The Raising of Lazarus, Juan de Flandes, 1515, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, Spain.
“[Jesus] cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out…” John 11:43-44.
This, the greatest of all Jesus’ miracles, is reported only in John’s gospel. It also seems to be part of a progression, because Jesus had raised others from the dead as reported in the other gospels: the synagogue official Jairus’ daughter, who had died just hours before Jesus’ arrival (Matthew 9:23-26, also in Mark and Luke); then there was the widow of Nain, walking in her son’s actual funeral, so he must have died within a few days of Jesus’ arrival (Luke 7:12-15). Then there was Lazarus. It seems that Jesus deliberately waited for this to happen: “So when he heard that [Lazarus] was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.” (John 11:6). So this time, Jesus raised someone from death after the funeral and who had been buried for four days! It is further suggested that this ultimate miracle, Jesus’ last, was the final straw for the religious leaders of the time. He was now an existential threat to their authority, and had to be put down. It was shortly before the final gospel events in Jerusalem, the reason today’s gospel has been placed on this day, the Sunday before Palm Sunday. In addition, this event took place in Bethany, today called Al-Eizariya, then and now less than two miles from Jerusalem, so there was no doubt that the news would be there almost immediately! Was this also deliberate on Jesus’ part, I wonder. In the eyes of the Jewish people, this miracle would be the conclusive evidence that Jesus was the new David, the long-promised Messiah, come to liberate the people from pagan domination. Note also that this time Jesus does not demand silence on the part of his followers as he had done so many times before. Everyone knew about this event; everyone talked about it. Within days the crowds would at last acknowledge his supernatural power and welcome him into Jerusalem as the conquerer, the Messiah, the new David, the King of the Jews. He must have felt confident that his message had been delivered, his mission was complete, his vocation almost fulfilled: the messianic prophecies had still to take their bitter course to the conclusion, especially those in Isaiah. The cross was to be the throne and twisted thorns the crown of this new King of the Jews!
Bethany, Al-Eizariya, to the west of Jerusalem today.
It is obvious that for us raising people from the dead is impossible. When Jesus called Lazarus back from death, it implied that his spirit, soul or whatever you want to call his essence, had gone “somewhere” and now it was summoned back and he rose to life once again. So what possible merit is there in today’s miracle for us, other than confirming once more that Jesus was, indeed, the Son of God? But I believe that there is a very important lesson for all of us here. It depends on the situation. For example, 8:30 in the morning, first class of the day in a high school. An enthusiastic young teacher flies into the classroom, and begins. After a while, the teacher realizes that very large percent of the students are “not there”. They are “somewhere else”. They might as well be dead! Young people, as a general rule, are evening or night people. Research on preferred time of day supports the claim that young people tend not to be morning people (see page 225 in the linked article). In other words, teachers are required to raise their morning-class students, as it were, from the dead! My lengthy experience in teaching also attests this to be true… In addition, teachers and parents in dealing with the young many times find them blind to many realities, deaf to advice, almost always unable to speak with any authority; this may well be true of some grown-ups too. Christians have the obligation to respond to such ignorance kindly and gently. If we have not done that, remember that this is Lent. Is this another area where action, previously lacking, should now be considered? The Lord handled such people with understanding and non-judgment, though when he found complete resistance to his example and teaching (as with many of the Pharisees), he was devastating in his criticism. He knew their standing in society gave them the perfect opportunity to apply his principles into good practice, but many refused utterly, earning his condemnation. So this Lent perhaps a little self-examination might be undertaken: do I have any Pharisee in myself? Do I at any time or place behave with attitudes or actions which Jesus condemned? Or do I, in imitation of him, try my best to enlighten the ignorant, try to show good example to my neighbor, try to be truly Christ to the world as befits my baptismal vocation? Could it be that an act of kindness on my part to someone with low self-esteem or riddled with guilt or some other disability which holds them down could begin to bring them back to life?
Food for thought in the final weeks of Lent.
Christ Reproving the Pharisees, Tissot, 1899, The Life of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, The McClure-Tissot Company.
IN THESE TROUBLED TIMES, when even churches are closed due to the danger of contracting the coronavirus, interest has been aroused in “Spiritual Communion”. You might like to become acquainted with this little-known but ancient practice for those unable to attend Mass:
Also: Spiritual Communion.
Reflections on the following Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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