5th Sunday of Lent
March 9, 2008John 11: 1-45
Willow Towers, New Rochelle, N.Y.
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.
During our corona virus shutdown, I can offer you only an old homily. May God's Word still speak to you.
“This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God” (John 11:4).
|Christ calls Lazarus out of the tomb (Giotto)|
We can’t consider every last aspect of the story of the raising of Lazarus, of course, certainly not in one homily. Let’s consider 3 aspects: fear, love, and glory.
There’s a lot of fear in the Bible: fear of encountering the all-holy God; fear of enemies; fear of suffering and death. In today’s gospel the sisters of Lazarus send for Jesus because they’re afraid their brother will die (11:3). The apostles are afraid that if Jesus returns to Judea he’ll be killed, and maybe they will too (11:8,16).
When Martha and Mary send for Jesus, they tell him, “Master, the one you love is ill” (11:3). When the Jews see Jesus weeping at Lazarus’s tomb, they exclaim, “See how he loved him” (11:36).
Jesus’ 1st reaction to the sisters’ message is that Lazarus’s illness will end not in death but in the glory of God. Jesus tells Martha that if she believes, she’ll see the glory of God (11:40).
We fear death. Why? Because it may be painful. Because we’ll be separated from those we love. Because we don’t know what’s beyond it—maybe nothing. Because we’re sinners and face judgment: “If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand?” (Ps 130:3); “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:8). That’s the common experience of humanity. Jesus himself shrank from suffering and death, asking his Father not to make him drink that cup. That’s why we regard as heroes those who risk their lives for others: police officers, firemen, soldiers, sometimes ordinary people; and why we regard the martyrs as heroes, because they accept suffering and death rather than deny Christ or surrender some Christian principle. No matter how much our minds tell us that death is a fact of life, and no health regimen, no scientific breakthru, no miracle will do more than postpone the inevitable, we’re afraid, we do all we can to look young, feel young, act young, and not face death.
Repeatedly in the Bible we’re told not to be afraid: not in an encounter with the Divine, not of death. Those who walk in the light—Christ, of course—don’t stumble, don’t trip over death and doom (cf. John 11:9). “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live” (11:25). Jesus asks Martha whether she believes that (11:26), and indeed that’s the question for every one of us. Our answer is what draws us to Christ and to life, or not. Our positive answer enables us to face our fear, to some degree to be unbound and set free (cf. 11:44).
The greatest reason not to be afraid of death is the 2d theme of the story. When the evangelist quotes the sisters of Lazarus “sending word to Jesus: ‘Master, the one you love is ill,’” he is alluding not only to Lazarus but to every one of Jesus’ disciples. “I have called you friends,” Jesus will tell them at the Last Supper (John 15:15). Earlier, the evangelist comforted us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). Every one of us is one whom he loves. Over every one of us does Jesus weep at the thought that we might die, as he wept over his friend Lazarus, as he lamented the fate of Jerusalem (Luke 13:34). The Father loves us, and he has sent us Jesus as the sign of his love. Jesus loves us and will not allow us to perish if we give him the slightest bit of our own friendship and trust. The raising of Lazarus is a sign of Jesus’ own resurrection, and Jesus’ resurrection is a pledge that God will raise us up too.
St. Irenaeus, a Father of the Church who wrote at the end of the 2d century —and who was one of those heroic martyrs who died for Christ—tells us that “the glory of God is man fully alive.” That’s why God wants to give us life. That’s why Jesus could say that the illness of Lazarus was “for the glory of God” even tho it brought Lazarus to the tomb, and say to Martha, “Did I not tell you that you if you believe you will see the glory of God?” (11:40). Jesus reveals the glory of God by giving life, even temporal life, to Lazarus (because Lazarus eventually died and was buried again). How much more will the resurrection of all God’s faithful people to eternal life give glory to God!