Reflection on the Gospel of John 11: 1-45: Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 26 2023

The Gospel of 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 Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, 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. 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?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 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?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she 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.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he 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.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. Let us Pray: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.’ Amen

The Prologue for this Gospel lesson tells us that Jesus is the light and life of the world (John. 1:4, 5). The giving of sight to the man born blind and the raising of Lazarus from the dead show us Jesus giving light and life to particular human beings. We are invited to see ourselves in them and him in our lives. Lazarus is the “one Jesus loves”; he represents all those whom Jesus loves, which includes you and me and all humankind. This story, then, is the story of our coming to life from death in this present moment, not just in a future event. This Gospel Lesson is not only a story of the raising of Lazarus, but is also a story of his sisters, Martha and Mary, and their experience of grief and absence. Jesus does not immediately come when they call, and they both tell him that their brother would be alive if he had not delayed. So, it is as much a story of mourning initially, then it will be ultimately a story of resurrection and Life. In this Gospel, we should see ourselves in Lazarus and see the miracle of his restoration of physical life as the beginning of our entry into eternal life that begins the moment we accept Jesus’ offer of a relationship with us. This is also a story about love. This story is also about what it means to be in relationship with Jesus, what it means to love him and be loved by him. Being in relationship with Jesus means facing death and grief with him and learning that still, in spite of the death and the dryness and the finality of the door at the entrance to the tomb of our hopes, he can still be said to be life.  Nothing is ever so dead that it keeps him from being there for us.  And in John that life is a future hope.  Life with hope is always possible in the present. Jesus responds to Lazarus’ illness by saying that “this illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  He is not expressing his hope that, because of the miracle he is about to perform, he will be admired and praised. “God’s glory” is a reference to Jesus’ own resurrection. His raising of Lazarus from the dead will speed his own death, which will lead to his resurrection, in which we all participate. The first thing to notice is that when Jesus arrives at the grave of his friend Lazarus his own heart is truly broken because he openly weeps. The grave is closed with a stone, that stone blocks our way too. The stone symbolizes the barrier that exists between the world of the living and that of the dead. We do not know what lies beyond that stone, all we can do is wait; wait until the last day. Martha reflects this understanding of our faith when she says to Jesus, ‘I know that my brother will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ However, and quite remarkably this is not enough for Jesus! His response is stark and to the point, ‘Take away the stone.’ Jesus and all those present will now clearly see what has happened to Lazarus buried in that tomb. Once again Martha comes back at Jesus pleading with him to be realistic for her brother has been dead for four days! The Jews, at the time, believed that the spirit of a dead person remained with the body for three days after death before finally leaving. So, by the fourth day Lazarus was truly dead, hence his body would be decomposing and there would be a smell. Jesus comes back at Martha calmly and sincerely saying, ‘If you believe, you will see the glory of God.’ In other words, if Martha has faith in Jesus, she will be able to see clearly for herself, that God, in fact, gives life to her brother. Jesus now says quite simply and calmly but with authority and for the second time, ‘Take away the stone.’ Now Jesus raises his eyes to heaven and His Father inviting all people to do the same, so that through faith, in Him, the mystery of death may be truly penetrated. By now you see Jesus is no longer weeping the sorrow has passed. Instead, he gives thanks to the Father, who always hears his prayers. However, what he desires is that all those who are present see and believe that he has been sent by the Father, to bring new hope to the world. Now in a clear and powerful voice he simply cries out, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ Jesus wants all those present to see, learn and understand that Lazarus is, in fact, alive. What happens next is shocking to say the least but that is exactly what it is. For out of the dark, dusty, shadowy interior of the tomb staggers Lazarus with his hands and feet bound in linen strips and his face wrapped in a cloth. Or in other words he has about him the signs, symbols, and bonds of death but he is in fact alive! This is nothing less than the faith of all those who believe in Jesus. You see the simple and profound truth is that all those whom we love who die, all those whom we mourn, all those for whom are hearts have been broken and our lives torn apart are, in fact, ALIVE! God has not and will not ever abandon them. All we have to do is take the stone away and see with the eyes of faith – our dead LIVE! ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.’

Let us Pray: Holy Father, Father of Christ who opened the eyes of the blind, made the lame to walk, and the dead to walk again, strengthen the spirit of Christ living within us, so that through humility, patience, grace, and love, we may find your abundant, kingdom-building life. This we pray in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

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