"Raising of Lazarus" by Giotto di Bondone (c. 1304-06)
Psa. 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
“Lazarus, come out!”
that simple, dramatic command, the Incarnate Word spoke words that
demonstrated his power over death. It concludes one of the most
fascinating stories in the Fourth Gospel, St. John’s account of the last
of seven miraculous “signs” performed by Jesus Christ.
start at the beginning. Jesus’ close friend, Lazarus, the brother of
Mary and Martha, had been very ill. When Jesus received word that
Lazarus was on the cusp of death, he did not hurry to his friend’s
deathbed, but waited two more days before journeying to Bethany, just a
couple of miles from Jerusalem. The illness, he told the disciples,
would not “end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of
God may be glorified through it.” Those words could also be applied, in
an even deeper way, to the sufferings and death of Jesus himself.
there is no doubt that Jesus was completely aware of his approaching
Passion. In fact, the death and raising of LazarusJesus’ final miracle
before his Passionset the stage for the death and resurrection of Jesus
himself. This incredible sign in Bethany was a promise and a
foreshadowing of what was to come in Jerusalem. It was, so to speak, a
warning shot to death itself. “The One who is making his way toward
death,” wrote Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar, “wishes to stare death in the
face in advance. That is why he deliberately lets Lazarus die despite
the pleas of his friends.” It was also so that the disciples and the
others present would believe, for the love of God engenders faith and
provides hope in the face of darkness, suffering, and death.
is evident in the moving words of Martha, who expressed some
bewilderment at the delayed arrival of Jesus“Lord, if you had been
here…”but then remarked, with fragile faith, “But even now I know that
whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” To which Jesus simply
stated, “Your brother will rise.”
St. Peter Chrysologus wrote of this
exchange: “This woman does not believe, but she is trying to believe,
while her unbelief is disturbing her belief.” It is a perfect
description of so many of us, wanting to believe more and to believe
more deeply, but struggling to believe amid the tumult of this earthly
Martha expressed her belief in “the resurrection on the
last day”, but it sounds, I think, somewhat forced and obligatory. She
knew what she should believe, but at that moment, she wasn’t
sure what she believed. Which is why Jesus uttered these profound and
transforming words: “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.” Martha’s faith, which had been tattered
and fluttering in the cold winds of death, was revived and enlivened.
Asked by the Word if she believes his words, she confessed her faith,
just like Peter: “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the
Son of God…” (cf. Matt 16:16).
The Gospel of John is often said
to focus mostly on the divinity of Jesus. But it contains one of the
most poignant, human moments in all of the Gospels, captured in three
simple words: “And Jesus wept.” This was not, however, the loud and
emotional wailing that usually accompanied death and funerals, but the
tears of a man who bears sorrow but also holds the keys to life.
Son sent by the Father had entered the world as a babe in a dark cave.
Obeying the will of the Father, he would soon be carried as a man into a
dark tomb for burial. But there, standing between those two events, he
stared into the cave and the jaws of death, and cried out in a loud
voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
And, we believe and know, the dead man came out. Alive.
(This "Opening the Word" column orgiinally appeared in the April 10, 2011, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)