Vincent Word Studies - John 11:44 - 11:44

Online Resource Library

Commentary Index | Return to

Vincent Word Studies - John 11:44 - 11:44

(Show All Books | Show All Chapters)

This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

Grave-clothes (κειρίαις)

Literally, swathing-bands. Only here in the New Testament. In Joh 19:40; Joh 20:5, Joh 20:7, ὀθόνια, linen bands, is used.

A napkin (σουδαρι.ῳ)

See on Luk 19:20.

It is interesting to compare this Gospel picture of sisterly affection under the shadow of death, with the same sentiment as exhibited in Greek tragedy, especially in Sophocles, by whom it is developed with wonderful power, both in the “Antigone” and in the “Electra.”

In the former, Antigone, the consummate female figure of the Greek drama, falls a victim to her love for her dead brother. Both here, and in the “Electra,” sisterly love is complicated with another and sterner sentiment: in the “Antigone” with indignant defiance of the edict which refuses burial to her brother; in the “Electra” with the long-cherished craving for vengeance. Electra longs for her absent brother Orestes, as the minister of retribution rather than as the solace of loneliness and sorrow. His supposed death is to her, therefore, chiefly the defeat of the passionate, deadly purpose of her whole life. Antigone lives for her kindred, and is sustained under her own sad fate by the hope of rejoining them in the next world. She believes in the permanence of personal existence.

“And yet I go and feed myself with hopes

That I shall meet them, by my father loved,

Dear to my mother, well-beloved of thee,

Thou darling brother” (897-900).

And again,

“Loved, I shall be with him whom I have loved

Guilty of holiest crime. More time is mine

In which to share the favor of the dead,

Than that of those who live; for I shall rest

Forever there” (73-76).

No such hope illuminates the grief of Electra.

“Ah, Orestes!

Dear brother, in thy death thou slayest me;

For thou art gone, bereaving my poor heart

Of all the little hope that yet remained

That thou wouldst come, a living minister

Of vengeance for thy father and for me” (807-812).

And again,

“If thou suggestest any hope from those

So clearly gone to Hades, then on me,

Wasting with sorrow, thou wilt trample more” (832-834).

When she is asked,

“What! shall I ever bring the dead to life?”

she replies,

“I meant not that: I am not quite so mad.”

In the household of Bethany, the grief of the two sisters, unlike that of the Greek maidens, is unmixed with any other sentiment, save perhaps a tinge of a feeling bordering on reproach that Jesus had not been there to avert their calamity. Comfort from the hope of reunion with the dead is not expressed by them, and is hardly implied in their assertion of the doctrine of a future resurrection, which to them, is a general matter having little or no bearing on their personal grief. In this particular, so far as expression indicates, the advantage is on the side of the Theban maiden. Though her hope is the outgrowth of her affection rather than of her religious training - a thought which is the child of a wish - she never loses her grasp upon the expectation of rejoining her beloved dead.

But the gospel story is thrown into strongest contrast with the classical by the truth of resurrection which dominates it in the person and energy of the Lord of life. Jesus enters at once as the consolation of bereaved love, and the eternal solution of the problem of life and death. The idea which Electra sneered at as madness, is here a realized fact. Beautiful, wonderful as is the action which the drama evolves out of the conflict of sisterly love with death, the curtain falls on death as victor. Into the gospel story Jesus brings a benefaction, a lesson, and a triumph. His warm sympathy, His comforting words, His tears at His friend's tomb, are in significant contrast with the politic, timid, at times reproachful attitude of the chorus of Theban elders towards Antigone. The consummation of both dramas is unmitigated horror. Suicide solves the problem for Antigone, and Electra receives back her brother as from the dead, only to incite him to murder, and to gloat with him over the victims. It is a beautiful feature of the Gospel narrative that it seems, if we may so speak, to retire with an instinctive delicacy from the joy of that reunited household. It breaks off abruptly with the words, “Loose him, and let him go.” The imagination alone follows the sisters with their brother, perchance with Christ, behind the closed door, and hears the sacred interchanges of that wonderful communing. Tennyson, with a deep and truly Christian perception, has struck its key-note.

“Her eyes are homes of silent prayer,

Nor other thought her mind admits

But, he was dead, and there he sits!

And He that brought him back is there.

Then one deep love doth supersede

All other, when her ardent gaze

Roves from the living brother's face

And rests upon the Life indeed.”

“In Memoriam.”