Monday, March 30, 2009

Raising Lazarus--A Reflection for the 5th Sunday of Lent

Most, if not all, of us here have lost a loved one; someone we were close to. It may have been a friend, family member or even a pet. We have known sorrow and grief; the pain of loss.

In the gospel of St. John, chapter 11, the evangelist tells us how Jesus experiences to death of his friend, Lazarus. Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, were some of Jesus closest friend. St. John tells us that Jesus loved them.

When news reaches Jesus that Lazarus is sick, he waits two more days before he leaves to see his friend. In fact, he waits long enough for Lazarus to have died! Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus’ death from this illness is not the end for Lazarus; that it is for the glory of God.

When Jesus and his disciples arrive at Bethany, where Lazarus, Mary and Martha live, Martha greets him. She says “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It sounds almost like an accusation! When Jesus tells her that her brother will rise, she gives the theologically correct answer, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Isn’t this how we respond to grief? We look for the correct answer.

What Martha failed to understand is that the correct answer was standing right in front of her! Jesus, as he tells her, is “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.” Martha had her theology right; Lazarus would rise in the resurrection on the last day. But theology, as important as it is, can only take us so far. Theology cannot raise the dead! To raise the dead, it takes the power of “the resurrection and the life”. Notice that Jesus is not only the resurrection, the power to bring the dead to life; he is “the life.” That is, Jesus is life itself. Once raised from the dead, we will live in and by Jesus.

After challenging Martha with to look beyond her theology to understand that he is what she is truly looking for, Jesus asks, “Do you believe this?” Do you believe that I can conquer death and give life? Beyond your good theology, do you trust in me?

Martha answers, “Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” She answers a best she can, she responds with more good theology. She lists three facts about Jesus. She doesn’t say that she believes Jesus is “the resurrection and the life.” In her grief, she doesn’t rise to Jesus challenge go beyond her theology to believe in him.

When Mary meets Jesus, she says the same thing her sister Martha did. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” This time St. John tells us that Jesus, seeing her weeping with grief, becomes “perturbed and deeply troubled.” This time, his response is deeply emotional. He becomes “perturbed and deeply troubled.” He even weeps.

He asks them to roll the stone away from the tomb. Lazarus has been dead four days now. According to the Jewish belief at the time, his soul would have definitely left his body. Decay had begun, hence “there will be a stench.” The stone is rolled away. After a brief prayer for the benefit of the mourners, Jesus cries out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Does Jesus think a dead man can hear? When “the resurrection and life” call, they can! Lazarus shuffles to the door of the tomb, still wrapped in his burial bands. Having raised Lazarus form the dead, Jesus asks the others to untie Lazarus and let him go. When Jesus gives new life to our loved ones, we need to free them from their bondage to sin and let them go to him.

Jesus answered Mary and Martha’s prayer. He doesn’t tell Martha “Sorry, but you didn’t answer my question ‘Do you believe that I am the resurrection and the life?’ correctly, so I won’t raise your brother. No, he raises Lazarus. He doesn’t tell Mary that her weeping indicates lack of faith. No, he weeps with her, and then he raises Lazarus.

Lazarus has been raised from the dead. As a result many people will believe in Jesus. The chief priests will plan to kill Lazarus. Stories will be told that Lazarus lives another 30 years, goes to Cyprus and is made bishop of Kition by St. Paul. In any event, Lazarus will die again. But next time, at the resurrection of the last day, Jesus will raise his friend Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, and all those who believe to the fullness of eternal life, never to die again. We will live in Jesus, the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this? Then believe beyond just sound theology, (as important as that is) and believe in Jesus.

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