March 27, 2020

Christ the Cornerstone

Do we believe Jesus is the resurrection and the life?

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’ ” (Jn 11:32).

The Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (Jn 11:1-45) reveals the humanity of Jesus in all its fullness. His friend has died and has been buried for four days before Jesus arrives in Bethany where Lazarus lived with his sisters, Martha and Mary (the woman who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair). The sisters were beside themselves with grief, and they implored Jesus to do something: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Martha says. “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you” (Jn 11:21-22).

Jesus assures them that Lazarus will rise, but Martha is impatient. “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day” (Jn 11:24), she says. Jesus’ response is one of his most powerful and frequently repeated statements: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (Jn 11:25-26).

He then asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” She says to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world ” (Jn 11:26-27).

Over and over again, the Gospels connect the strong faith of individuals like Martha with Jesus’ ability to work miracles, to demonstrate the healing power of God. In fact, it’s because Martha believes in him—and because he is deeply moved by the sisters’ grief—that Jesus intervenes in the natural course of things and raises Lazarus from the dead.

As St. John makes clear, Jesus doesn’t take the death of his friend lightly. He is “perturbed and deeply troubled ” (Jn 11:33). He weeps,

St. John says, “So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him’ ” (Jn 11:36). But the crowd does not have Martha’s or Mary’s faith. They are critical and disbelieving. “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died” (Jn 11:37), they complain. That’s why Jesus prays: “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me” (Jn 11:41-42).

What Jesus wants above all is to know that we have faith in the one who sent him, the loving and merciful Father who is the source of all life, healing and hope. As he says to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” (Jn 11:40) All power, all goodness and all joy come from the Father, through the Son, by the grace of the Holy Spirit!

The miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead is performed by Jesus as an act of deep love and friendship for two sisters and their beloved brother. But it is also a powerful sign to those who, St. John tells us, were trying to stone him. In the most concrete way possible, Jesus sends a message to his enemies (and to all of us) that all life is sacred, and love is stronger than death.

And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” (Jn 11:43) The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go” (Jn 11:44). Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.

But, of course, many others refused to believe. Reading beyond Sunday’s Gospel, we learn that this miracle will be used by the Pharisees as further evidence that Jesus is their enemy. “What are we going to do?” they ask. “This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation” (Jn 11:47-48). God’s love and healing power are rejected because the religious leaders of Jesus’ day lack the courage required to believe in him. “So from that day,” St. John tells us, “they planned to kill him” (Jn 11:53).

As we continue our Lenten journey, let’s pray for the courage to believe that the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead is a sign that we are all destined for union with Jesus, the resurrection and the life. †

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