There are costs in being brought back from the dead to life.
Just ask Lazarus.
Not that he had much to say, at least from what we can gather in Scripture. He was evidently the silent type.
Lazarus is known primarily by his relationships – as the brother of Bethany-based Mary and Martha and as the beloved friend of Jesus – and by what happened to him, dramatically, after Jesus showed up too late to keep him from dying, but then restored him to life after four days in the tomb.
It was that resurrection, not of Jesus but by him, that forever put Lazarus on the map of the Christian faith.
That resurrection incident was also, according to the Gospel of John, the last straw for the Pharisees and chief priests in dealing with Jesus.
After they (the Pharisees and chief priests) heard about the raising of Lazarus, a council was convened at which it was acknowledged that Jesus was attracting far too many followers with his signs and wonders and that it would be only a matter of time before the Romans stepped in and replaced them (the Pharisees and chief priests) with their own Roman-chosen leaders.
For all practical purposes, the Pharisees and chief priests recognized that would be the end of the semi-autonomous Jewish nation.
In short, Jesus resurrecting Lazarus was provoking a political crisis that needed to be quickly quashed. Jesus needed to be arrested, tried and put to death.
Word went out that anyone knowing where Jesus was located needed to report it so the plan could be implemented. Somehow, Jesus caught wind of all of this and went, with his disciples, into hiding.
But he did return to Bethany for a dinner with Mary, Martha and Lazarus (it was at this dinner that Mary anointed Jesus with her extravagantly expensive perfume).
It was then and there that Jesus was spotted, causing people to gather so they could see not only Jesus, but also this Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
When the Pharisees and chief priests got their report of this, they decided that Lazarus too had to die.
That’s when Lazarus realized that being resurrected – being brought back to life – isn’t cost-free. But how costly?
We have no record of what Lazarus did with his resurrected life. It has to be left to our imagination.
Did he witness what happened to Jesus in the days that followed the dinner at Bethany and calculate that the cost of being a resurrected follower of Jesus was just too high, so it would be better to cower back into obscurity and wait for natural death to occur a second time?
Or did he risk bearing the cost of resurrected life and join with others who were transformed by Jesus in other ways to become the continuing revolutionary force that threatened the religious and political establishments of that era – and eras to come?
We’ll never know, of course.
But the question of what friends and followers of Jesus do with their own transformed and resurrected lives remains.
It’s the question of whether to devalue the gift of a transformed and resurrected life by cowering into self-absorbed obscurity or risking that gift in order to be a visible part of the revolutionary movement that continually threatens religious, social, economic and political establishments with the completely radical idea that God will not abide anything less than an inclusive community of mutual love – an all-embracing beloved community.
With which of these possible Lazaruses will we identify?
Larry Greenfield is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. He also serves as editor and theologian-in-residence for The Common Good Network.
Larry Greenfield retired on Dec. 31, 2018 as the executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. He served previously as executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, a regional judicatory of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A, and the theologian-in-residence for the Community Renewal Society.