Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A
(Ezekiel 37:12-14; St. Paul to the Romans 8:8-11; St. John’s Gospel 11:1-45)
Today’s Gospel, dear People of God, is both dramatic and deeply consoling, revealing Jesus to us in the power of His divinity and the tenderness of His humanity, and also – indeed, most wonderfully -- in the ineffable beauty of His Personal commitment to and communion with His heavenly Father. And that St. John was well aware of all this is shown by the fact that the raising of Lazarus is the last of Jesus’ Son of Man miracles in his Gospel and, for that reason, of special significance and worthy of our close attention.
First of all we should note that the intention of Jesus to establish, confirm, and fulfil faith is paramount in all aspects of the Gospel account:
Jesus said to (His disciples) clearly, “Lazarus has died, and I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.”
Jesus told Martha, “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. Do you believe this?”
Martha said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, the One who is coming into the world.”
Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You for hearing Me. I know that You always hear Me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.”
Six times Jesus uses or calls forth the word ‘believe’ in our Gospel passage, before St. John himself ultimately tells us:
Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what He had done began to believe in Him.
All is indeed directed towards faith, first of all in Jesus’ chosen disciples through whom and upon whom He will build His future Church; in those very dear friends of His, Martha, Mary, and their risen-brother Lazarus whom He loved and whose home in the village of Bethany was ever open to Him, serving, when needed, as a place of refuge for Him; and then in the ‘crowd’ who had come to commiserate with Martha and Mary over their brother’s death.
When Jesus arrived in Bethany He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
Jesus had prepared His disciples for that but He had not been able to calm their anxiety for His safety since He was now back in Judea where the Jews had tried to stone Him. The disciples were -- as Thomas said -- prepared to die with Jesus such was the hostility they had only recently experienced in Judea, but God’s agenda was quite different from those their very real fears. They would witness the glorification of God with Martha, Mary, and the Jewish visitors, and when their former oppressive fears for Jesus’ and indeed their own safety melted away into such a glorious dénouement, they would never ever forget --- as it behoved future apostles --- what they had seen. The Gospel proclamation was about to be indelibly imprinted in them.
It is not easy to assess just what Martha believed about Jesus; as you have seen she did most certainly believe in Him, but somehow she seems always to have had too much to do, too much to say, too much to occupy her mind, for such belief to slow down her active involvement in whatever might be going on or being said around her, let alone to ‘stop her in her tracks’. Perhaps her relationship with Jesus might be described as one of religious admiration befitting an awaited-super-prophet and miracle worker, a vaguely understood Messianic figure with, of course, a generous measure of personal ‘affection’; on the whole, a somewhat loosely co-ordinated relationship, very real indeed, but so very different from Mary’s simple and most humble self-demission before One Who was awesome in His power, but above all, mysterious in His Person. Martha would do anything for Jesus, but she was not one to slow down, let alone stop, her ever-pressing and important work so as to be able to sit and listen intently at the feet of the Person of Jesus.
When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
All is now ready for Jesus to publicly reveal -- by a most remarkable miracle -- His divine power, first of all to His disciples and friends, to anchor their faith and reward their devotion and courage and to the Jews present awaiting the Messiah of God; but also to afford us modern Catholics and Christians, together with all those so very dear to Him who were present on that day in Bethany, a deeply comforting awareness of the beauty and integrity of His human nature by a most privileged -- almost secret -- glimpse into the depth and tenderness of His sympathy and compassion:
When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping … He (Himself) wept.
He did that, however, in no foppish manner; for in line with the Vulgate translation we learn that when He saw their weeping:
Jesus became perturbed -- not just upset, not merely distressed, but with a certain mixture of anger and indignation -- and deeply troubled.
It was in pursuance of such indignation that He asked to be shown where the body of Lazarus had been placed that there He might make manifest His determination to destroy the abusive power of Satan in the human lives of all who would believe in Him and learn to walk in His ways.
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha could now no longer control herself and she gave agitated expression to her own thoughts and feelings and surely those of all the Jews around, saying:
“Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone.
Martha’s ‘belief’ needed to be both deepened and purified; for the moment, though, her undoubted commitment would allow her to see and appreciate something of the glory promised by Jesus as she managed to take hold of herself for a very short while and wait for whatever Jesus would choose to do.
Saint Paul gives us a clue to the nature of that glory of God she was about to witness when he writes to his converts at Corinth (2 Corinthians 4:6):
God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Christ.
And indeed, what unutterable beauty, what other-worldly glory, was now to be seen on the face of Jesus as He:
Raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You for hearing Me. I know that You always hear Me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.”
He was actually allowing the ‘crowd’ to overhear/see, and hopefully learn from, His Personal relationship with His heavenly Father!!
And then, suddenly breaking off such tranquil intimacy:
He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”
We are surely not erring if we allow ourselves to think that what was to be seen on Jesus’ up-turned face and echoed in His short prayer, was a transcendence expressive of the wondrous beauty of Jesus’ total oneness with and undying presence to His Father, of His unconditional obedience to and love for His Father ever seeking not His own will but the will of His Father and the glory of His Name … all that was, surely, even more glorious than the divine power so wondrously manifested when Lazarus came out -- still bound in all his burial bands -- from the tomb where he had lain for four days. And again, dear friends, notice that, as we began so here at the end, all is for love of His Father and of us:
That they may believe.
Jesus had told His disciples on His first hearing of Lazarus’ death:
I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.
That was further clarified when, standing before the tomb of Lazarus and surrounded by the accompanying crowd, Jesus prayed:
Father, I thank You for hearing Me … because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.”
Belief in Jesus as the One sent by the Father; that is the kernel of our faith in, and the true glory of, the Son of Man. He is God the Son become flesh of the Virgin by the Holy Spirit; and His glory on earth lies in the self-sacrificing love of His proclamation and manifestation of the ultimate Glory of the eternal God: the sublime oneness and goodness of the most Holy Trinity, Father and Son -- begetting and begotten -- in the unity of the Most Holy Spirit of Truth and Love.
Dear People of God, we are most surely meant to draw strength for our faith, consolation, comfort, and joy, for our heart, as we ponder today’s readings. For, in and through the temptations and trials, the difficulties and griefs, of living and ultimately, of dying, the most important question we will all have to answer is, ‘Do you trust in My love, do you believe in My power, to save you?’ And if in such a moment of crisis we can say with Martha, ‘Yes Lord, I believe’; if indeed, with Mary, we can trustfully allow any stone blocking, or ever-so-slightly impeding, the entrance to our heart to be fully rolled away and thus -- despite any fear, great or small, of what might be hidden there -- leaving the way to our innermost self being opened up wide to the saving power and healing love of Jesus, then, undoubtedly, we shall, as Jesus promised, see the glory of God and rejoice whole-heartedly and most gratefully for His Church our Mother who has taught us so firmly, so clearly, and so beautifully that,
JESUS CHRIST is indeed for us PERFECT GOD AND PERFECT MAN.