Vol. 6, No. 28
Daughters of Mary Instruction
28 March 2017
Lynn D. Clapper
We ask for the grace of our Blessed Mother, Mary, and to have hearts filled with compassion, emulating her son in all our interactions.
On the Fifth Sunday in Lent, John tells the story of the raising of Lazarus. This miracle, unattested by any of the other Gospel writers, is the last of the seven signs John cites as the revelation of Jesus Christ as God. Except for the description of the passion and death of Jesus, the story of the raising of Lazarus is the longest narrative in the book of John. It is a pivotal story in the tale of Jesus as Messiah. Jesus’ words “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43), and the sight of a bound Lazarus emerging from his burial cave four days after his death, had a profound effect on the Jewish mourners gathered at the tomb with Mary and Martha. Ironically, while this unbelievable miracle continues to astonish anyone who is listening to this story of the power of Jesus Christ, it is also the miracle that put in motion the series of events that brought about Jesus’ own death.
Lazarus lived in Bethany, just two miles from Jerusalem, where Jesus was under mounting attack from the leaders of the Jewish community. After miraculously restoring the sight of a man born blind, and criticizing the Pharisees as being the sheep who did not recognize their shepherd’s voice, the Jews tried to discredit Jesus by claiming that his power was the work of demons. Alarmed by the people’s growing fascination with Jesus, the Pharisees ordered anyone who acknowledged Jesus as Messiah to be expelled from the synagogue, and even attempted to stone Jesus after he proclaimed his unity with God the Father while preaching in the Temple. Aware of the threats against him, and knowing that his hour had not yet come, Jesus left Jerusalem and sought refuge across the Jordan River at the very place John the Baptist had first baptized.
But, John tells us that Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother, the one whom Jesus loved, was deathly ill. After waiting two days, Jesus then set out on a two-day trip to Bethany after overruling the frantic objections of his disciples who feared for Jesus’ life. When Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been in the burial tomb for four days, and Jesus was greeted by a grief-stricken Martha who told Jesus that her brother would be still alive if Jesus had been there sooner. Overcome by his own emotion and full of the compassion that Jeanne will tell us fueled Jesus’ fervent desire to heal everyone around him, Jesus told Martha, “Your brother will rise” (John 11:23).
This was not the first time that Jesus would restore life to someone who had died. Luke tells the touching story of Jesus’ pity for a woman who was on the way to bury her only son. By touching the young man’s coffin and saying, “Young man, I tell you arise!” (Luke 7: 11-15), the dead man sat up and began to speak. All three of the synoptic writers tell the story of Jairus, a member of the Sanhedrin, who pleaded with Jesus to heal his daughter. After learning that she had died, Jesus accompanied Jairus to his home where the dead young girl rose and walked about after Jesus took her hand and cried out “Little girl, arise!” (Mark 5:22-24; Matthew 9:18-25; Luke 8: 41-46). Jesus’ followers and the crowds who witnessed these miracles were utterly shocked and frightened by these works of power. Word spread quickly among the Jews.
Lazarus, however, had been dead four days and already laid in a tomb. To touch Lazarus’ body would have risked the defilement that was completely prohibited by the Jewish purity laws. A weeping, yet undeterred Jesus, however, ordered that the stone be taken away, and then cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11: 43). To the complete astonishment of those gathered at the tomb who were inclined to believe in Jesus, and to the horror of those who were not, Lazarus walked out of the cave, and Jesus directed that Lazarus be unbound and let go.
John’s account of the raising of Lazarus is a powerful story. An unbelievable miracle of restoration and new life, it is also the story of a compassionate, determined Jesus, who signed his own death warrant in saving the life of a friend whom he loved. While many of the onlookers at Lazarus’ tomb became convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, others went straight to the Pharisees to report that Jesus had raised a man four days’ dead. Now fearful of the effect this powerful sign would have on the Jewish people, the chief priests and Pharisees convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council also comprised of members of the elite Sadducees, to determine what to do about Jesus’ growing popularity. “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation” (John 11: 47-48). But, it is the high priest, Caiaphas, a descendant of the priestly tribe of Levi that traced back to the days of Moses, who answers. “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people” (John 11:50). From that day on, the Jewish leaders plotted to kill Jesus.
On the Fifth Sunday in Lent, we confront the fact that after learning that Jesus had performed the most powerful of all miracles, the Jewish rulers conspired to kill Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, Son of God. They wanted him dead not because they refused to believe the signs that Jesus worked to convince his people that he was the Messiah. They wanted him dead because they refused to believe that this man could be God. Jesus of Nazareth threatened the personal power that the leaders of the Jewish community hoarded for themselves. Despite centuries of unfolding prophecy that had foretold every detail of the coming Messiah since the Jews’ earliest days as a chosen people, the chief priests, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and many of the Jewish people would not recognize Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah who came to dwell among them. They had become the same as men born blind. They no longer cried out for a King.
John’s tale of the miracle of the raising of Lazarus is the gospel on the Third Sunday of Scrutiny. For the Elect, or for anyone who is seeking to know Jesus Christ, this story is a tale that describes a hunted Messiah who sacrificed his very life to restore the life of a friend he loved. Whether our journey has been three weeks, three days, or three years, we have come face to face with a savior who went out of his way to tell us everything we have ever done, a savior who gave us eyes to see, and a savior who raised us from the dead. We can believe this unbelievable story. Jesus of Nazareth is our incredible God. We are his chosen people. Arise, little girl, and walk!