Saturday, April 09, 2011

Gospel for the 5th Sunday of Lent

John 11:1-45

The Raising of Lazarus

[1] Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. [2] It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped His feet with her hair, who brother Lazarus was ill. [3] So the sisters sent to Him (Jesus), saying, "Lord, he whom You love is ill." [4] But when Jesus heard it He said, "This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it."

[5] Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. [6] So when He heard that he was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was. [7] Then after this He said to the disciples, "Let us go into Judea again." [8] The disciples said to Him, "Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?" [9] Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any one walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. [10] But if any one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." [11] Thus He spoke, and then He said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep." [12] The disciples said to Him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover." [13] Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He meant taking rest in sleep. [14] Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead; [15] and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." [16] Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

[17] Now when Jesus came, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. [18] Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, [19] and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. [20] When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met Him, while Mary sat in the house. [21] Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. [22] And even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You." [23] Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." [24] Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." [25] Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, [26] and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" [27] She said to Him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, He who is coming into the world."

[28] When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying quietly, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you." [29] And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to Him. [30] Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met Him. [31] When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. [32] Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw Him, fell at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." [33] When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; [34] and He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see." [35] Jesus wept. [36] So the Jews said, "See how He loved him!" [37] But some of them said, "Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

[38] Then Jesus deeply moved again, came to the tomb; it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. [39] Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days." [40] Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?" [41] So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted His eyes and said, "Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me. [42] I knew that Thou hearest Me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that Thou didst send Me." [43] When He had said this, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out." [44] The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go.

[45] Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what He did, believed in Him.


1-45. This chapter deals with one of Jesus' most outstanding miracles. The Fourth Gospel, by including it, demonstrates Jesus' power over death, which the Synoptic Gospels showed by reporting the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Matthew 9:25 and paragraph) and of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:12).

The Evangelist first sets the scene (verses 1-16); then he gives Jesus' conversation with Lazarus' sisters (verses 17-37); finally, he reports the raising of Lazarus four days after his death (verses 38-45). Bethany was only about three kilometers (two miles) from Jerusalem (verse 18). On the days prior to His passion, Jesus often visited this family, to which He was very attached. St. John records Jesus' affection (verses 3, 5, 36) by describing His emotion and sorrow at the death of His friend.

By raising Lazarus our Lord shows His divine power over death and thereby gives proof of His divinity, in order to confirm His disciples' faith and reveal Himself as the Resurrection and the Life. Most Jews, but not the Sadducees, believed in the resurrection of the body. Martha believed in it (cf. verse 24).

Apart from being a real, historical event, Lazarus' return to life is a sign of our future resurrection: we too will return to life. Christ, by His glorious resurrection through He is the "first-born from the dead" (1 Corinthians 15:20; Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5), is also the cause and model of our resurrection. In this His resurrection is different from that of Lazarus, for "Christ being raised from the dead will never die again" (Romans 6:9), whereas Lazarus returned to earthly life, later to die again.

2. There are a number of women in the Gospels who are called Mary. The Mary here is Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus (v. 2), the woman who later anointed our Lord, again in Bethany, at the house of Simon the leper (cf. John 12:1-8; Mark 14:3): the indefinite or aorist "(she) anointed" expresses an action which occurred prior to the time of writing, but the anointing took place after the resurrection of Lazarus.

Were Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalene and the "sinful" woman who anointed Jesus' feet in Galilee (cf. Luke 7:36) one, two or three women? Although sometimes it is argued that they are one and the same, it seems more likely that they were all different people. Firstly, we must distinguish the Galilee anointing (Luke 7:36) by the "sinner" from the Bethany anointing done by Lazarus' sister (John 12:1): because of the time they took place and particular details reported, they are clearly distinct (cf. note on John 12:1). Besides the Gospels give us no positive indication that Mary of Bethany was the same person as the "sinner" of Galilee. Nor are there strong grounds for identifying Mary Magdalene and the "sinner", whose name is not given; Mary Magdalene appears among the women who follow Jesus in Galilee as the woman out of whom seven demons were cast (cf. Luke 8:2), and Luke presents her in his account as someone new: no information is given which could link her with either of the two other women.

Nor can Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene be identified, for John differentiates between the two: he never calls Lazarus' sister Mary Magdalene, nor does he in any way link the latter (who stays beside the Cross--John 19:25--and who goes to the tomb and sees the risen Lord) with Mary of Bethany.

The reason why Mary of Bethany has sometimes been confused with Mary Magdalene is due (1) to identification of the latter with the "sinner" of Galilee through connecting Magdalene's possession of the devil with the sinfulness of the woman who did the anointing in Galilee; and (2) to confusing the two anointings, which would make Lazarus' sister the "sinner" who does the first anointing. This was how the three women were made out to be one, but there are no grounds for that interpretation. The best-grounded and most common interpretation offered by exegetes is that they are three distinct women.

4. The glory which Christ speaks of here, St. Augustine says, "was no gain to Jesus; it was only for our good. Therefore, Jesus says that this illness is not unto death, because the particular death was not for death but rather for a miracle, which being wrought men should believe in Christ and thereby avoid the true death" ("In Ioann. Evang.", 49, 6).

8-10. Stoning was the form of capital punishment applying to blasphemy (cf. Leviticus 24:16). We have seen that people tried to stone Jesus at least twice: first, when He proclaimed that He was the Son of God and that He existed from eternity (by saying that He "was" before Abraham lived)--John 8:58-59; second, when He revealed that He and the Father were one (cf. John 10:3-31).

These attempts by the Jewish authorities failed because Jesus' 'hour' had not yet arrived--that is, the time laid down by His Father for His death and resurrection. When the Crucifixion comes, it will the hour of His enemies and of "the power of darkness" (Luke 22:53). But until that moment it is daytime, and our Lord can walk without His life being in danger.

16. Thomas' words reminds us of the Apostles saying at the Last Supper that they would be ready to die for their Master (cf. Matthew 26:31-35). We have seen how the Apostles stayed loyal when many disciples left our Lord after His discourse on the Bread of Life (John 6:67-71), and how they remained faithful to Him despite their personal weaknesses. But when, after Judas Iscariot's betrayal, Jesus lets Himself be arrested without offering resistance--in fact, forbidding the use of weapons (cf. John 18:11)--they become disconcerted and run away. Only St. John will stay faithful in Jesus' hour of greatest need.

18. Fifteen stadia, in Greek measurement: three kilometers (two miles).

21-22. According to St. Augustine, Martha's request is a good example of confident prayer, a prayer of abandonment into the hands of God, who knows better than we what we need. Therefore, "she did not say, But now I ask You to raise my brother to life again. [...] All she said was, I know that You can do it; if you will, do it; it is for you to judge whether to do it, not for me to presume" ("In Ioann. Evang.", 49, 13). The same can be said of Mary's words, which St. John repeats at verse 32.

24-26. Here we have one of those concise definitions Christ gives of Himself, and which St. John faithfully passes on to us (cf. John 10:9; 14:6; 15:1): Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. He is the Resurrection because by His victory over death He is the cause of the resurrection of all men. The miracle He works in raising Lazarus is a sign of Christ's power to give life to people. And so, by faith in Jesus Christ, who arose first from among the dead, the Christian is sure that he too will rise one day, like Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:23; Colossians 1;18). Therefore, for the believer death is not the end; it is simply the step to eternal life, a change of dwelling-place, as one of the Roman Missal's Prefaces of Christian Death puts it: "Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in Heaven".

By saying that He is Life, Jesus is referring not only to that life which begins beyond the grave, but also to the supernatural life which grace brings to the soul of man when he is still a wayfarer on this earth.

"This life, which the Father has promised and offered to each man in Jesus Christ, His eternal and only Son, who 'when the time had fully come' (Galatians 4:4), became incarnate and was born of the Virgin Mary, is the final fulfillment of man's vocation. It is in a way the fulfillment of the 'destiny' that God has prepared for him from eternity. This 'divine destiny' is advancing, in spite of all the enigmas, the unsolved riddles, the twists and turns of 'human destiny' in the world of time. Indeed, while all this, in spite of all the riches of life in time, necessarily and inevitably leads to the frontiers of death and the goal of the destruction of the human body, beyond that goal we see Christ. 'I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in Me...shall never die.' In Jesus Christ, who was crucified and laid in the tomb and then rose again, 'our hope of resurrection dawned...the bright promise of immortality' ("Roman Missal", Preface of Christian Death, I), on the way to which man, through the death of the body, shares with the whole of visible creation the necessity to which matter is subject" ([Pope] John Paul II, "Redemptor Hominis", 18).

33-36. This passage gives an opportunity to reflect on the depth and tenderness of Jesus' feelings. If the physical death of His friend can move Him to tears, what will He not feel over the spiritual death of a sinner who has brought about his eternal condemnation? "Christ wept: let man also weep for himself. For why did Christ weep, but to teach men to weep" (St. Augustine, "In Ioann. Evang.", 49, 19). We also should weep--but for our sins, to help us return to the life of grace through conversion and repentance. We should appreciate our Lord's tears: He is praying for us, who are sinners: "Jesus is your friend. The Friend. With a human heart, like yours. With loving eyes that wept for Lazarus.

"And He loves you as much as He loved Lazarus" ([St] J. Escriva, "The Way", 422).

41-42. Through His sacred humanity Jesus is expressing Himself as the natural Son of God, that is, He is the metaphysical Son of God, not adopted like the rest of men. This is the source of Jesus' feelings, which helps us to understand that when He says "Father" He is speaking with a unique and indescribable intensity. When the Gospels let us see Jesus praying, they always show Him beginning with the invocation "Father" (cf. note on Luke 11:1-2), which reflects His singular trust and love (cf. Matthew 11:25 and par.). These sentiments should also in some way find a place in our prayer, for through Baptism we are joined to Christ and in Him we became children of God (cf. John 1:12; Romans 6:1-11; 8:14-17), and so we should always pray in a spirit of sonship and gratitude for the many good things our Father God has given us.

The miracle of the raising of Lazarus, which really is an extraordinary miracle, is a proof that Jesus is the Son of God, sent into the world by His Father. And so it is, that when Lazarus is brought back to life, people's faith in Jesus is increased--the disciples' (verse 15), Martha's and Mary's (verses 26, 40) and that of the people at large (36, 45).

43. Jesus calls Lazarus by name. Although he is really dead, he has not thereby lost his personal identity: dead people continue to exist, but they have a different mode of existence, because they have changed from mortal life to eternal life. This is why Jesus states that God "is not God of the dead, but of the living", for to Him all are alive (cf. Matthew 22:32; Luke 20:38).

This passage can be applied to the spiritual resurrection of the soul who has sinned and recovers grace. God wants us to be saved (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4); therefore we should never lose heart; we should always desire and hope to reach this goal: "Never despair. Lazarus was dead and decaying: ' Iam foetet, quatriduanus enim est". By now he will smell; this is the fourth day", says Martha to Jesus.

"If you hear God's inspiration and follow it--'Lazare, veni foras!: Lazarus, come out!'--and you will return to Life" ([St] J. Escriva, "The Way", 719).

44. The Jews prepared the body for burial by washing it and anointing it with aromatic ointments to delay decomposition and counteract offensive odors; they then wrapped the body in linen cloths and bandages, covering the head with a napkin--a method very like the Egyptians', but not entirely extending to full embalming, which involved removing certain internal organs.

Lazarus' tomb would have consisted of a subterranean chamber linked to the surface by steps, with the entrance blocked by a slab. Lazarus was moved out to the entrance by a supernatural force. As happened in the case of the raising of Jairus' daughter (Mark 5;42-43), due to their astonishment no one moved until our Lord's words broke the atmosphere of silence and terror which had been created.

St. Augustine sees in the raising of Lazarus a symbol of the Sacrament of Penance: in the same way as Lazarus comes out of the tomb, "when you confess, you come forth. For what does 'come forth' mean if not emerging from what is hidden, to be made manifest. But for you to confess is God's doing; He calls you with an urgent voice, by an extraordinary grace. And just as the dead man came out still bound, so you go to Confession still guilty. In order that his sins be loosed, the Lord said this to His ministers: 'Unbind him and let him go'. What you will lose on earth will be loosed in Heaven" (St. Augustine "In Ioann. Evang.", 49, 24). Christian art has used this comparison from very early on; in the catacombs we find some one hundred and fifty representations of the raising of Lazarus, symbolizing thereby the gift of the life of grace which comes through the priest, who in effect repeats the words to the sinner: "Lazarus, come out."
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

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