They all crowd around him; they pat him on the back. You are the man who came back from the dead, they say. Tell us about what it is like to be dead, and then to be alive again. Tell us if it is like being born, except of course it must be indescribably different from being born, and you will understand what we can never understand. Nevertheless, you have the power to do something we do not; you have the power to tell us things we can never experience, but which we know to be true, things we have seen from another angle, from the standpoint of life. We have watched you dying, and we have buried you, dead. And here you are again, alive, even though we know you are dead. You can tell us the secret of death, and perhaps knowing the secret of death is also like knowing the secret of life, seeing the places where the two diverge.
Will Lazarus answer them? Would it be better - for him, for the world - if he said nothing? The story of Lazarus has already been written, and we know indeed that many Jews travelled from afar to confront him; we know that he sat down with Jesus, Martha and Mary, and had something to eat. But we do not know if Lazarus ever spoke another word after he had come back to life.
What we do know is that he never asked to be brought back to life; while he had life, he was in command of his death. But, once he was dead, he had no power at all. Someone else wanted him to be something – but the object which was Lazarus refused, because for a time this object was still alive and had the power to refuse; it could refuse to get better. But when the object died it lost the power to refuse anything, even to being brought back to life. Perhaps Lazarus should tell them what it means to cease to be an object, to be emptied so finally of all motive force that he is at one with the world and the essence of all things, unable to oppose, unable to discriminate, unable to mean.
Lazarus does not want to speak, but Lazarus is no longer the master of himself; at least half of Lazarus is simply someone else’s miracle, and though that miracle threads his soul among his bones, he can lay no claim to it. So it is now; however hard he tries to hold back the words, he finds himself saying something, in despite of himself. Standing about humbly, the others listen to the speech which is not speech; some of them turn aside out of respect; one or two, who must know the truth, though, still gaze insolently at his downcast face, as though they could draw a meaning out of it by force.
It seems an eternity; the words which are not words continue to pour from his face, as though it would take an eternity to say them all. The words which are not words dribble from the corners of his eyes, down his cheeks, falling on his clothes, some settling, some splitting apart, some rolling away.