “prophesy” (speak for God) to the bones (which was a metaphor for the Judeans in Exile). YHWH addressed Ezekiel as “Mortal” (v.3) which in Hebrew is “ben adam” (son of the earthling) – which can also be translated as “Son of Man.”
Just as YHWH gave life to the “adam” (the earthling made from fertile earth – adamah – in Genesis) by putting breath/spirit/life in him, the LORD said breath (ruah) will be put in the dry bones (v. 5) and sinews will bind the bones together (v. 6). After this happens, breath/wind/life would come to those slain (v. 9) and a multitude stood on its feet (v.10). The “multitude” continued the metaphor of the people of Judea who would be restored to Jerusalem.
The writing (vv. 11-14) contains the metaphor of resurrection (“I am going to bring you up from your graves”), to describe the restoration of the Judeans to Jerusalem. The idea of resurrection (or coming back to life) is found in the story of Elijah’s raising the child from the dead in 1 Kings 17:17-24, and a similar action by Elisha in 2 Kings 4:32-37. The New Oxford Annotated Bible opines that these stories were part of an oral tradition that may have been written down as early as the reigns of Hezekiah (727-698 BCE) and Josiah (640-609 BCE) and therefore would have been known by Ezekiel. The idea of resurrection is also found in later writings in the Hebrew Bible in Daniel 12 and 2 Maccabees 7 and 9.
The Jewish Study Bible observes that Ezekiel’s vision was metaphorical and states that he was “not envisioning an actual physical resurrection of the dead. But when in postbiblical times, the doctrine of resurrection took hold, Ezekiel’s vision was interpreted literally.” It continues: “Traditional Jewish exegetes find in [verses 11 to 14] the idea of the resurrection of the dead before the day of judgment, a fundamental belief of rabbinic Judaism ascribed to Moses.”
6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 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, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 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. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 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.
Paul’s letter to the Romans was his longest, last, and most complex letter. It was written in the late 50s or early 60s (CE) (about 10 years before the earliest Gospel (Mark) was written) to a Jesus Follower community that Paul did not establish. Among many messages in the letter, Paul sought to encourage respectful and supportive relationships between the Gentile Jesus Followers and the Jewish Jesus Followers in Rome.
The “backstory” is that in 49 CE, Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome, including Jewish Jesus Followers. The next Emperor was Nero who reigned from 54 to 68 CE. Nero reversed his predecessor’s decree and allowed Jews to return to Rome. This return caused tensions within the Jesus Follower Community in which Gentiles had become prominent.
The Jewish Annotated New Testament points out that today’s reading is part of a series of chapters in which Paul explained that although we still live in our bodies and are subject to human limitations, the Spirit of God is in the lives of those who set their minds on the things of the Spirit in faithfulness to Christ. This will enable them to live a life of righteousness.
The JANT says that Paul contrasted “those who are focused on how they are constrained by human limitations and those who are enabled by God’s Spirit. Those having the spirit of Christ are said [by Paul] not to be in the flesh, although they are in ‘bodies’ or ‘mortal bodies.’ They live in a new way of living in the body through the spirit that raised up Christ.”
In other words, Paul contrasted flesh and sin (on the one hand) with the Spirit, the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of Christ (on the other).
“Flesh” is a shorthand word Paul used for the values of the world: selfishness, self-centeredness and the desire for power and wealth. Life “in the Flesh” is contrary to “righteousness” – being in right relationships with God, with others and with the world. “Flesh” and “sins of the Flesh” are not limited to physical sins such as lust. “Sin” in Paul is better understood as “sinfulness” or living according to the inclinations of the “flesh” – all of which will lead to the “death” (v. 6) of an unfulfilled life that is not in right relation with God.
The Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ bring life and peace (v. 6) – a peace that passes all understanding – and a life of righteousness (v.10). The New Jerome Biblical Commentary points out that Paul’s interchangeable uses of the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, and Christ express “a multifaceted reality of the Christian experience of participation in divine life…. This is no mere external identification with the cause of Christ, or even a grateful recognition of what he once did for humanity. Rather, the Christian who belongs to Christ [v.9] is the one empowered to live for God [v.11].”
John 11:1- 45
1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 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.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 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. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
28 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.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 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. 32 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.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 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.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 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.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 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.”
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“Cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who was described as “the Lamb of God” in the Fourth Gospel) died at the same time lambs were sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder to be held the night he died.
Most scholars agree that the Gospel was written by an anonymous author around 95 CE, at a time when the “parting of the ways” between the Jesus Follower Movement and Rabbinic Judaism was accelerating.
In Luke 10:38, two women named Martha and Mary were introduced as living in “a certain village” – the story in which Mary “chose the better part.” It is not clear if the two sisters in today’s reading are the same persons. Bethany was about two miles from Jerusalem (v.18).
In the Fourth Gospel’s story, they have a brother, Lazarus, whose name, according to The NAOB, is a shortened form of the Hebrew name Eleazar. He is described as “he whom you [Jesus] love” (v.3) and some scholars opine that Lazarus was the otherwise unnamed “beloved disciple” who was standing at the Cross with Mary the mother of Jesus (19:26); was the disciple (along with Peter) to whom Mary Magdalene reported the Resurrection (20:2); who outran Peter to the tomb (20:4); and who followed Peter and the Resurrected Christ in the Galilee (21:20-23).
There is also a character in Luke 16:19-31 named Lazarus who was very poor and was carried by angels to Abraham when he died. In his exchange with the rich man in Hades, Abraham said: “neither will they [the people of the rich man’s house] be convinced even if someone rises from the dead (16:31).
The JANT notes that Jesus remained where he was rather than go to Bethany “apparently to make sure that Lazarus was dead and buried. According to some rabbinic sources and some non-Jewish belief systems such as Zoroastrianism, the spirit hovers near the body for three days. This view may have been known to the Gospel writer (or in the traditions that he used), as he had Jesus approach the tomb only on the fourth day.” The references to the “stench” in the tomb (v.39) made it more emphatic that Lazarus was dead.
In other stories in which persons were raised from the dead, the person had been dead for only a short time and may have been “sleeping” – a frequent euphemism for death. This includes the stories about Elijah, Elisha, Jesus (Jairus’ daughter) in Mark 5, and the son of the widow of Nain in Luke 7:11.
The NOAB and The JANT affirm that belief in resurrection on the last day (as professed by Martha in v. 24) was widespread among Jewish people in both the Hellenistic (333-180 BCE) and Roman (67 BCE – 135 CE) periods.
“The Jews” in this story (vv. 8, 20, 31, 33, 36, 45) were the Temple Authorities who would have come from nearby Jerusalem. Their presence is important for the story as witnesses to the events. As the story continues after today’s reading, “the Jews” reported the events of the Raising of Lazarus to the Pharisees and this led to a meeting of the Sanhedrin (v.47). At that meeting, the Jewish leadership decided that “it was better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” [by the Romans] (v.50).
In the Synoptic Gospels, the “last straw” for the Religious Authorities was the Temple Event in which Jesus drove out the money changers and “would not allow anyone to carry anything [blood] through the temple” (Mark 11:16). In the Fourth Gospel, the raising of Lazarus is the event that led to the determination by the Temple Authorities to have Jesus killed.
In The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, Bishop Spong says the Lazarus story “screams out the message that to read this book [the Fourth Gospel] as if it were an account of literal history is to misunderstand it completely.” He observes that “every symbol employed by [the author] reveals that Lazarus is not a person but a sign and a symbol.”
To support this thesis, Spong notes that Lazarus was not mentioned at any time in any writing for the 70 years before the Fourth Gospel was written. It was never mentioned in Luke’s gospel that Martha and Mary had a brother. Moreover, the author developed the storyline deliberately for maximum effect.
Spong also says that the fact that this event was not mentioned in any written material for 70 years after its “occurrence” makes it clear that this is a symbolic and non-historical event, and that the author used the raising of Lazarus to demonstrate the truth of Abraham’s words in Luke’s parable.