July 19, 2018, 4:10 am
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Life here and life beyond

THE sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus, saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “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. Do you believe this?” She said 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.”

He became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?”

So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “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.” And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 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.”

Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.

***

To understand the message of Lazarus being raised to life, we have to see that in the Gospel according to John the miracle has more than one layer of meaning. The miracle is a wonderful event that is experienced both by Lazarus and those who witness it. But it is called a “sign” because it points to something else, to something deeper–to the One who causes the miracle and to what he can offer to those who believe in him. And so, the story does not end in Lazarus being restored to life; it further points to Jesus’ self-revelation as “the Resurrection and the Life.”

We have to also to see “life” in its twofold meaning. First, we have the natural life; it is physical and temporal. It ends with death, which is the supreme challenge to our faith and, at the same time, the supreme riddle of human existence. Does human reality end with death, or is there something else that lies beyond this earthly life? The second meaning of life points to eternal life, that is, life that carries on beyond death. Physical death cannot annul it. This is the eternal life that Jesus offers to those who believe in him.

When news of Lazarus’ sickness reaches Jesus, he tells his disciples that Lazarus their friend has fallen asleep and he is going to wake him up. The disciples take Jesus to be speaking about ordinary sleep. Lazarus will wake up and so the risky plan of going to Judea can be safely shelved. But Jesus then brushes aside the euphemism of “sleep” and declares bluntly, “Lazarus is dead.” Lazarus is dead—as men and women have died and the rest will surely die.

The story continues with the sisters Martha and Mary both gently reproaching Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But Jesus invites Martha to move beyond this deeper problem to contemplate a deeper truth: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who believes in me will never die.” Then he calls Lazarus from the tomb, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus, indeed, is restored to life. He will live for a time, but someday he will die again. This is not a lasting remedy. The remedy is to conquer death, not by a return to the present mortal life, but by the gift of “eternal life” which endures even through death.

This is the gift of Jesus who offers his own life. He goes back to Judea, knowing fully well that he is wanted there by the authorities. And when he raises Lazarus back to life, the authorities decide to put him to death because many people are now believing in him. Thus Jesus saves Lazarus by offering his own life.

But Jesus is raised to the glory of God. He conquers death by rising to life, not to his former earthly life, but to the glorious life with God. He conquers death itself. That is why St. Paul could taunt death: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54).

The Resurrection of Jesus makes possible the gift of “eternal life”: if we believe in him, we shall not die but live forever. This does not mean that we will not die; physical mortality remains the fate of every human being. But we will not face the prospect of death in an ultimate sense. Death does not have the last word; eternal life is the last word. The resurrection of Lazarus is a symbol of the “eternal life” that Jesus has gained by his own resurrection, and now offers to us.

***

– Fr. Gil A. Alinsangan, SSP

– (April 2, 2017)
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