Beyond the Grave by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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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.
"The one you love is ill." (Jn 11:3) If you or I received such a message, we would hasten to visit the one we love. We would want to provide him some solace and, in the case of a fatal illness, to be with him as he dies.
But when Our Lord receives this report about His friend Lazarus, He does not hasten. In fact, He delays. We know that Our Lord and a special affection for Lazarus and his sisters. (cf. Un 11:5)
During that time of delay, of course, Lazarus died and was buried. How then do we explain Our Lords' delay and seeming negligence? Is it not the failure to answer an urgent prayer?
Perhaps we can understand Our Lord's action - seeming inaction - in terms of a teacher or instructor. A good teacher knows that he must draw his students beyond their abilities, beyond what they think they can do. He knows how to push them so that they accomplish more than they thought they could. If he does not challenge them, they will not grow. So also a coach pushes his athletes to the breaking point - and further - to make them faster and stronger. And this looks cruel. While the trainees think they can go no further, the instructor urges them on. As the students groan for rest, the teacher gives yet another assignment.
Our Lord deals in a similar way with Lazarus's sisters, Martha and Mary. His delay brings them further in their faith than they could have imagined. They already believe in Him, as their message indicates: "The one you love is ill," Their words carry an implicit prayer that Our Lord come and heal Lazarus, as He had so many others. As a result, His delay clearly disappoints them. When He finally arrives each one says, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." (Jn 11:21, 32)
Notice, however that Martha and Mary do not lose faith. Despite His inexplicable tardiness and the loss it has brought them, they continue to trust Him. Indeed, His delay does not break but stretches their faith. They believed already that Our Lord could heal Lazarus. His delay challenges them to believe that He can also raise Lazarus from the dead. They already trusted Him with the things of life; His delay brings them to trust beyond the grave. Thus Martha confidently says, "Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give . . . I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world." (Jn 11:22, 27) Now she trusts even more than she did before.
"When he heard that (Lazarus) was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was." Our Lord's delay, though seemingly callus and cruel, stretched Martha and Mary to trust Him even beyond the grace. "Even now," Martha says, indicating that she will continue to trust in any circumstance.
We should understand His seeming delays to our requests in the same light. If He seems slow to answer prayers, it is only so that we can trust Him more. If He seems to delay, it is only so that we can say, "Yes, Lord, even now I trust." If it seems, as it must have for Martha and Mary, that all is lost and He has ultimately failed to answer - even then we persevere in trust and grow in faith. Then we believe in His power to reach beyond the grave. At such moments, Martha's words of trust should be our own: "Even now."
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