Jesus discovered that Lazarus had been in the tomb 4 days (John 11:17).
Jesus had just told the disciples that Lazarus was dead, and that he rejoiced for them that he was not there as sickness became death, so that they would believe. At first the disciples thought Jesus was speaking metaphorically about a sleeping Lazarus, so he spoke to them more directly: Lazarus was plain and simply dead. Jesus rejoices not in that death, but in the faith-to-come that Lazarus' death will celebrate. Still, he wept that Lazarus and his sisters suffered, for he loved them (11:5). Joy for some, and mourning for others.
Such is the face of love in the topsy-turvy world of the 4th gospel. Jesus loved them so much, that he stayed where he was for 2 more days; for Lazarus' illness was not unto death, but that the bright splendor of God will shine through it. Jesus makes use of the day: when it is light, the light will shine forth. Even the gathering mourners connect the death of Lazarus with the work of the day when the man born blind was recreated to see the light of the world (11:27; cf. John 9); light makes the difference between night and day. Darkness is useless, ruined space and time. For Lazarus, night becomes day, the splendor of the day.
In order for John to speak to us through the storied history of readings of his Gospel, we must, as Caputo has convincingly argued, allow scripture (for us, this pericope) to undergo a "methodological transformation into an event" in which the 4th evangelist's voice can make an appearance (Weakness of God, 117; Caputo's emphasis). This twofold transformation identifies the unconditionality of what's brewing in the text---the call---and then gives John's voice presence to us. We allow this voice to appear in all its freedom by freeing it from the layers of exegesis, historical analysis, and especially the onto-theology that has grown around it. This strategy is the epoche, the suspension of what has become the natural attitude toward this text (and others of course). To free our vision from its prejudices and presuppositions, the natural attitude of a strong theology undergoes the phenemenological reduction that bring the event of the pericope into sharp relief (cf, Weakness, 115-17).
The traditional reading of the raising of Lazarus presents a Jesus that deliberately delays his return to Bethany to permit suffering and death only to rebuke it in a demonstration of the divine 'testosterone' (Caputo talks like that). It is a very short journey from such an onto-theology to a harsh theodicy that lays such evils within the divine omnipotence, omniscience and omni-benevolence and renders God's goodness incomprehensible. The text might very well be complicit in such a strong theology, but by bracketing off all that strength, something else wants to get itself done.
Caputo looks to Jesus' tears, as they foreclose on a deliberate delay, which would be 'impossible'. He concludes that Jesus could simply not get there in time. Yet, once we collapse an "all too human love for displaying power," our vision becomes unobstructed (Weakness, 257-58). We see what John is giving voice to: to the very humanity of Jesus in all its fear and suffering. We see that at the moment the word of Lazarus' illness reach Jesus, his beloved friend had already died, unbeknownst to the messenger. Jesus stays across the Jordan (10:40) for 2 ( more days and then returns to Bethany where he discovers that Lazarus was already in the tomb for 4 ( days. It apparently takes him 2 days to complete his return (presumably the same 2 days it takes for the word to reach him across the Jordan). Over the six day period between the departure of the word from Bethany to Jesus' return there Lazarus had died, a death which coincides with the delivery of the word of his illness. John has crunched the numbers he has enumerated for us; it was there all the time, but only now visible in the reduction: Jesus knew at the moment of hearing the word of Lazarus' illness that his beloved friend had died; and he shares this sad news with his disciples who at first misunderstand him. In his profound grief for his friend he rejoices in the disciples' faith-to-come; for Lazarus will not stay dead. John's mathematical time forecloses on any calculus of the divine strength to orchestrate a show of its muscle, which flexes enough in the voice of Jesus calling life upon the dead.
John wants us to see the depths of Jesus' humanity here---the generosity of his joy for his disciples and of his grief over the loss of his friend. In 11:35-38, Jesus' tears cause the Judaeans to marvel at his 'love.' Jesus is then moved deeply and then toward the tomb (11:38). The word ἐμβριμώμενος suggests a reaching deep within himself. Such a reaching doubtless informs the 2 days Jesus needs to compose himself before he returns to a place of sadness, which is a place very near a death by stoning (John 10).
The story does not end with death as Jesus told his disciples, yet neither does it end with Lazarus alive. It ends with the prophecy of Caiaphas and the plot to kill Jesus. Despite the faith that the miracle stirs in some, some others still report to Jesus enemies (those who caused him to retreat across the Jordan in the first place). So this is the situation at Bethany: it is a place of great danger and great love; a place of joy and grief and, with the life restored to Lazarus, the acceleration of the way to the Cross. There is no greater love than this: to lay down one's life for a friend. This is the event released at Bethany. To see it clearly, we even have to bracket off all that 'power' and choose the weakness of God. John, given his voice back from a bracketed dogmatic theology he does not know, tells us simply that Jesus loves in the weakness of his tears.
Love---agape, philos---discovers suffering and mourning within itself. Lazarus discovers the light from the darkness of the tomb as the man born blind finds sight at Siloam. These are short journeys of discovery, as these figures step from darkness into the light. Jesus' own journey to Bethany discovers that love weeps in the face of suffering, and his tears are the tears of love. Jesus wept; God wept. And weeping swept away death, as darkness fades into light. Jesus loves and weeps as we love and weep. And tears melt into prayers for more light. Jesus' prayer is a very public prayer that connects him to the Father and brings the hearers of the prayer to faith. Jesus presents the discovery that love, faith, mourning and suffering entangle the doxa of God.
Though our old friend Nietzsche looked with contempt upon Christianity, he could sing the very song of darkness, midnight's song, where joy and suffering are of a piece, joy deeper yet than suffering in the eternal morning that quickens the eternal night. The light of the sun is its shining joy as the benighted become enlightened. Midnight awakens from its dream into the ebb and flow of joy and sorrow whose currents flow in a single sea of recurrence. The Mitternachtslied is a very Christian moment for the philologist of Basel when read through Lazarus' eyes, or the eyes of the man born blind. Or if the eyes just can't have it, it is the moment of the very voice of midnight. Midnight accepts joy and suffering in eternity where love encompasses its rhythm with all its syncopation, its unexpected accents on suffering, mourning and joy. This is love. This is metanoia, the event harbored in the raising of Lazarus.
The movements of bodies undergird the movement of a coming to believe. The disciples with Jesus move with him from Jerusalem to across the Jordan, and then back again across the Jordan to Bethany, where their faith-to-come materializes. Martha and Mary move from where they meet Jesus to where they were staying. First Martha alone meets Jesus on his way to the tomb where she proclaims her faith that he is the Messiah. She returns to Mary to tell her Jesus has come. Mary goes to meet Jesus, and utters the same faith in the Martha's own words ("my brother would not have died"). Mary and Martha move together with Jesus to the tomb where their faith reveals the glory of God. These motions are the grammar of a change of heart, and change of life, a new life in the presence of the human fully alive.
This metanoia recreates the self, reborn like Nicodemus, that other weaver of light and dark. Not a return to the womb, but a womb-ing of the self that finds itself in relation to the givenness of love. From love, Jesus gives Lazarus more time; for Lazarus does not experience resurrection. Resurrection is unto the eternal beatific vision of love itself; but more time is all the eternity we get in this world. Martha knew this all too well; she knew the Resurrection is not for this day, but the last day. She also believed that Jesus was the Resurrection, and that on this day of his return to Bethany, that fact means more of this life. More life, more time---these symbolize the Resurrection-to-come. The symbols of life and time play out among love and suffering, the rhythmic complexity of love, which constitute the calculus of relation with the divine.
The heuristic elements of raising Lazarus call for a hermeneutics that embraces the text as Jesus loves and weeps, as Martha believes, as the disciples believe, as love punches out its percussive melody, as midnight embraces the rhythm of waking and sleeping, living and dying. Even the day, Jesus' favorite time, the time of doing the work of God, discovers something beyond it. The day cannot contain the event of more life and time, and we cannot remain an older self as the event pulls us into something new. And though we can see in the light of the world, we cannot see into it; yet it sees us in its fullness and we know that we are seen, that we are loved, that we are loved before we are, by a God who loves before he is.