March 29, 2020 –
The Fifth Sunday of Lent
So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”
We often hear predictions about what the future holds for mankind. Especially impressive seem promises of medical advances. It’s true that we can look back at the past hundred years and marvel at how modern medicine has saved countless lives. Some might even want to call these recent medical discoveries “modern miracles”.
But as we hear about what our future holds, we’re promised even greater “miracles”. We hear about cures for diseases that people have said would never be cured. One doctor has claimed that sometime in this century people will be able to live to the age of two hundred.
Don’t you wonder how many people would actually want to be two hundred years old? In other words, doesn’t there comes a point where most people realize that death is a natural part of life? Death ends our life on earth, but only so that we can live somewhere else. Where we live after death is up to God and us.
By contrast, if death is not something natural, what sort of miracle did Jesus work in today’s Gospel Reading? In other words, is Lazarus still walking around the Middle East today? Can you go and visit him? Obviously, Lazarus died a second time at some point after Jesus raised him from the dead.
So does the fact that Lazarus died a second time mean that Jesus’ miracle was a failure? What was the point of Jesus’ miracle? Was he trying to “save” Lazarus from death? No. Instead, this miracle is a sign: it points beyond itself.
Lazarus, raised from the dead, points our attention to Jesus. This miracle is a sign that reveals that Jesus is more powerful than death, and that if we believe in Him, He can guide us beyond death. If we don’t have faith in Jesus, death is fatal.
Today’s Gospel Reading invites us to identify with Lazarus, a dead man. This is not an exciting role. Lazarus says nothing and does nothing but walk out of his tomb, covered with burial cloths. The past two weeks’ Gospel Readings portrayed two other persons—the Samaritan woman, and the man born blind—meeting Jesus and being healed by Him. But the problem of Lazarus is not thirst or blindness, but death.
Yet there’s also another difference between the narratives about the Samaritan woman and the man born blind and the narrative about Lazarus. The Samaritan woman and the man born blind are healed and then bring others to believe in Jesus. But in today’s Gospel Reading, it is not the person who is cured who brings others to put their faith in Jesus. Instead, it’s the sisters of Lazarus whose actions lead others to Christ.
If it weren’t for the steps that Martha and Mary took, Lazarus most likely would never have been raised from the dead. It’s not that Jesus wouldn’t have known of Lazarus’ death and wouldn’t have wanted to raise Lazarus from the dead. But in the Gospel Reading, we notice a curious hesitancy on the part of Jesus, as if He’s waiting for the right circumstances to work this miracle. The intercession of Lazarus’ sisters seem one such circumstance.
Through the intercession of Martha and Mary, Jesus teaches us a lesson in faith. He doesn’t teach us that death and suffering will never touch us. Rather, He teaches us that death does not have the last word.
The miracle that Jesus worked in raising Lazarus from the dead was not so much for Lazarus himself: after all, what did he gain from it but a few more years of life in this valley of tears? Is that really preferable to Heaven? So then, the miracle that Jesus worked was done for the sake of those who witnessed this miracle. It was for those who realized that Jesus is the Lord of life and death, and that if we place our faith in Jesus, the suffering we experience in this world will itself die, ending along with our lives on earth, while we ourselves—through faith in Jesus—will rise with Him to eternal life.