Sunday Scripture:The word of God leads to life
April 10, 2011
By Father Timothy Schehr
Fifth Sunday of Lent: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45.
The word of God leads to life. This is the theme of the Gospel we hear this Sunday. Jesus raises His friend Lazarus from the dead. As the reading begins we learn that a man was ill. John, always the skillful narrator, leads us to think this will be one more healing account in this Gospel, like the official’s son (John 4:46-54); the cripple at the pool (John 5); or the blind man (John 9).
Mary and Martha are very concerned for their brother Lazarus. They send an urgent message to Jesus, hoping He will arrive before their brother dies. John reminds us Jesus loved that family. So we imagine He is going to rush to their home to heal His friend. So we are surprised to hear that Jesus deliberately delays His arrival until Lazarus has died. This is not going to be the usual healing account after all.
When Jesus at last does prepare to go to Lazarus, the apostles object. They know how dangerous things are in Judea. Patiently Jesus explains to them that He must go to awaken people to the light of faith — a light by which one can see even if surrounded by night. Then He reminds them of Lazarus and declares He is going to wake him up from sleep. The apostles misunderstand, so Jesus must explain that Lazarus had died. But Jesus is glad that Lazarus is dead. He intends to awaken him from the sleep of death and thus lead so many others to belief. But all the apostles can think of is the threat of death that awaits Jesus in Judea. Thomas, for one, is prepared to die with Him.
This is not the only instance of a preoccupation with death in this account. From both Martha and Mary Jesus hears the same thing: He has come too late. Martha does believe God will grant whatever Jesus asks. But when Jesus speaks of raising her brother from the dead, she seems hesitant to believe that. Even when they stand right in front of the tomb Martha can think only of the stench of death. John notes twice that Jesus was deeply troubled by the weeping and the talk of death. This could be a natural response to such circumstances. We remember that Jesus was glad for the opportunity to lead others to believe by awaking His friend Lazarus. If He is troubled now it may also be because of the lack of belief that seems to surround Him on every side.
At the entrance to the tomb Jesus again speaks about belief. Then at last He commands Lazarus to come out of the tomb. And Jesus further demands they unbind him from the trappings of death. This would of course be absolutely necessary if Lazarus was to circulate again among the living. But such a detail also challenges the reader to ask what trappings of death still hold him or her bound. Faith in Jesus as the Lord of life should free us spiritually as it freed Lazarus physically.
Life borne of belief in God is likewise the theme of the first reading. Ezekiel has just seen dry bones come to life. Now he explains God will open the “graves” that have a hold on God’s people. They will come back to life spiritually and return to their homeland. Paul uses similar language to explain the new life his churches enjoy because they have the Spirit of God within them through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They have risen from the dead already on a spiritual level. And they will rise from the dead just as Jesus did.
Father Schehr is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.