Lord of Life
by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill. So the sisters sent word to Jesus saying, "Master, the one you love is ill," When Jesus heard this he said, "This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God that the son of God may be glorified through it." Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea." The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." He said this, and then told them, "Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him." So the disciples said to him, "Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved." But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, "Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him." So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go to die with him."
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise." Martha said to him, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus told her, "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. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, "The teacher is here and is asking for you." As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him. For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him. So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Sir, come and see." And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him." But some of them said, "Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?"
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the dead man's sister, said to him, "Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they many believe that you sent me." And when he had said this, He cried out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out?" The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to the, "Untie him and let him go."
Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.
Today's Gospel addresses friendship, faith and life - a foundational triad of our human existence. Let's start with friendship.
John the Evangelist places a great emphasis on the friendship that exists between Jesus and the family from Bethany. We know that Our Lord visited with Martha, Mary and Lazarus at their home on more than one occasion. St. John was well aware of his friendship, "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." Similarly, Jesus' response to the death of Lazarus demonstrates deep care, "And Jesus wept. So the Jews said 'See how he loved him.'" John also makes note of the fact that Mary bestowed upon Jesus one of the most extraordinary acts of loving devotion in the Gospels when she sat at his feet, anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair.
This level of deep friendship nurtured in Bethany manifests the humanity of Christ. It is heartwarming to know that Jesus enjoyed genuine friendship enriched by spending time together, sharing a meal prepared with great love, conversing about life's deeper realities and extending acts of extraordinary care.
The death of Lazarus is also an opportunity for Jesus to draw the family to a whole new level of faith in him and trust in the will of our heavenly Father.
At the start of this story is a very curious twist. Immediately after noting the love that existed among this group of friends, John states: "So when he (Jesus) heard that he (Lazarus) was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was." That seems strange coming from Jesus, who normally is rather quick to address the pressing desires of those who presented him with genuine needs. Why would Jesus delay for two days? The answer comes at the end of a short dialogue with his disciples: "Lazarus had died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him."
The disciples are, as a group and as individuals, slowly growing in their faith. They are building their understanding of Jesus' true identity. It is a gradual, nonlinear process of recognizing that Jesus is a person who cares deeply, a rabbi, a prophet, the long-awaited messiah and, ultimately, God's only begotten Son. Jesus is divine, the second person of the holy Trinity. coming to this deep, full understanding of Jesus' identity demands the grace of the Holy Spirit, humility, the gift of faith, a genuine encounter with Jesus, and time to let this profound reality settle into our minds and hearts, darkened by sin.
Jesus chooses to allow his good friend, Lazarus, to die in order to provide these friends with an experience of his power and identity that will catapult their faith to a whole new level. Jesus goes to the tomb and says, "Take away the stone." Martha quickly objects, noting that there will be awful odor: Once again, Jesus points to the grace of faith, "Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?"
Next, Jesus cries out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man soon appears tied up in the traditional burial clothes. Jesus then orders those nearby, "Unite him and let him go."
This event makes clear for all who witnessed it that Jesus is Lord of life. He calls his good friend back to life on this earth. He restores him to his two sisters and to his friends, co-workers and extended relatives. Jesus demonstrates that he is indeed God, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He has power over life and death. The result is increased faith: "Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him."
Finally, this miraculous demonstration of Our Lord's power over nature points to something deeper, a reality much richer and more beautiful than simply restoring a friend to life on this earth where he will have to endure a second, physical death. Jesus desires to heal and restore our relationship with the Father through the gift of his cross so that we can be drawn up into the fullness of life and love of the holy Trinity. The raising of Lazarus from the dead points to the greater gift of God's desire that we be united with him in love and truth for all of eternity, not merely for some 70 or 80 years on this earth. This is extraordinary news.
"I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die."