The Gift of Life

The Gift of Life

Fifth Sunday of Lent. Fr David McLean suggests a way in which we can imitate Christ in his raising of Lazarus.

A theme for today is friendship: something we sometimes take for granted. If popular magazines are anything to go by, we don’t spend much time thinking about friendships at all. The articles are all about romantic relationships (romantic at best, but usually just about sex), and examine them from every possible angle.

Apparently we can work out our personality type by counting the number of letters in our name. We then just need to find somebody with the correct numbers of letters in their name, for a personality type suited to us, and we have got the love of our lives. Even horoscopes are a bit more believable than that.

Romantic relationships are what we are obsessed with though, rather than friendships. Friendships may get a passing mention, but they get little deep analysis.

And this is a bit strange when friendships can last much longer. Someone may be married two or three times (not a good thing of course), but he or she will probably have friends who last throughout their lives. There may be times when we don’t see or talk to friends for long periods, but we know we can still turn to them when we need them.

Jesus seems to have had such a committed friendship with Lazarus. We are told that Jesus loved him. We are never told how Jesus comes to be friends with Lazarus, but it seems that Jesus is completely committed to him. And when informed that Lazarus was ill, nothing was going to stop Jesus going to him. Even though it means going to Judea, where his life was under threat.

How many people would do the same? How many people would put their life at risk to help a friend? Many probably like to think that they would, but also hope that they are never put to the test.

As well as friendship, today’s Gospel also concerns the idea of life, and what a truly free life is all about. A truly free life is not freedom to do anything we like when we like, but living a life that gives freedom and life to others. This is the way of living that brings true happiness, and not the thrills of self-indulgence and self-obsession.

If we are true to our friends then we enrich our own lives and give our friends a fuller life: hence the significance Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. The best thing we can do for our friends is give them life – make their life fuller and better.

When Jesus gets to his friend, Lazarus is already dead and buried. Jesus suggests that he is only asleep, but I think we would consider him as well and truly dead, since he has been in a tomb for days and people are worried about the smell. Nonetheless, Jesus brings him back to life.

We will all have friends who will die. We may be desperate to do for them what Jesus did for Lazarus, but our prayers may not be granted in the manner we would like. We can pray that they are happy and are at one with God, and hope that is so.

What we can also do is be there for them when they are alive. We all have imperfect human lives, in both physical and spiritual senses. That means our lives are not as fully free or human as they could be. If we have friends who help heal those imperfections and if we do the same for them, then everybody concerned has a fuller human life closer to what God intended.

Jesus gave Lazarus life in a real physical sense. What we offer in friendship can have an effect that is just as real: just as life giving. We can help those around us to a fuller human life.

As for Jesus, he was committed to the whole of humanity just as much as he was to one man. When Jesus dies on the Cross, he does not die for the sake of one, but for all of us. What remains for us, is to make sure that it is not a one-sided friendship.

Readings:Ezekiel 37:12-14 | Romans 8:8-11 | John 11:1-45

fr. David M. McLean O.P. is a chaplain to the Royal Navy.