Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jean Vanier on Lazarus

Jesus' friend Lazarus, may have been a person with a disability. That is what Jean Vanier (L'Arche communities) suggests. He states the following
Lazarus, loved by Jesus
This is one of the simplest and most beautiful
chapters in the Gospel of John.
It reveals how profoundly human and totally divine Jesus is.
It is about Jesus loving people and raising from the dead
a man who had already been in a tomb for four days,
whose body was starting to decompose.
It is about Lazarus, who was sickly (asthenes).
In the language of today, we would probably say
"who was disabled."
The Greek word asthenes can be translated as
"sick," "without strength," "feeble" or "insignificant."
Lazaurs is deeply loved by his two sisters
and Jesus has a special relationship with him.
At one moment his life is in danger,
so the two sisters send word to Jesus:
"Lord, the one you love is sick." v. 3
And the evangelist tells us:
Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. v. 5
Later Jesus says:
"Our friend Lasarus," v. 11
and further on in the chapter,
when people see how Jesus is deeply moved
by the death of Lazarus, they say:
"See how he loved him." v. 36
This is the first time in the Gospel of John
that we hear of Jesus' love
for individual people,
the first time that John, speaking of Jesus,
uses the Greek words agape and philia.
(from Drawn into the mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John, 2004, p. 195).

There are clues in passages about Martha and Mary and Lazarus that might give you the impression Vanier suggests about Lazarus being disabled. In addition to the use of the word asthenes in reference to Lazarus, we see in Luke 10:38 that Martha is the head of the household, with her sister Mary and brother Lazarus. Culturally speaking, one would suspect that at that time if Lazarus was the brother in the family, he would be the head of the household. He isn't which raises some questions as to why he might not be. Additionally, we note that neither Martha nor Mary are married although elsewhere we get an impression of Mary's past (John 11:2 perhaps pointing to Luke 7:36). John 11 says Jesus loved Martha, her sister and Lazarus, he once again listed last in the passage. The name Martha means lord or master.

I do not have the ability to study the language or culture of the time to determine the validity of Vanier's suggestion about Lazarus, however, it is interesting to think about. Jesus' friend, the one who he wept over at his death just may have been a man with a disability of some type.


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