The Fifth Sunday of Lent
March 26, 2023
St. John the Evangelist has still another incredible story of a three-part series used by the church to show us how Jesus wants to be for us: He is the One who unbinds our shackles ~ calls us forth from the tombs of our lives and offers us new and risen life! When? For all eternity – Yes! But also right here, right now in the midst of our upside -down lives!
(Also see the two previous posts for the first two stories “A thirsty man meets a thirsty woman (John, Chapter 4) and “You light up my life” John, Chapter 9). There are marvelous lessons for believers and unbelievers alike here. You’ll find them on the top right column of the blog.) The images I use here are of a statue interpreting the unbinding of Lazarus on the grounds of the Diocese of Lake Charles Retreat Center in Lake Charles, LA. I titled them: “Addictions.”
Before I offer my own reflections on this precious Gospel text of St. John, I’d like to begin, as I usually do with some notes by our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay . . . .
Jesus often went to the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha at Bethany to rest from the tensions of his life—to “hang out” with them and just relax for a while. ( The word ‘Bethany’ is often used for Retreat Centers for that reason: a time of relaxation and rest–a retreat.)
The sisters sent a note to Jesus that simply was a request to come to Bethany, knowing he would come. Barclay notes that the word Lazarus means God is my help.
Barclay tells us that one of the strangest things in scripture is the fact the saints of the Old Testament had practically no belief in any real life after death. In the early days the Hebrews believed that the soul of every man, good or bad alike went to Sheol.
Sheol is wrongly translated as Hell; for it was not a place of torture, it was the land of shades. All alike went there and they lived in a vague, shadowy, joyless ghostlike kind of life. “In death there is no remembrance of thee; in Sheol who can give you praise? (Psalm 6:5)
In the days of Jesus, the Pharisees and the majority of Jews did believe in some kind of afterlife, but the Sadducees refused to do so.
Then our Scripture scholar comments on Jesus’ display of emotion at the tomb of Lazarus.
“When he saw the Jews who had come with her weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit, so that an involuntary groan burst from him, and he trembled with deep emotion.”
Barclay says this is one of the most precious things in the gospel. So deeply did Jesus enter into people’s sorrows that his heart was wrung with anguish.
St. John was writing in Greek for Greeks for whom the primary characteristic of a god was what they called apatheia, which means “total inability to feel any emotion whatsoever”.
They argued that if we can feel sorrow are joy, then that person can have an effect on us. Now, if that person can have an effect on us, that means for the moment that they can have power over us. No one can have power over God, and that means that means that God is essentially incapable of feeling any emotion whatsoever.
What a different picture Jesus gives us! The greatest thing that Jesus did was to bring us the news of a God who cares.
But there’s a problem . . .
In the other three gospels there are stories of Jesus raising people from the dead: Jairus’ daughter in Matthew, Mark and Luke. The raising of the widow’s son at Nain in Luke. In both cases, the raising occurred immediately after death, suggesting that they could have been in a coma.
Secondly, in the other three gospels, there is no account, not even a mention of the raising of Lazarus. If it actually happened how could they possibly omit it? Barclay goes on to elucidate this problem thoroughly.
But then he resolves it by telling a story of a young marine who came to faith after living a life of sin and nearly despairing, he read this story, and it brought him back to Christ.
And now, it’s time for my own reflections, dear reader . . .
As you read this story, picture it. Get into it. And I will add a few reflections of my own along the way. This is an edited version of the NRSV version. Cf. the following link for the complete text: John 11:1-45.
NOW a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Jesus with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”
I can muse that You, Jesus, often went to the home of Martha and Mary and Lazarus. You probably went there to “let your hair down.” To get away from the crowds — even Your chosen and sometimes unruly band of Twelve who often didn’t “get” what You were about. I muse that You sometimes felt quite alone even among them. But You really seem to enjoy the three siblings’ company. You could be-who -You -were, without pressure, without demand. You could simply “be”. And Your three friends were very comfortable with You as well. (Remember the story in Luke 10:38-42 when he came for dinner?)
Jesus, help us to find friends who accept us as we are — warts and all — with whom we don’t have to pretend to be someone-something we’re not. Where we can learn and be encouraged to bind our wounds and become whole. I thank you for the people in my life who were “there” for me when I needed them.
But when Jesus got the note from Martha, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory.
Lord, You have enabled me to realize, that illness and difficult times can end in glory for those who persevere -who trust -who are willing to understand what such crosses will teach us.
Lord, help us to see the glory hiding in the dark places of our lives . . . .
Though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Lord, help us to grow into patience –to wait. To wait for God’s time for things.
Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” [ . . . . ] “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”
How many of us have fallen asleep to the reality of our lives? Jesus, help me to WAKE UP! and really see and accept the reality of my life — both the good and the bad. And the reality of what’s going on in our nation and our world.
[. . . .] When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Lord Jesus, I hear you saying this to ME. As a priest I have consoled many who wept at the death of their own loved ones. And throughout my own long years of illness, these words consoled me. Somehow, I realized that, even on this side of the grave, You have granted me new and risen life again and again.
She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Yes, Lord, You are the One who is my Friend -my Beloved -my Redeemer- my Shepherd and Companion on my life’s journey!
When Martha had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.
Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
In those few words I sense her grief, Lord . . . and a bit of a reprimand: “Why weren’t You here”?
How often as a priest have I heard people say that!
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.
Jesus, as I (we) reflect on this story, help us to feel -to sense-to realize that it is your humanness -Your humanity that saves us: You are one like us!
He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”
Jesus began to weep.
Jesus, You always weep with and for Your friends . . . and the folks who do not know You are waiting for the touch of your friendship.
You cry — even now — over the state of our world. I know. I often cry with you!
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
Jesus, I praise You that You were not afraid to express Your love to other men, especially to the young beloved disciple who leaned on Your breast at the Last Supper (John 21:20).
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus, You always worked in an atmosphere of hostility. There were always people around who hated You because you loved! And taught others to do the same. In these later days of Lent as we approach the celebration of Your passion, death and resurrection — this year — may we be soberly aware that it was the religious leaders who had you killed. Something for us to ponder even today. Are we for You or against You? Are we on the side of Love or Hate?
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
Jesus, I know many who have heavy stones laying across devastated lives. Particularly my friends who have lain in the tombs of addiction. I know families who weep and worry over the death of the spirits of their loved ones.
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”
There are always consequences to devastated lives. They’re always hard to repair.
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
. . . . but Jesus reminds us to always to have hope in the ones we love — even when matters seem hopeless.
So they took away the stone. And Jesus [. . . . .] cried with a loud voice, “LAZARUS COME OUT!”
The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.
Jesus said to them,
“Unbind him, and let him go.”
I have come to realize, Jesus, that coming out of our tombs is only the beginning of recovery. Resurrection takes a long time.We need others to unbind us. And I thank you for the people who have helped to unbind me ~ especially You, Lord!
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
May we come to deepen OUR faith in You, Lord, and realize that as we stay close to You, You will unbind us and let us go free to new and risen life and love!
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved. From the oremus Bible Browser http://bible.oremus.org v2.2.5 2 March 2008.
William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition The Westminster Press / Philadelphia 1975 / pp. 80 – 103.
These four young men died because they used drugs that were laced with Fentanyl. How long will allow this to happen?