My Dear Good People,
Today’s Gospel, from John 11:1-45 is one of the longest Bible passages read at Mass, except for the Passion of Jesus during Holy Week. It is a (true) story filled with the full array of human emotions: grief, disappointment, fear, hope, surprise, wonder, gratitude, amazement and love.
Lazarus, a dear friend of Jesus, becomes ill and dies. Jesus goes into the town where He meets Martha who is the sister of Lazarus and also a close friend of Jesus. Martha scolds Him for not coming sooner. You would have been able to save him, she chides (Jn 11:21, 22). But now, well, perhaps…? Jesus looks for their sister Mary, who comes running from the house when they tell her He is asking for her. When Jesus sees Mary so distraught at the death of her brother, He walks with her and with Martha to the tomb. There, Jesus Himself begins to weep. Then He performs an impossible miracle—most miracles are impossible, I suppose—by calling Lazarus out of the tomb. The man (corpse, really) comes out wrapped in the burial cloths, and when he is untied and stands before them whole and alive, the guests at the funeral are incredulous, to say the least. Then they began to believe in Him (verse 45).
We’ve probably all heard this story many times, and in the familiarity of it, we listen again today quite casually. But if we listen as though for the first time and place ourselves at the scene, it is, indeed, an incredible event. Imagine the absolute astonishment on the faces of the witnesses. Imagine Mary and Martha running to embrace their brother. Imagine Lazarus finding himself standing face to face with Jesus, gazing on Him after having been dead four days!
And imagine seeing Jesus weep with sorrow for the death of a friend and for the grief of Mary and Martha. How human. How moving. How unforgettable. How very like Jesus. Yet, we have questions. Why didn’t Jesus go sooner, to make His friend well? Why did He weep, knowing as He did that He was soon to raise Lazarus from the dead? Why didn’t He go into the tomb instead of having this dead man walk out? Was that for dramatic effect? Jesus would never do that. What are we to take from this extraordinary happening played out before our eyes this Fourth Sunday of Lent?
Today in many churches the statues and crucifixes will be veiled in purple, even as Lazarus was veiled in the burial cloths, and as Jesus will soon be clothed after His death. We see that in our own experience sometimes God allows ‘bad’ things to happen to good people, even though He could certainly have prevented them, because something greater will happen. We see that Jesus comes to us when we are suffering, and if He doesn’t find us, He seeks us out. And we see that He weeps with us when we weep, because He loves us and knows our pain. We see that He can perform miracles from a distance, in ways we would never expect, and we learn that even the hard-hearted can be converted to Him when they see the Good that Jesus can—and will—do.
And I? I see that our God has a human heart; that I should expect impossible things from Him, even when I think there’s no way anything good could possibly happen and all seems lost.
And I hear this plea in my own heart:
Jesus, please find a way where there IS no way.
This Lent, may you find in Jesus everything you need in your heartache.
And may you come to believe, one day, that His timing is perfect.