There are any number of reasons why the religious powers-that-be wanted, and felt they needed, to get rid of Jesus. He was preaching an apocalyptic message that the Kingdom of God was at hand. Given the political pressure cooker that was Roman occupied Jerusalem during the Passover Festival at the start of the Common Era, the Pharisees were certainly not thrilled to have an apocalyptic messianic figure roaming around town. He was challenging the status quo by healing on the sabbath, preaching a stringent ethic, and suggesting the Temple system was corrupt. Nobody likes having their authority questioned, no least, religious leaders. Perhaps most importantly, Jesus was drawing huge crowds – larger even than John the Baptist had – and popularity is a dangerous thing.
John tells us that despite all of these yellow flags, it wasn’t until a fateful day in Bethany that the Pharisees ultimately decided that Jesus had to go. Lazarus, who had been dead four days, was brought back to life. Not with laying on of hands or even really through prayer, but simply by way of three words, “Lazarus, come out.” As a result of this miracle, many put their faith in Jesus. Suddenly, all the yellow flags became red. In their distress, the Pharisees exclaimed, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come destroy both our holy place and our nation.”
Thus was the power of Lazarus’ healing, which is why it is so important that in John, Holy Week begins at the home of Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary. This family, with whom Jesus had a long and beloved relationship, which had likely bank rolled much of his ministry, and which was often home base during his trips to Jerusalem, was so powerful that the raising of Lazarus from the dead couldn’t be explained away like Jesus’ other life-giving miracles. No, this one was different. This one required the death of not just Jesus, but of Lazarus [again], as well.
It is the raising of Lazarus from the dead that makes Mary’s anointing of Jesus so powerful. All of the love that had been shared between Jesus and this family was poured out in 300 denarii worth of pure nard. )If you’ve ever smelled spike nard, you’ll know that its aroma is strong, and not very pleasant to the modern olfactory senses, so that I feel comfortable saying the following.) Not only that, but all the fear, misunderstanding, and anger that existed between the Pharisees and Jesus was poured out as well.
The Gospel lesson for today ends with these ominous words, “So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.” By way of Lazarus’ resurrection, the tide had turned. There was no going back to Jesus being a small-time Rabbi from a sleepy little fishing village. He was the it thing – and it was out of fear of his popularity that the final plans went into motion.