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I Am the Resurrection and the Life
Gospel Reflection for March 26, 2023, the fifth Sunday of Lent - John 11:1-45
Now there was a certain man sick, named Lazarus, of Bethania, of the town of Mary and Martha her sister.
(And Mary was she that anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair: whose brother Lazarus was sick.)
His sisters therefore sent to him, saying: Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.
And Jesus hearing it, said to them: This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God: that the Son of God may be glorified by it.
Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister Mary, and Lazarus.
When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he still remained in the same place two days.
Then after that, he said to his disciples: Let us go into Judea again.
The disciples say to him: Rabbi, the Jews but now sought to stone thee: and goest thou thither again?
Jesus answered: Are there not twelve hours of the day? If a man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world:
But if he walk in the night, he stumbleth, because the light is not in him.
These things he said; and after that he said to them: Lazarus our friend sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep.
His disciples therefore said: Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.
But Jesus spoke of his death; and they thought that he spoke of the repose of sleep.
Then therefore Jesus said to them plainly: Lazarus is dead.
And I am glad, for your sakes, that I was not there, that you may believe: but let us go to him.
Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples: Let us also go, that we may die with him.
Jesus therefore came, and found that he had been four days already in the grave.
(Now Bethania was near Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off.)
And many of the Jews were come to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.
Martha therefore, as soon as she heard that Jesus had come, went to meet him: but Mary sat at home.
Martha therefore said to Jesus: Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
But now also I know that whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.
Jesus saith to her: Thy brother shall rise again.
Martha saith to him: I know that he shall rise again, in the resurrection at the last day.
Jesus said to her: I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, although he be dead, shall live:
And every one that liveth, and believeth in me, shall not die for ever. Believest thou this?
She saith to him: Yea, Lord, I have believed that thou art Christ the Son of the living God, who art come into this world.
And when she had said these things, she went, and called her sister Mary secretly, saying: The master is come, and calleth for thee.
She, as soon as she heard this, riseth quickly, and cometh to him.
For Jesus was not yet come into the town: but he was still in that place where Martha had met him.
The Jews therefore, who were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary that she rose up speedily and went out, followed her, saying: She goeth to the grave to weep there.
When Mary therefore was come where Jesus was, seeing him, she fell down at his feet, and saith to him: Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
Jesus, therefore, when he saw her weeping, and the Jews that were come with her, weeping, groaned in the spirit, and troubled himself,
And said: Where have you laid him? They say to him: Lord, come and see.
And Jesus wept.
The Jews therefore said: Behold how he loved him.
But some of them said: Could not he that opened the eyes of the man born blind, have caused that this man should not die?
Jesus therefore again groaning in himself, cometh to the sepulchre. Now it was a cave; and a stone was laid over it.
Jesus saith: Take away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith to him: Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he is now of four days.
Jesus saith to her: Did not I say to thee, that if thou believe, thou shalt see the glory of God?
They took therefore the stone away. And Jesus lifting up his eyes said: Father, I give thee thanks that thou hast heard me.
And I knew that thou hearest me always; but because of the people who stand about have I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
When he had said these things, he cried with a loud voice: Lazarus, come forth.
And presently he that had been dead came forth, bound feet and hands with winding bands; and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus said to them: Loose him, and let him go.
Many therefore of the Jews, who were come to Mary and Martha, and had seen the things that Jesus did, believed in him. (Jn 11:1-45 DRA)
In the Gospel for this Sunday, involving one of the most famous miracles of Christ – the raising of Lazarus from the dead – He reveals with the utmost clarity and poignancy the mission on which He has been sent by the Father: “For this purpose, the Son of God appeared, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” (1 Jn 3:8) And what are the works of the Devil? He is “a murderer from the beginning”. (Jn 8:44) As the one who tempted Adam and Eve into original sin, Satan is the father of sin and the originator of death, since “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom 6:23) Therefore, in order to destroy the works of the Devil, Christ destroyed sin and death, not through any extrinsic power or skill but by His own divine life as the Son of God. Christ is the new Adam, the corrector of the Fall and the restorer of the world through its liberation from death. (1 Cor 15:22) In this way, Christ fulfilled the promise of God given in the first reading and previewed the final resurrection to life in the End Times. As Alcuin taught, “I am the resurrection, because I am the life; as through Me he will rise at the general resurrection, through Me he may rise now.” (Catena Aurea)
This reading also contains the shortest verse in Scripture: “And Jesus wept.” Tradition has interpreted the motive for Christ’s expression of sorrow in many ways: to teach us to weep in our mourning for sin and death and in compassion for others, as in the second Beatitude (Augustine); to show the depths of His mercy as “the fountain of pity” (Alcuin); and, perhaps most of all, to show the reality of His human nature (Chrysostom). (Catena Aurea) Although He knew, as the Son of God, that Lazarus still existed, and that he would soon be restored to life, Christ demonstrated that God’s permission of the evil of death, that which proved difficult for the Jews as well as the sisters of Lazarus to comprehend, does not make evil good. Evil is still tragic, a bitter corruption of God’s beautiful gift of Creation, and even those with the greatest faith, like the Blessed Virgin at the foot of the Cross, still feel its sting. However, like St. Paul, in the certain hope of Christ we can say, “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor 15:55)
Even when God allows evil and death to exist in order that humans may have free will to love or reject Him, as did Adam and Eve, God does not love evil, nor does He ever directly cause it. (Jas 1:13) Rather, God repurposes the evil caused by Satan, and which like an idolatrous ritual is partaken of every time we sin, to cleanse the world with the spring of living waters of eternal life flowing from the side of Christ. Contrary to the demonic priesthood of Satan, Christ is our true High Priest, whose apostles act in persona Christi in the administration of His Sacraments: “For we have not a high priest, who can not have compassion on our infirmities: but one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin.” (Heb 4:15)
While Lazarus was truly resuscitated, his resurrection was distinct from that of Christ, who became a new creation, a wholly original reality in His glorious Resurrection. Lazarus would eventually die again and remain dead in the flesh until the general resurrection, but when Christ returned, He would never die again, nor be susceptible to any sin. This is a foretaste of our own final resurrection, when we will be fully divinized in Christ. However, this life is not merely a waiting period: we participate in the life of Christ now through the Sacraments of the Church. Through their sanctifying grace, the Holy Spirit dwells within us and conforms us progressively into Christ’s likeness, restoring the image of God in us defaced by sin, and even when we die, we will reign in the service of Heaven and pray for our brethren on Earth, awaiting the restoration of our body. During this Lent, let us examines our consciences, repent of our sins and grow in charity so that our future death will not be a true “sickness unto death” but only a “sleep of peace” awaiting the resurrection of Christ, like St. Lazarus.