A Few Thoughts on John 11:1-16

Lazarus is deathly ill. Mary and Martha expect Jesus to turn around and hotfoot it back to Bethany. The disciples, on the other hand, seem to be concerned about all the angry folks with rocks waiting back over the horizon. Amazingly, Jesus doesn’t meet either of their expectations. First he waits, upsetting Mary and Martha. Then he returns, upsetting the disciples.

In all of this, I love Thomas’ response. Even though he was just as scared as everyone else about what would happen back in Bethany, he has a classic line. “Well…let’s go. We might as well die with him.” If you follow Jesus, you really don’t know where it will lead. He has this strange way of failing to meet our expectations, only to transcend them in the very next moment. And the only way we can follow him is like Thomas, scratching our heads, shaking our heads, and then following him come what may.

Sure, there will be times when we get tired. Thomas eventually got frustrated enough that he said, “How in the world are we supposed to follow you if we don’t know where you’re going?! (v. 14:5)” But Thomas was the one who loved Jesus so much that he just had to know Jesus had really risen.

I suspect Thomas’ advice to disciples would be this: just follow him. Don’t lag too far behind. Don’t worry too much about your questions. Don’t hold too tightly to your expectations. Just follow him. That’s enough. You’ll see.

4 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts on John 11:1-16

  1. You know, Matt… At this point in the Johanine narrative I wonder if Thomas’ desire to “die with him” isn’t a case of his not yet understanding where they were ultimately headed. In my mind I tend to link it to Peter’s lashing out at the armed cohort in the Garden with an overgrown pocket knife. It wasn’t that Peter (or Thomas) were cowards, it is more that at this point they were still attempting to dictate the terms of their discipleship. “I’m willing to go out fighting–but to be lead like a sheep to the slaughter…that is a whole different thing.”

    What do you think?


  2. Well in an ironic way he did see where they were headed! I just get this resigned sort of vibe from Thomas – sort of like Peter’s “where else would we go” from 6:68. So, I guess you might be right in linking them.

    But in my little exploration here, Thomas really doesn’t know where he’s headed. If he’s thinking violent conflict, then he’s wrong. If he’s thinking immediate martyrdom, then he’s wrong. It’s about doggedly and determinedly following, holding loosely to expectations, no matter what.

    So, I guess I don’t see too much conflict with our readings even if I have Thomas as sort of a resigned loser instead of your zealot. Whaddaya think?

  3. Our boy Tom shows up at some interesting junctures in John…here in 11 of course, in 14 as you have mentioned, and as the infamous “doubter” in chapter 20.

    I am interested in your generous reading of Thomas’ state of mind in the later account. I guess I have always read a certain aggressive belligerence into the “…I will not believe” of 20:25.

    I imagine that this is what is shading my overall interpretation and the understanding that he was still wanting the whole scene to conform to his own expectations.

    Now, as the doctoral student I expect you to be able to go all Schleiermacher on me and get inside of Thomas’ psyche so I can know him better than he knew himself… ;-))

  4. Now, you know I’m not that kind of doctoral student. I can barely spell exegesis, let alone do it! Anyway, I know where you went to seminary, so I’ll let you get away with knowing the literary intent of the author of John. haha

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