On Redemption in John 11

He who expects to arrive at . . . the union of the soul with God, by means of consolation and comfort, will find himself mistaken. For, having sinned, we must expect to suffer, and be in some measure purified, before we can be in any degree fitted for a union with God, or permitted to taste the joy of his presence. Be ye patient, therefore, under all the sufferings which your Father is pleased to send you. If your love to him be pure, you will not seek him less in suffering than in consolation.  A Guide to True Peace – Jeanne-Marie Guyon

This essay is about the final stage in the process of redemption: when we have observed and embodied the demands of the Law; when we have heeded faithfully the requirements of conscience; when we have watched and waited expectantly, and yet have come up empty, and not known why. I will examine crucial verses in John 11 that point to the condition that immediately precedes the inward resurrection to life eternal. This chapter in John is about Lazarus being raised from the dead, but the verses I will focus on replicate the conditions of inward death and inward resurrection that are to be visited upon all.

The Meaning of Embrimáomai

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled (Jn. 11:33 KJV).

Because the King James Version doesn’t translate verse 33 well (“he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled”[33b]), I’ll be using instead a literal translation of the New Testament by Richard Lattimore, titled The New Testament ([New York: North Point Press, 1996]). In his preface, Lattimore describes his technique:

I have held throughout to the principle of keeping as close to the Greek as possible, not only for sense and for individual words, but in the belief that fidelity to the original word order and syntax may yield an English prose that to some extent reflects the style of the original (vii). . . . [M]y aim has been to let all of my texts translate themselves with as little interference as possible (ix).

Lattimore’s translation of verses 32 and 33 reads (the relevant sentence italicized):

When Mary came to where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. When Jesus saw her weeping, and saw the Jews who had come with her weeping, he raged at his own spirit, and harrowed himself.

The Greek word in question is “embrimáomai.” Whereas the KJV translates this word as a gentle groan (“he groaned in the spirit”), Lattimore translates it as an intense, explosive anger: “he raged at his own spirit.” Lattimore’s choice is supported by New Testament scholar Rudolf Schnackenburg, who wrote:

The word [embrimáomai] indicates an outburst of anger, and any attempt to interpret it in terms of an internal emotional upset caused by grief, pain, or sympathy is illegitimate (The Gospel According to St. John, 3 vols. [London: Burns and Oates, 1968-82], 2:335.

The text itself supports these scholars’ findings: The Jews interpret Jesus’s weeping as arising from grief (“Then the Jews said: See how he loved him” [36]), but as the Jews in this story always come to the wrong conclusion, we can assume that here their reasoning about Jesus’s weeping is also wrong. Finally, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, informs us that “embrimáomai” “suggests indignation and fault-finding.”

Universality of Blaming

Indignation and fault-finding is what Mary does: finding Jesus along the road, she greets him with an accusation: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”(32). Blame follows loss and suffering, a pattern of behavior not unique to Mary. Her sister Martha speaks the same words when she confronts Jesus. The repetition implies both react to loss and suffering in the same way: with resentment and blame (21). That resorting to blame be seen as a universal and not solely a family characteristic, we’re told that the Jews also suffer (33) and blame Jesus. (“Could not he, who opened the eyes of the blind man, make it so that this man also might not die”? [37]) We cannot miss the idea that loss, suffering, and resentment universally fuel blame. (It’s the property of the first Adam—the one who blamed Eve—the one who blamed the Serpent.) Given all the examples in this 11th chapter, we find the question of whether or not one dies to the self depends upon whether, having suffered loss, one chooses or refuses to cast blame elsewhere.

Another Way

Verse 33 presents Jesus modeling a new and different way to handle loss: “he [Jesus] raged at his own spirit, and harrowed himself.” Like the rest of humankind (“by nature children of wrath” [Eph. 2:3]), Jesus rages at life’s limits, rage that is typically redirected outward. (“If thou hadst been here my brother had not died” say each of Lazarus’s sisters.) Always quick to blame another for one’s suffering, one assumes if only others changed—or were manipulated, controlled, or somehow gotten rid of—one would not have to suffer.

Jesus upends this fallacy by instead choosing to embody the human frailty and limitation without casting responsibility for it elsewhere: he feels the weakness that comes with loss; acknowledges the finitude that leads to suffering; and endures the rage of resentment that follows. Instead of looking outward to blame another, however, he holds the awareness of his finitude and endures; that is the meaning of “he . . . harrowed himself”: he subjected himself to the distress and torment incumbent upon his being mortal, and refused to obscure or deny it by looking for externalities to hold accountable. In short, he refused to blame. This is what it means to take on the sins of the world—whether grand or small—and absorb their effect, which will be loss to the self, its fleshly image and temporal equilibrium in the world. Absorbing the effects of sin is nicely described in this verse from 1st Peter:

He committed no sin, he was convicted of no falsehood; when he was abused he did not retort with abuse, when he suffered he uttered no threats, but committed his cause to the One who judges justly (2:23 NEB).

Returning to the passage in John, we are told: “Jesus once more was inwardly raging, and went to the tomb”(38). The rage accompanies one all the way to the tomb, wherein lies death to the self. God raises a person up from there. . . and from there only. The risen Christ abiding within restores abundant well-being (life eternal), and thereby, is the sin of the world borne and overcome.

The Inward Resurrection: Jn. 11:42

So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said: Father, I thank you for hearing me, and I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd which surrounds me, I said it so that they should believe that you sent me (41-42a).

Jesus knows the Father hears him, even when he doesn’t speak aloud. Their communication is in the inward parts; he speaks aloud only that the crowd might hear. His spirit spoken (the apex of words!) manifests the unity of God and man, and enables others to sense and believe in God’s power to send His Word to us. Such is prophetic ministry—as understood by Friends. It is the manifestation of the inward resurrection to life in Christ; that is to say, it is faith heard (Rom. 10:17).

Shall he find faith on the earth? (Lk. 18:8b)

Some have the form of godliness, acknowledging the need to undergo the cross within, yet in their hearts reject it, seeing no more than a stumbling block or foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23). This is hypocrisy: dwelling in form without substance. Others go on with their worldly lives, having no sense of what they’ve forfeited, and one feels their loss, their emptiness, with compassion. Some from an early age have so felt truth’s pervasive demand that the cross has been with them, a constant companion, though for a time unnamed. And there are some worthy folks who begin to feel truth’s insistence after long years spent captivated by other concerns: social position; empty, intellectual notions; worship of power, or other idols. These folks mend, as they find the peace that comes with living authentically. Other conditions and paths could be listed, but whatever the variation, there is one universal constant that is observed in every soul that enters its rightful place in unity with God: suffering in and for the truth.

Christ with Mary and Martha







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3 Responses to On Redemption in John 11

  1. Pingback: On Redemption in John 11 — Abiding Quaker – Friendly Quakersaurus

  2. Thanks, kwakersaur, for the pingback!


  3. kwakersaur says:

    You’re welcome!


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