April 2, 2017
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this reflection for the 5th Sunday of Lent (Year A) on April 10, 2011 at St. Paul’s Seminary in Washington, DC as part of the Paulist students’ James-Bond-themed Lenten video series called “In His Father’s Secret Service.” The reflection is based on the day’s gospel: John 11:1-45. The soundtrack is composed and performed by Anthony Francis Rosado.
We turn this week to the story of the raising of Lazarus, a story that reveals a whole host of paradoxes when we take the time to pray with it.
Our video series has focused on how people in the gospels who encounter Jesus come to a deeper understanding of his identity. While the story is nominally about Lazarus and Jesus, it is also about three of Jesus’ closest and dearest companions: Thomas, Mary, and Martha.
Each of them already has a deep, extraordinary relationship with Jesus. Thomas recognizes his own call to “go to die with” Jesus. Mary realizes that Jesus had the power to prevent her brother’s death. Martha, however, makes the most profound statement of all: “You are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
Amazingly, though, Jesus is not satisfied with these faith statements. Despite what the crowd thinks, he does not weep over the friend he will soon restore to life. The original Greek is much stronger than the English translation. Jesus is not just “perturbed” or “troubled.” He is irritated, indignant, and even angry.
Why is Jesus angry? It’s not exactly clear in John’s story, but it seems to be because no one – not the crowd, not his friends, not even Martha – has sufficient faith about God’s power over life and death, a power that Jesus apparently shares with God.
This story ends abruptly with the miracle. John tells us that many of the people present that day came to believe in Jesus, but we never learn how the faith of Thomas, Mary, Martha, or even Lazarus was changed by the events of that day.
But we can imagine. I’ve journeyed with a number of people who have lived through a heart attack. They are among the happiest, holiest people I’ve ever met. They’ve had a foretaste of what the rest of us Christians know only theoretically: you only live twice, and only the first of these lives is in this current reality. Those who have been revived on an operating table – as Lazarus was raised from the dead – realize that now is the time for new beginnings.
But we don’t have to wait for a death experience or a near-death experience to reform our lives. As Christian disciples, the Holy Spirit continually calls us to make new beginnings, and there’s no better time than Lent. The word ‘Lent’ itself means ‘spring,’ and springtime is the embodiment of the Paschal mystery. After the deaths and winters of life, there is always rebirth. Flowers bloom. The blind see. The prodigal son receives forgiveness. Love abounds.
Even if we have faith as profound as Martha’s, we can always find additional ways to grow in relationship with Christ. As the days lengthen, will we take the opportunities to walk, as Jesus calls it, in “the light of the world”?