Apr. 1, 2017

FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT

THE LAZARUS MOMENT 

Have you been at the very end of the rope in your life? Have you found yourself almost exhausted that you seem to ask the reason why you are still alive? Then today's gospel is for you. John centers mostly on the incarnation of Christ, to establish that the Word was God, and that the Word dwelt among us. In today's gospel, on hearing that Lazarus is ill, rather than go to see him immediately, Jesus stays behind. He tells his disciples that Lazarus' illness will not end up in death, but for the glory of God, and that the Son of God may be glorified through it" (Jn.11:4). This is very close to the gospel of last Sunday where Christ speaks about the man born blind, "...he was born blind so that the works of God might be revealed in him" (Jn.9:3). The death of Lazarus has a purpose. Jesus' late response is not necessarily to avert death, but to reveal that God conquers death. It points to the great event of the resurrection of Christ. 

The prophet Ezekiel speaks of the power of God to the Judean captives in Babylon. In the first reading, he prophesies for Jerusalem the cause of their tragedy, namely, the covenant people have rejected God, have refused to worship him. They are adamant in their crimes hence they suffer in Babylon. They are suffocating and asphyxiated because the spirit of God is absent. Their experience of captivity is like being dead and buried in their sins. But God prepares to save them, to keep his covenant with the house of Israel. He restores in them his Spirit, the "ruah" of life as he declares, "O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them" (Ezk.37:13). 

In the gospel, Jesus opens the grave of Lazarus. By bringing Lazarus back from the dead, the people believe that Jesus is from God. He says to his apostles, "I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe" (Jn.11:15-16). From this statement, it seems that the disciples still entertain fear, or even doubt. We should understand how vulnerable we are whenever Jesus is absent in our lives. We simply die. For Jesus to say "I was not there", already implies a vacuum in Martha, Mary and Lazarus' home at the time. Jesus is, "the way, the truth and the life" (Jn.14:6). His mission is that "all may have life in abundance" (Jn.10:10). Lazarus is dead, and Jesus is not present. Martha and Mary reemphasize that truth on meeting with Jesus. Martha exclaims at the sight of Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died" (Jn.11:21); Mary repeats the same statement in a separate encounter (Cf. v.32). The presence of Jesus is life. He is the resurrection. He arrives Bethany, utters the words and Lazarus comes back to life. 

In this gospel periscope, Martha and Mary bring out the eschatological dimension of our lives. They reiterate the truth of the resurrection. Even though their brother Lazarus is dead, they still believe that he would resurrect on the last day. Martha demonstrates strong faith in her interaction with Christ. She declares explicitly her regrets that the Master was not there. She makes a connection with God when she says to Jesus, "But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you". This is like saying, "Yes, master, but I know you can still do something". At this point, Jesus promises her that her brother would rise. Martha's response is, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day". This prompts Jesus to explain to Martha exactly who he is, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even though he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die" (Jn.11:25). Then comes the great question from Jesus, "Do you believe this?" (v.26). 

Every miracle is accompanied by faith. The question, "Do you believe this?" is a faith-based question for the Lazarus moment to come to fulfillment. Although Jesus loved Lazarus (Cf. Jn.11:36), although he had the power to perform the miracle, he needed the faith declaration from Martha and Mary. Martha professes, "You are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world". In John's gospel, Jesus' followers enjoy the great privilege of elaborate conversation with him: Nicodemus enjoyed that privilege. The Samaritan woman enjoyed it. The sick man at the pool of Bethsaida had a good conversation with Christ. The woman caught in adultery experienced the Jesus moment too. The man born blind had a largesse of the conversation with Jesus. Today, Mary and Martha enjoy it. Being in the presence of Jesus brings transformation. Jesus reveals himself to the believer and through his miracle, transforms the faith of the one who encounters him. At the sight of Mary's faith, Jesus is deeply troubled and perturbed. The greatest moment in the miracles of Jesus was at this encounter. They said to him, "Sir, come and see"... And Jesus wept" (Jn.11:35). Jesus wept because of the love he had for the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. He wept at the harm caused to Lazarus by death. He wept at the calamity which death caused human nature. Jesus still weeps when we are buried in sin. He weeps that we may rise from the dead. 

Today, Jesus teaches us to show compassion to those who grieve. Occasionally, families around us lose their loved ones- parents, brothers, sisters, in-laws and friends. How compassionate are we when someone dies? To what extent do we show support? Let's recognize that every loss is a painful one. It is important to reach out to the bereaved and to share their pains with them. Feeling as if it doesn't concern us is a bad approach. Saint Paul enjoins us, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep" (Rom.12:15-16). Jesus wept with Lazarus' family. Initially, he shared happy moments with them. Now he identifies with them at their time of sorrow. Showing solidarity is a Christian duty. 

Beyond weeping, we are invited to demonstrate strong faith in God in sad and negative moments. We must recognize the power of God. The words of Saint Paul hold true, "All things work unto good to those who fear him" (Rom. 8:29). This, I call the Lazarus moment. The Lazarus moment is a moment of faith, a moment of revival. It is a moment of making the impossible possible. Jesus raises his eyes and says to Martha, "Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God" (Jn.11:40-41). Then he prays, "Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer. I myself knew that you hear me always, but I speak for the sake of all these who are standing around me, so that they may believe it was you who sent me" (Jn.11:42). Then he commands, "Lazarus, come out!" (V.43). That sounds unbelievable, bringing a dead man out of the grave after four days. Martha tells him he is already covered with stench, he smells. But that's the Lazarus moment. Think about it. You must raise your eyes up and call on the Lord. That moment when the law of nature needs to be defied by faith. That moment when you challenge God to do the impossible. That moment when you let God speak your language. That moment that you dare him to do what you bid. That moment you pray like you would never have another chance in your life. Jesus tells you, your situation will not end up in failure, but to the glory of God. Let's respond like Martha, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God". 

May your story end up to the glory of God.