Summary: An expository reflection on the Raising of Lazarus. Death seems to conquer, but the dying itself holds the seed of life.
MARCH 19, 1999
·First Reading Ezekiel 37:12-14
·Psalm Psalm 130:1-8
·Second Reading Romans 8:8-11
·Gospel John 11:1-45 or 11:1-4; 17, 20-27, 33-45
In preparation for the Paschal Mystery, the 5th Sunday of Lent brings us to our Lord’s most outstanding miracle, which is the Raising of Lazarus, the climax of the Book of Signs in the Gospel account of St. John. This story is appropriate in these final weeks of Lent, when the battle lines are being drawn. Death seems to conquer, but the dying itself holds the seed of life.
This miracle is found only in the Gospel account of St. John. By spending a whole chapter, the “beloved apostle” spared no details in recounting this inspiring story. With that in mind, let us go back in time to that little village of Bethany, where we find the disciples Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus, who has become ill.
Due to the failing health of their brother, Martha and Mary send word to our Savior (11:3), knowing that our Great and Almighty Healer will restore Lazarus’ health. The Lord, however, responds by remaining where He is for two more days (11:6). Reason dictates that this seeming indifference is a strange way of expressing love and concern but not so strange if taken by faith. Every now and then, the Lord tries our faith to mold us into becoming better disciples. Therefore, His delay in answering our supplications should not waiver our faith in Him for foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and His weakness is stronger than human strength (1 Cor. 1:25).
While the Lord waits and tension builds in Bethany, Lazarus dies. Note that by delaying, our Lord actually allowed life to cease. His intentional delay, however, should not be perceived as an act to avoid the face of death. On the contrary, He waited for death in its fullness in order to vanquish it.
Eventually, the Lord leaves Jerusalem for Bethany, which is about 2 miles away. This leads us to verse 17, which says that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days when our Lord came. The four days are crucial because it was a common belief that the soul remained at the gravesite for three days yearning to return to the body (Jerome Commentary; Gen. Rab. 100:64). Therefore, everyone knew that any hope of resurrecting Lazarus had passed.
And how do Martha and Mary welcome our Savior? No exchange of pleasantries nor words of praise or thanksgiving, but with the words, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died" (11:21, 32). Here is a combination of faith and lack of faith. Faith made them say what they said, but their lack of faith made them confine our Lord’s power to His physical presence. Responding to Martha, the Lord utters, "I Am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die" (11:25-26). This statement affirms that HE IS the resurrection and the life, and not merely offers it. His saving work is totally integrated into His very being and those who believe are fully united with Him. He is the Resurrection because by His victory over death, He has become the cause of man’s resurrection. He is the Life because He gives the grace of eternal life here and now and the hope for a life with God beyond the grave.
In reply, Martha states in verse 27, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” “To believe in Jesus” demands a total (100%) dedication and commitment of our whole being and not merely an intellectual assent (Rom. 10:9-10). The gravity of our faith must be centered on Him at all times.
From there, St. John takes us to a very moving verse 35, which reads, “And Jesus wept!” This verse is placed all by itself that we might pause a while and ask ourselves why our Master wept. Romans 6:23 reminds us that the wages of sin is death. Therefore, He must have wept not only for Lazarus but also for every soul enslaved by sin and at seeing what destruction sin had made in the world. For man who was created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27, 31), meant to be immortal and placed a little lower than the angels (Ps. 8) had been reduced by sin to a level with beasts that perish. He also wept at the foresight of those who would turn against Him with increased unbelief and prejudices though He should raise Lazarus before their very eyes. Are we accountable for those precious tears as well? Could it be that our Lord is still weeping at this very hour?