Today we are humbled to hear and see the incredible love God has for all of us, a love so deep, so large, so universal, that it is so far beyond our total comprehension. It is impossible for us to totally grasp all its dimensions until we can behold the beatific vision in all its glory.
Today in our Gospel we have a significant turning point in Jesus' earthly ministry. The raising of Lazarus is the climax of signs in John's Gospel. And it leads directly to the coming arrest of Jesus and his crucifixion. After hearing of his latest miracle the Jewish authorities have had enough. Unknowingly, they are pushing ahead God's plan, for the hour of Jesus' time is coming.
And so appropriate it is on this date as we enter the fifth week of Lent. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday and then Holy Week and then the miracle of Easter. Perhaps we are struggling through Lent, tempted for that thing we've given up, tempted to ease up on our fasting and charity. The Church says keep strong, our redemption is at hand through the sacrifice of Christ and through his resurrection. Lazarus return to earthly life is a prefiguring of our rising to eternal life.
Jesus has healed many, cured the blind and returned life to the dead, as he did with Jarius's daughter who had just died.
But the miracle of Lazarus was different. Especially so if you know the customs and context of the times of First Century Israel. It certainly did happen now and then, that when a person supposedly died, the seemingly dead returned to life. But there were physiological facts behind that. What locals thought was death was actually a deep coma. Medical science of those times was inexact and sometimes ignorant. But that supposed return to life was in hours not days.
Jewish belief was that a soul can remain in or around a body up to three days of death. But the fourth day was a total conclusion of death. Jewish custom demanded the dead be buried by the end of the day of death, for understandable reasons of decay. A body was washed, perfumed by oils and wrapped. If a family had some money, then the body was placed in a tomb, usually a cave or some kind of hollowed out cliff and a stone was rolled over the entrance way and usually was whitewashed so strangers would know that it was a tomb. The people of those times believed impurity will come from touching the dead or even touching a resting place. After a year, and total decomposition, the person's bones were collected and put in an ossuary box and that was placed toward the back of the tomb were other family loved ones were.
Certainly for many in this gospel Jesus' actions or actually non-actions at first were perplexing. The sister of Lazarus, Martha, probably his oldest sister sent word to Jesus, "Master, the one you love is ill." Such a statement in all its simplicity is a testament to her great faith in Jesus. It is a kin to his mother's words at the marriage of Cana. "They have no wine." Martha's and the Blessed Mother's simple words were marvelous statements of faith, that rises above elegantly worded complex prayers expressing faithfulness.
But unlike the time at Cana when Jesus quickly responded by performing the miracle of water into wine, this time, he waited two more days before going to Bethany the village where Martha, her sister Mary and Lazarus lived. He knew what he was to do and how it would be a manifestation of God's glory and power to those who would witness it, and also a powerful miracle, as he said to his apostles, "so that you may believe." He knew his hour was coming and his apostles needed all manifestations of his divinity to hold them together after his crucifixion and before his resurrection.
Jesus astonished all those gathered about Lazarus's tomb when he commanded his friend to come out. For the skeptics around Jesus, pharisees and others, it was one thing to raise the daughter of Jarius who had just died as we read in Luke's gospel, but Lazarus was dead for four days. No more soul holding near, decay has to have set in. For all Lazarus was dead, gone. Fact. No going back. But for Jesus it was his moment to show that with God all things are possible, to show the incredible love the Father Son and Holy Spirit has for everyone of us, and to give us a glimpse into what is waiting for us after our life on earth, eternal glorified life snug in the bosom of God forever and ever. You see as Jesus returned Lazarus to his earthly life, Lazarus eventually did die. LIfe on earth is finite. In life we are in practice, if you will, for the big time.
Martha expresses great faith as she responds to Jesus saying he is the resurrection and the life and gives undying life to those who believe in him. Her faith in Jesus is an inspiration to all of us, especially when we face times of horror, of sorrow, times when all seems lost. It's easy to say yes Lord when all is good safe and sound. But her words should give us strength and courage when we face awful sickness, when we face the reality of love ones who are dying or who have passed away from our presence.
As we examine more closely one aspect of the gospel text today we see again the tremendous, wonderful, phenomenal love that God, our Abba as Jesus called him, and can be translated as Daddy, our Abba, our Daddy has for us.
As Martha's sister Mary approached Jesus near Lazarus' tomb, we read that as Jesus saw Mary and others weeping, and Jesus..."he became perturbed and deeply troubled." The original Greek expressed this thought of perturbed and troubled as "e-ne-vri-ME-sato," which means basically...He snorted, snorted like a horse. Jesus loved Lazarus, Martha and Mary. They were his friends. He often stayed with them when he was in the district, as did his apostles. And Lazarus dying still perturbed Jesus. He snorted at evil, at death. It perturbs him. It aggravates him. It irritates him. Evil vexes him. You see, God did not intend death. It was not a part of his plan. But in God's tremendous love he granted Adam and Eve and all of us free will. We are not robots. We are not religious zombies. And Adam and Eve chose to be God's equal and they fell from grace and gave us physical death.
Jesus snorted at death. And then Jesus seeing Mary weeping, crying her heart out for her brother, Jesus wept and in his weeping as entered the tomb, again he e-ne-vri-ME-sato. He snorted at death again. Death is from the evil one, from that fateful day in the garden, and is no friend of Jesus.
Our Lord knows what is going on. He knows he will raise Lazarus back to life. So why cry? To be around others who are in mourning, who are sorrowful, who weep, it is human nature to spontaneously cry along with them. Yes Jesus is one hundred percent human. He cried along with Mary. But Jesus is one hundred percent God. He is all human and all God, all together with no separation. Its not like, ok, I'm turning off my humanity and now I'm God, and visa-versa. No Jesus divinity and humanity is inseparable. He is one. He is the mystery of the Trinity, in three persons, one God, total in love, mercy, tenderness, total in eternity and life. He is the master over death, but it still perturbs him, angers him. Jesus cried, yes because of sympathy for those who were grieving. If he were in a place of great joy and laughter, he would laugh. Now in great sorrow, he weeps. Yet Jesus is divine and he weeps because the love and compassion of God for us is almighty, eternal, near unfathomable. His tears are tears of God's love for humanity and for us as persons. His tears are much more than sympathy, the tears are manifestations of the tenderness and love he has for all his children, who were, who are, who are to become.
Jesus wept. One of the shortest verses in the Bible and with our understanding now of his tears, this simple sentence is explosive, remarkable, powerful, full of the glory of God, a glory that he wants to share with us, in love for each one of us, we who seem insignificant as we ponder the immensity of the universe with hundreds of billions of galaxies, having hundreds of billions of stars and planets and worlds. Yet God knows and loves each of us, every aspect of us that we don't even know, whether we're here on this earth, or in some faraway world millions of light years from here. His tears show us, what we cannot see: a God totally dedicated to us. He only asks that we accept his gift of love and eternal life.
We have free will. We can accept his gift of love or walk away. He begs us to approach the altar to receive his body and blood, the Holy Eucharist, Christ crucified, Christ Risen, and as we do, let us taste his tears from this gospel...tears of eternal love and dedication he has for us.
Hi Parents and Students of St. Helena CCD, We will be observing First Friday only with Mass at 6pm in April. Thanks if you have any questions Contact Cat at 361-244-2469