April 10, 2011 — Fifth Sunday of Lent
The story is familiar. Lazarus and his two sisters Mary and Martha were good friends of Jesus. When Lazarus became ill, the sisters sent a message to Jesus who had returned to Galilee. Jesus waited two days and then told his disciples that they were going back to Judea because Lazarus had died.
When Jesus was approaching Bethany, word reached Martha that he was near. She went out to meet him with words that expressed both faith and reproach, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus assured her that Lazarus would rise, and Martha replied that she knew he would at the final resurrection at the world’s end.
Jesus then declared, “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,” and proceeded to ask Martha a direct question, “Do you believe this?” This elicited from Martha an explicit confession of faith, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
Martha then proceeded to call Mary, who greeted Jesus with the same words Martha had used. Jesus asked to see the tomb, where he, seeing the mourners lamenting Lazarus’ death, himself wept for his friend.
All that is what one would expect. What a shock it must have been to hear Jesus’ next words, “Take away the stone”! Even Martha, always practical despite her grief for her brother, exclaimed, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” But they did as Jesus said, and after prayer, he called, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus did as he had been commanded and emerged from the tomb, wrapped in burial clothes, which Jesus ordered to be removed.
The raising of Lazarus shows the power of God to overcome any force or power, even death, which St. Paul termed “the last enemy” (1 Cor 15:26). But it should not be confused with the resurrection of Jesus, which took place a short time afterward. Lazarus had his natural life restored, the same life he had experienced before his illness, although he must have viewed it in a new light. It was a life that would end by natural death when he was old.
The resurrection of Jesus brings forth an entirely new kind of life, one that is no longer subject to death and decay. For those of us who follow Jesus as our shepherd, the resurrected life Jesus has will be ours at the consummation of history, when the Kingdom of God in manifested in all its fullness.
But even though the raising of Lazarus was a resuscitation, not a resurrection, it is still a powerful reminder that Jesus is the Lord of Life, who can conquer death. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans in the Second Reading for today, “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.” In other words, being “in Christ” (Rom 8:1) means that we have been given spiritual life by the Holy Spirit; our bodies will ultimately be given new life – a resurrected life – when Christ returns.
What difference does this mean for our lives today? For Lazarus, it meant many more years of earthly life and, presumably, service to God, because he knew for certain that Jesus loved him and is more powerful than death. For us, it means that in light of our hope, not of life restored but of life transformed, we have a reason to view the ordinary events and opportunities of life in a different way than the world views them. We know that they should be viewed from a perspective of eternity, not from a viewpoint that we can use them for our own benefit and then forget about them. No, we are called to use the Time, the Talent, and the Treasure entrusted to us for the glory of God and the benefit of others. When we do, we shall find that we have benefited from them, in our glorious life with God.