4-2-2017 Fifth Sunday of Lent
Apr 3, 2017
Lent V / A / 2017 / Raising of Lazarus
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
For the last two weeks we have been reading from the Gospel of John—important readings, classic readings, readings directed to our catechumens who will receive the Easter sacraments, but directed also to us who will renew our baptismal promises.
The readings move in a kind of crescendo, from the lesser to the greater. 1) First, the Woman at the Well: we are thirsty, and Jesus is the Living Water. 2) Second, the Man Born Blind: we are blind, and Jesus is the Light. And 3) today, the Raising of Lazarus: we are dead, and Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.
From thirst, to blindness, to death—metaphors for our spiritual dysfunction.
And we are powerless to help or heal ourselves. Our culture would tell us something different—that we are self-reliant, we can do it ourselves, the rugged individualist, the self-made man or woman. But Christianity tells us something different. We can’t do it ourselves. We need help. We need a Savior. And that person is Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world—whose power can even raise the dead.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus raised three people from the dead: 1) the young daughter of Jairus, the synagogue official, 2) the son of the widow of Nain, and 3) Lazarus. St. Augustine, in his commentaries, interprets these as different stages of sin that Jesus heals. The young girl is still quite innocent, the son of the widow a more mature sin, and Lazarus as completely dead in sin—in other words, Jesus heals all sin, from the most simple to those that kill us.
And Lazarus represents the most deadly—in the tomb for four days. He is not only dead—he is really dead!
And what is the reaction of Jesus, the Savior? The Gospel says, "He became perturbed and deeply troubled." And Jesus wept. Here we meet the human Jesus, who cries three times in the Gospel: over Jerusalem, at Gethsemane, and here. It’s important for us to realize that, in the Incarnation, Jesus fully entered into our human experience. Jesus feels what we feel at the death of a friend or family member: he weeps.
But there is more to it than that. At a deeper level, Jesus is deeply disturbed at death itself. God is the God of life. Everything Jesus does in the Gospel is for life. In the great cosmic battle of good and evil, death is the supreme enemy, and Jesus has come as Savior—to face death and to free us from this age-old foe.
Jesus asks, "Where have you laid him." Here another theme emerges: God takes the initiative to find us, even when we are in sin—lost sheep that we are! Remember in the Garden of Eden, when God is looking for Adam and Eve. But they are hiding, ashamed at their sin. Sin breaks a relationship with God, sin breaks a friendship with God. Sin puts us in the tomb—but Jesus comes looking for us, ready to heal and restore a relationship.
As Jesus approaches the tomb, he cries out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" I try to imagine the power in that voice, perhaps like a roaring lion. The voice of God, which is always effective (God said, "Let there be light, and there was light." God speaks, and it is.). So Lazarus comes out of the tomb—bound and tied up. And Jesus, the Savior, speaks again: "Untie him, and let him go." The words we long for!
The point is this: all of us, to one degree or another, are spiritually dead. We may be just a little dead—or dead four days in the tomb. No matter how dead, the voice of Jesus calls us out of the tomb and into life.
So put your own name in the place of Lazarus, and hear the voice of Jesus—who is Savior, who unties us, who calls us back to life.