From the Tomb
by Rev. Joseph M. Rampino
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.
The fifth Sunday of Lent places before us the scene of Jesusí greatest public miracle: the raising of his friend Lazarus from the dead. This miracle takes place shortly before Christ goes to his own death and tomb, and represents a decisive moment on the road to the cross. Before this point, Christ has already shown himself to be the master of the elements, a powerful healer, and a forceful exorcist, but this final great miracle stands apart from all the others. In this moment, Christ has not simply fed a crowd, has not simply healed, has not raised a recently dead person as though they were merely resting, but has broken the power of decay and of the tomb itself.
We, perhaps, remember this scene as a moment of peaceful victory and joy: Jesus commanding, the onlookers obediently removing the stone and unbinding Lazarus, Christ returning the man to his sisters, Martha and Mary. But we should not miss the power of this moment. Surely, there was joy in the crowd, but perhaps also terror. The dead do not rise this way, tombs do not give up what has been buried, and those whom the earth has already begun to claim do not return whole. Could that crowd have watched the man in bandages stumble from his last resting place without raising a cry of primal horror? The power Jesus displays in this moment is terrifying, and awesome in the true sense of the word. From this moment on, it is clear that he is Lord even over life and death, and nothing can escape or defy him. It is clear why a crowd will soon follow him into Jerusalem, waving palm branches and acclaiming him as the new king.
The question for us today is whether we believe that the Lord has such power, and whether we believe that he desires to act in our lives. We must ask ourselves: Do I believe that Jesus Christ is the master of all things, with power to accomplish all things? Do I believe that Jesus Christ can and will act with such power to destroy sin and evil in my life if I allow him?
It can happen that when we decide to pursue holiness and confront our shortcomings as Christians, when we try to build virtues we have never had, or root up habits of sin we have struggled against for years, we may lose heart, and feel as though the holiness we seek is out of reach. We can feel as trapped in our sinfulness or our mediocrity as in a tomb, with an impassible wall of rock between us and sanctity. In such a moment, do we believe that Christ can bring us back to life, and make real holiness possible for our soul?
It can also happen that we become comfortable with the tomb of our sins and little infidelities. We can become frightened, perhaps, of the unfamiliar freedom and new life that would come with Christís intervention. In such a moment, do we want Christ to act? Do we trust that the joy of the holiness he offers exceeds the joy we find in our sins as much as the joy of life exceeds that of death?
The truth is that Jesus Christ offers the true life, called holiness, to each soul. He has the power to give it, even to souls long dead in sin and indifference, even to souls that have given up on becoming saintly. The question we must answer is whether we believe, and whether we will allow him to save us from our own tombs.
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index