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Lent Week 5 Sunday - The Raising of Lazarus

Sunday, March 29, 2009
Readings: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

John is the only evangelist to narrate the story of Jesus’ act of bringing the dead Lazarus back to life, although both Mark and Luke give examples of how Jesus restored life to the dead (Mark 5:23-23, Luke 7:11-17).  There is, however, something particularly dramatic about the story in John.  Here is a man who lay dead for four days and whose body had already started to decay.  The raising of Lazarus represents the last and the greatest of the seven miracles or ‘signs’ in John’s Gospel.  After this event no further miracles are recorded by John until the Lord’s own Resurrection.  In fact, the ‘sign’ of Lazarus serves in a way to prepare people for the coming death of Jesus and to point to his conquest over death in the Resurrection.

The family of Lazarus are plainly drawn to the person of Jesus and know of his ability to heal the sick.  But their expectations of him are somewhat limited.  Mary, who had anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her own hair, now prostrates herself once again at the feet of Jesus and declares: ‘Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.’  And Martha, a woman known for straight talking, directly challenges Jesus. It is simple: if he had come when he was asked, her brother would not have died.   Similarly, some of the onlookers wonder: ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’  Jesus, however, clearly demands a response and a trust that goes deeper than this, that is to say, he looks for faith in his power to bring the dead back to life.  We all pray for those we love to be cured when they are sick and no doubt we praise God if our prayers are answered in this way.  But Jesus wants us to believe even in the face of death, to believe that he has the power to restore life: ‘He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live’.

Jesus describes himself as ‘the resurrection and the life’.  He is able to do this because his union with the Father is so intimate that the life of God is his life.  Indeed, this intimacy is so close that Jesus is able to associate himself with the divine name: I AM.  He says: ‘I am the resurrection and the life’.  In Jesus we see the power of God at work to save.  Throughout the whole of this scene Jesus is completely calm and in charge of the whole situation.  His final words - 'Lazarus, come out!' – are as powerful and efficacious as the divine fiat at the creation.

This reflection is on the alternative, Year A, readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent. For a reflection on the Year B readings see here and here.


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