The Raising of Lazarus, Rembrandt, c1630
Readings (New American Bible, Philippines, USA)
Gospel (John 11:1-45 or 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45)
Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill. So the sisters sent word to him saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” Jesus answered,
“Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” He said this, and then told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” So the disciples said to him, “Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.” But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.” So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.”
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “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?” She 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.”
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, “The teacher is here and is asking for you.” As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him. For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him. So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 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.”
When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?”
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, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “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. And 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.” And when he had said this, 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.”
Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.
I had always believed in the Resurrection and as a young priest preached with conviction about it. However, after the sudden death of my mother in 1970 at the age of 55 I discovered that my faith in the Resurrection, while real, had been mainly in my mind. But I very quickly discovered something far more wonderful: because of my mother’s death my faith in the Resurrection had become a conviction rooted in my heart.
I can trace this almost to the exact minute. My mother died in her sleep in Ireland and when I got the news by phone in New York, where I was studying, I was having my breakfast. I was utterly shocked but after telling another Columban priest who was studying with me I felt very strongly that my mother had fulfilled her mission on earth and that we would be reunited one day.
After the funeral Mass, which I celebrated and where, for the first time, I preached with utter conviction from my heart on the reality of the Resurrection, my father, who was to die suddenly himself 17 years later, told me how utterly desolate he had felt before the Mass but how comforted and strengthened he felt after it.
In 2007 I met Father Joe Broderick, a Columban based in Japan whom I hadn’t met for 37 years, who reminded me that he was at my mother’s funeral and was still using in his funeral homilies what I had said on that occasion. I’ve no idea what I said but I know that it is the Resurrection of Jesus, which we are preparing to celebrate in the great feast of Easter in two weeks, is the central fact of our lives.I know too that people are open to the Gospel particularly at funerals.
Martha, in today’s gospel, also felt utterly desolate and maybe felt disappointment with Jesus that he hadn’t saved her brother Lazarus. Mary too used the very same words her sister had used: ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’.
John writes the feelings of Jesus in a way that we find elsewhere only in St Mark’s gospel. I remember being deeply struck in 1963 by a photo of Paul-Émile Cardinal Léger, then Archbishop of Montréal, weeping after a Mass in his cathedral for the soul of Pope John XXIII who had just died. Pope John was 81 when he died and his death wasn’t a tragedy, though the whole world had come to love him, especially during the last few months of his life as he struggled with cancer. But I had never seen a bishop – or any priest – weep before. Yet we find John’s stark statement in the gospel today: ‘And Jesus wept’. Here we see God who became Man expressing a grief that can only come from a loving heart, a grief that he shares with everyone suffering from the loss of a loved one.
Last Sunday I celebrated the funeral Mass of a young man of 18, the only child of a single mother, who had been fatally stabbed by another 18-year-old. Surely when Jesus wept he was weeping not only for Lazarus and his sisters, but for that young man and his mother.
It is clear in the gospel that Jesus wanted to strengthen the faith of Martha and Mary, of the apostles, and of the people so that they would believe that the Father had sent him. John tells us in the last line of today’s gospel, ‘Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him’.
May our faith in the Resurrection grow stronger and, as we continue our Lenten penance, may our hope in our own resurrection also grow stronger. Wecan and should prepare for Easter and for our own death and resurrection by going to confession during the next two weeks.
Lord, if only you had been here
A reflection on today's gospel by Fr Thomas Rosica CSB