Jesus recounts a visit to his friend Lazarus, whose narcolepsy gets him into a spot of bother
Wednesday August 2
Mary left early this morning to do a few errands. She’s still worried about Matthias’ claim on her land. It may be illegal but he has the best adviser for overcoming awkward matters of law. It’s called money. I hope Tom gets back soon so he can keep his promise to help her.
I was still restless this morning, so I decided to go for a walk up the coast to Gennesaret to visit my old friend Lazarus. He originally came from Bethany, near Jerusalem, but his family moved to Nazareth when he was young because they thought the country air would do him good. He was a sickly child and seemed to succumb to every demon that desired to enter his body, although they never managed to invade his mind and he was always great company. After a few years they moved again to live by the sea, and after that there was nowhere with healthier air to head for. I’d have asked him to be a disciple if he’d been fit enough, but with his limbs deformed by polio and his strength permanently sapped by the many fevers that had afflicted him, he wouldn’t have been able to keep up. The last time I saw him he fell asleep while I was telling him my latest thoughts about the end of the age. At first I was offended but his sister said he was like that more and more these days. It was still a useful reminder to keep my message short and simple. Tom’s probably right about his sound bites. He’s usually right about most things.
I attracted a small crowd the minute I left Mary’s land. My growing band of followers, refugees from family and civilisation, can now be found in small camps all along the shores of Galilee from Magdala to Gennesaret and onward to Capernaum and beyond. By the time I approached my destination I had gathered an entire swarm of them. I was moved by their loyalty and stopped to address them. I told them the new age would definitely be upon us within weeks, and they would be rewarded for their dedication and loyalty. I had felt sorry for the state of poverty they had chosen to live in, but as I looked from face to face I realised each one had the same expression: a glow of serene happiness. I delivered a few Luckies, which they appreciated, and I laid my hands on a few sick people who were brought to the front. One chap looked like he needed a good meal and I gave him a chunk of bread and a drink from my water bottle. He perked up immediately.
When I entered Lazarus’ house I found his sister Martha in the main room, dressed in black and weeping. I asked where Lazarus was.
“You’re too late. He died four days ago,” she said.
“Can I see him?”
“We buried him the next day, according to the law.”
“What did he die of?”
“He just…fell asleep and didn’t wake up. He’s been falling asleep more and more recently, but this time he didn’t wake up. Wouldn’t wake up. He stopped breathing and didn’t respond to anything we did to try to rouse him. I finally had to accept he was dead.”
She was deeply upset and I put my arm around her to comfort her, but I still wanted at least to visit his grave, to obtain closure and pay my last respects. I was disturbed by the thought that he would not be alive to enter the new Kingdom, and angry that he had missed his chance by such a short time. Would God be able to raise people from the dead when he arrived? Maybe he would be able to bring back to life any people who had only just died, but after a few weeks when the flesh rotted away in the extreme heat and the body became just a skeleton, what chance then? I shuddered at the unfairness of it all.
The crowd was still outside the house when Martha led me out to visit the tomb. They followed us but thankfully maintained a respectful distance. The tomb was in a cave in a rocky area a mile or so out of town. At least he wasn’t buried in the ground; I might even be able to see his body one last time.
“Which one is it?” I asked, after telling Martha what I wanted to do.
“Are you sure you want to do this? He will smell foul by now and will look horrible.”
There was indeed a stench coming from the whole area, which was popular for burials and a favourite with carrion-eating animals and birds. Martha saw my determined look and pointed to the big stone blocking his particular cave. My grief suddenly surged to the surface like a pot boiling over and I couldn’t help crying out.
“Oh Lazarus, Lazarus, my great, great friend. I cannot bear the thought of never seeing you alive again. I’m so sorry I didn’t get to see you before you went. How can I ever make it up to you?”
“Thank goodness you’ve come,” cried a thin voice from behind the stone. My heart nearly burst with sudden fear. Was this a wraith, a ghost, a demon paying tricks?
“You can make it up to me by giving me a hand with this bloody stone, Jesus,” said the voice, so weak I could only just hear it. “I’m famished. I hope you’ve brought something to eat.”
“O Lazarus, you’re alive! Hang on, we’ll soon get you out.”
The crowd had kept their distance but could still hear my raised voice, and they were looking on in shocked wonder. I mustered a few of the stronger looking ones and they put their shoulders to the stone, eventually giving it enough momentum to roll about half a turn.
“I see what you mean about the stink,” I said to Martha.
“Well I had to take a dump eventually and there was nowhere else to go,” said the thin voice. Hearing him talk like this took me back to the old days and my tears of grief became a wave of joy.
“Come out Lazarus, you old son of a…” I yelled, becoming aware of my audience just in time to restrain my language. His skeletal form squeezed through the gap, staggered out and fell into my arms.
“And help me to get out of these frigging bandages,” he said, before collapsing out of sheer weakness and relief.
I carried him back to the house myself. There was so little of him, it was barely harder than carrying a sick lamb, which I’d done many a time in the past. People in the crowd were already comparing their versions of events and piecing together what they had seen and heard. However much I loved and admired them, I wanted some privacy now and asked them to leave us alone. I promised them there would be a big meeting at Bethsaida in a week’s time and told them to spread the word and prepare for that.
When Lazarus had eaten, drunk, bathed and begun to recover he explained what had happened. He had been weaker than usual recently and had fallen into one of his daytime sleeps about a week ago. This time, when his mind had woken up his body had stayed asleep, and eventually his heartbeat and breathing became so slow and weak that he appeared to be dead.
“I thought I was dead myself,” he said, “except I realised that if I was thinking I couldn’t be dead. That made it worse, because I could hear everything that was going on and it was obvious that everyone else had decided I was dead too. Thank goodness they didn’t bury me in the ground or I didn’t come from one of those foreign tribes who cremate their dead. That could have been painful.”
“Oh stop it, you’re making me feel worse than ever!” wailed poor Martha, but we both reassured her that it wasn’t really her fault. In fact Lazarus had heard her trying to persuade the local busybodies and bigwigs not to take him out for burial quite so hastily, knowing his history.
“I won’t let them bury you again till the crows think you’re suitably rotten to make a good meal,” she promised.
“But there won’t be a next time,” I said. “The end of the age will be upon us within weeks, and certainly no later than Yom Kippur.”
They both looked at me as if I was mad, a look I had seen too often recently.
“Don’t you see? That’s why God has saved you from death, so you will be alive for the new age,” I said.
“OK, but what if I’d died? What then? And what about the good guys like John the Baptist who got killed for warning the end was coming? Surely God will be able to do something for him. Maybe he can turn back time, or give John a spiritual body.”
“That’s it!” I said. “A spiritual body. That must be the answer. Perhaps we’ll all get spiritual bodies.”
“I bloody well hope so,” said Lazarus. “I couldn’t do worse than I did with my flesh and blood body. Now, won’t you stay for a meal and a cup of wine Jesus, old mate? We can talk about the old days and what we will eat and wear when we get our spiritual bodies.” He laughed, and then apologised and thanked me for saving him from starving to death in a cave. I accepted his apology but said I had to get back to make sure the farm was safe, in case Mary hadn’t returned. I promised I wouldn’t leave it so long before I saw them again.
Mary hasn’t come back, but she does sometimes stay away overnight. She’s a hard worker and a wonderful woman. There’s so little time left to make anything of our marriage now, and so much to do elsewhere. Oh no, I’ve just realised where she’s probably gone.