"The Lord's Day" Gospel Reflection for March, 29, 2020, 5th Sunday of Lent (John 11: 1-45) Featured
Nicholas Pierlot gives a reflection on John 11: 1-45, the raising of Lazarus.
You can download a writen copy of this reflection via the link at the very bottom of this article.
For more information on our "The Lord's Day" Celebration or to download a printable copy of our "The Lord's Day" prayer guide please see An Introduction to "The Lord's Day" Celebration.
John 11:1-45 – Sunday Gospel Reflection – the Fifth Sunday of Lent
Nicholas Pierlot, Assistant Director of Formation, St. Therese Institute of Faith and Mission
March 29, 2020
In this rich narrative of the raising of Lazarus, the sixth great sign in John’s Gospel, we see a reflection on the problem of human suffering and the Theo-drama of Christ’s mission.
Reading the Gospel, we see the predicament. A loved one, Lazarus, is seriously, ill. Mary and Martha, his sisters, are concerned and petition Jesus to help in some way. We see later in the Gospel that, in making this petition, Martha was certain that Christ had the power to alleviate Lazarus from greater suffering, as well as his feared demise (cf. John 11:21). It is with this hope that “the sisters of Lazarus sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill’” (John 11:3). Acting in faith, the sisters merely inform Jesus of the predicament, in a manner eerily reminiscent of Christ’s mother’s intercession at the Wedding of Cana. Thus, the Gospel suggests that a perfect petition has been made, leading one to expect a swift response from the one whose name is “God saves”.
Yet, Jesus’ response seems less than satisfactory: “… though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:5, emphasis added). This seems a little odd. The usual response of someone who loves another is a certain haste to attend to the beloved. Christ flies in the face of this expectation. In seeming leisure, he remains at his Jordan location for another two days. Eventually, he does journey to Bethany to find that Lazarus is already dead, for four days in fact. It is worth noting that there was an early Jewish belief that a deceased soul lingered around its dormant body for three days, departing on the fourth. Four days dead is therefore a complete death in the Jewish mind.
Considering that Jesus’ purported location on the Jordan was not two days away from Bethany, perhaps only two hours, this ‘complete death’ is perplexing. Either Lazarus was already dead when he received news of his illness, or Jesus and his disciples took two days or more to accomplish a two hour traverse. To be sure, Jesus might have travelled slowly so as to avoid murderous crowds (cf. John 10:31, 11:8), but he had performed bold escapes before (cf. Luke 4:28-30). The question immediately presents itself: if Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, why was he so nonchalant with Lazarus’ life?
Jesus himself gives the answer, though it was unknown to those suffering. “… when Jesus heard [about Lazarus’ illness], he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’” (John 11:4, emphasis added). Against the darkness of suffering, Christ speaks his hidden purpose: it is for God’s glory and Christ’s mission. The Glory of God is properly understood by the Scriptures and the Church to be the “realization of [the] manifestation and communication of his goodness’’ (CCC 294), accomplished by God’s omnipotence and providence. The Glory of God, in this way, is an outpouring of God’s own good order, setting things right, and resolving cosmic discord into harmony. Jesus is promising that God’s power and plan will be found in the darkness of human suffering; even into death.
This power is soon put on display in an intense, dramatic fashion. In the midst of surprising affectivity, Jesus is “deeply moved” and twice “greatly disturbed” (literal translation: “angered”) by the death of Lazarus. Whereas before Christ gently spoke to raise the dead, as with Jairus’ daughter and the widow of Nain’s son, Jesus orders the stone to be removed from Lazarus’ grave and cries “with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” (John 11:43). This can be seen as a foreshadowing of Christ’s own great cry on the Cross. One can almost hear the gasps and sharp exhales of the crowd as Lazarus emerges bound, but alive. The darkness of Lazarus’ illness and death collapses to the invading Glory of God, foreshadowing Christ’s sacrifice and final victory.
From this reflection, we might find some hope for the current darkness of our lives. With a sudden self-isolation, quarantine, rising death rates, and the poverty of Eucharistic consumption forced upon us, Martha and Mary’s darkness is our own. Yet, for all the anxiety, we too can trust that there is a hidden word on Christ’s lips: this too is permitted for the Glory of God. The words of God to Ezekiel are then also for us: “I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel” (Ezekiel 37:12) In the midst of possible despair, God’s wondrous plan can exceed our human expectation, if we allow him.
Nicholas Pierlot is the Assistant Director of Formation at St. Therese Institute of Faith and Mission in Bruno, SK, where Sacred Scripture is one of his favourite topics to instruct on. Nick holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Prince Edward Island and M.A. in Catholic Applied Theology from the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, England. He lives in Bruno with his wife Denise, their daughter Rosé. They are expecting a new addition to the family this summer.
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