|Detail from 'The Resurrection of Lazarus' by Giotto|
The gospel narrative for this fifth Sunday of Lent recounts three particular moments in the life of Jesus and of those who were dear to him. Each of these moments provides us with food for our reflection and prayer.
The first moment is presented in this way: The sisters of Lazarus sent a message to Jesus, 'Lord, he whom you love is ill'
(Jn 11:3). Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived in Bethany, not far from Jerusalem. On many occasions, their home had been a place of welcome for Jesus and his disciples. They were friends of his, so when Lazarus was dying, they sent word to him, probably thinking that he would want to visit with him. Hidden in these few simple words is also a plea: the sisters had no doubt heard of other occasions when Jesus had performed miracles; perhaps they too hoped that Jesus could cure Lazarus.
How often have we heard such news? A friend of ours, an acquaintance or a family member has fallen ill. Perhaps he or she has been hospitalized. Maybe we have even heard that there is not much time left. Most of us would try to move mountains so that we could be present, so that we could see our loved one, just one more time. Even if we are physically present at the bedside of someone who is gravely ill, there is a sense of powerlessness as we watch our loved ones growing steadily weaker, yet it is a comfort for us and for others to be close to those we love when such experiences occur.
This is what makes Jesus' response even more curious. Instead of running to his friends side, he said: This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory
... (Jn 11:4). His disciples must have been perplexed by these words, yet there was a lesson that he wanted to share. Sometimes it happens that we pray for certain outcomes but it doesn't seem as though God answers our prayers. In such moments, we have a glimpse of the questions that must have circulated among the disciples at that particular moment. Jesus waited two more days before he set out for the home of Martha and Mary (cf Jn 11:7). Even if we try to be people of faith every day, it can still be very difficult for us to learn to put our own wills aside and to trust that God will answer our prayers in His time.
The second moment that feeds our prayer is described in this way: When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home
(Jn 11:20). Perhaps Mary was overwhelmed by her grief at the moment when he arrived and Martha did not want to trouble her. Instead, she went outside the house to speak with Jesus. It is evident that Martha was disappointed: Lord, she said, if you had been here, my brother would not have died
(Jn 11:21). These are words of anguish, but they are also words of deep faith, a depth of faith that is further demonstrated in the second part of her declaration: ... even now, I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.
Even in the depths of her sadness, Martha believed that Jesus could change the situation.
For the past few weeks, it seems that many parts of the routines that we considered to be normal parts of our lives have been changed. First, the coronavirus was discovered in another part of the world, then it began to spread. At first, perhaps we thought that it would have been possible to contain the contagion, but then the relentless march began. In recent weeks, we have watched the number of cases of COVID-19 rise continually, even in this country. Political leaders, health care professionals and many others are doing everything they can to control this unknown virus, and to prepare for the eventuality that someone - perhaps many people - will need to be treated. As we hear news of the increasing number of cases in various parts of the world, we too have been calling out: Lord, our brothers and sisters, the ones you love, are ill. We pray and we hope that those we love will be kept safe, but we really do not know what will happen. Perhaps all we can do is to repeat the words that Martha spoke: ... even now, I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him
(Jn 11:21). We must pray and we must place all our loved ones in the arms of God, trusting that he will not abandon us.
In China, in Italy, in Spain and in many other countries throughout the world, many of our brothers and sisters have already fallen victim to this new virus, and many of them have died. This is an alarming truth, but even in such times of powerlessness, we Christians have the gift of our faith to help us. The prophet Ezekiel reminds us that the Lord God has said: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves
... (Ez 37:12), and we saw further proof of this in the gospel today.
The third moment that is described recounts the details when Jesus came to the tomb and told those who were there with him: Take away the stone
(Jn 11:38-39). Physical death is not the end of the story. In a few days' time, we will begin the celebrations for Holy Week, yet even now, the encounter between Jesus and Lazarus reminds us that God has the final word. In the midst of their disbelief, Martha and the others stood by and watched as Jesus called out to the dead man: Lazarus, come out!
(Jn 11:43). Only God can speak such words. Only God can call out to those who are dead and raise them to life. The spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us
(Rom 8:11). This is the hope that has been planted in our hearts ever since the day of our Baptism. One day, when Jesus calls our name, this hope will become a reality: we too will be raised and set free.