John 11-12

Good morning! Today in John 11-12 we have several stories of tenderness and pathos, even amid the growing gloom of institutional and imperial power aligning against Jesus. His clarity of purpose leaves little room to worry about the opposition scheming for his life. Instead, he seeks to fulfill the purpose for which he was sent: eternal life.

Most of John 11 is given over to the touching story of Lazarus’ death, his sisters’ laments, and Jesus’ restoration of life. Jesus knows about Lazarus’s grave illness, yet he delays responding in order to set up a powerful opportunity for miraculous healing, a sign of Jesus’ eternal power. As Jesus does finally turn toward Lazarus’s home (which is near Jerusalem), some object that he’s marching into the lion’s den of Pharisee opposition. Note that the disciple who demonstrates the most faith and fervor in following Jesus is Thomas, most well-known for needing proof of the resurrection and his nickname “Doubting Thomas”. (This episode reminds me not to dismiss the passion that might be pent up in modern-day skeptics.) Martha’s lament that Jesus was away at the time of death insinuates that he hadn’t cared enough for their family because he hadn’t dropped everything to come to them. However, Jesus operates on a different timeline, and the urgency around death is less important to him because of what he came to declare: “I am the resurrection and the life”. In the subsequent conversation with Mary, she also tells him pointedly that his absence is the reason Lazarus died, and the reason for all their distress. This affects Jesus personally, unlike most other depictions of this “superman” Jesus in John’s gospel. The verse that follows is, depending on how it is translated, the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept” (11:35). Moved with compassion, Jesus goes to the tomb and raises Lazarus to life again. This foreshadows Jesus’ return to life, though here we have resuscitation (where Lazarus will again eventually die) and Jesus’ own fate is resurrection (undying, eternal life).

In a short episode, we see inside the calculations of Jesus’ opponents, who are ready to take his life. The Pharisees situate the plot to kill Jesus within the context of Roman oppression. They do not want to catch the unfriendly eye of Rome and risk the temple, city and nation being destroyed again (as it has been over the centuries). The high priest advocates for a political calculus to betray his own people’s interest in and loyalty to Jesus, so that the temple and the nation will be preserved. This effectively places a bounty on Jesus’ head.

In this context, Mary anoints Jesus and wipes his feet with her hair. (In a bit of narrative cart-before-the-horse, this episode at the beginning of John 12 was referred to when Mary was introduced in the last chapter.) The connection of anointing to Jesus’s imminent burial is less explicit than in other gospels, and the challenge from Judas is more explicit. Jesus’ statement that “you always have the poor with you” sounds at first like an endorsement of the status quo, but I see it instead as a matter-of-fact statement, in light of Jesus’ own very limited time on earth.


After the triumphal entry, we read a curious exchange about some Greeks who were curious about the community and teachings of Jesus. (Remember that John was written when Greek interest in Jesus was beginning to surpass that of the Jewish community.) Situated this way, the Greeks are a sign that the whole world has an interest in this Jesus and his saving message. Jesus talks then about the flourishing of his ministry, that paradoxically his death will be what adds “much fruit” to his legacy. This is why he doesn’t think so much of laying down his life. In his “lifted up” crucifixion, “all people” will be drawn to him. Believers and nonbelievers alike are of concern to Jesus ,who came “not to judge the world, but to save the world” (12:48). For that reason, the light of Christ pierces the darkness (in John’s metaphor). Jesus’ commandment from “the Father” is eternal life, which is what he speaks and gives. Happy reading!

Read John 11-12.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is John 13-14. Thanks for reading!

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