Homily for April 10, V Sunday of Lent, cycle A
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The raising of Lazarus from the dead is one of the most significant miracles of Jesus’ public life, for what it is in itself, for the circumstances that surrounded it, and for the reactions that it inspired.
It is important in itself, because of the time that had elapsed between the death of Lazarus and the miracle. Jesus had raised people from the dead before, but usually within minutes or hours of their death. It was something that skeptics could, perhaps, dismiss as a healing of someone who seemed dead, but wasn’t. Lazarus, on the contrary, had already spent four days in the tomb; there was no way to doubt that he was deceased, and decay had already clearly set in. When Jesus brought him back to life, it must have called to mind the prophecy that we heard in the first reading today: “Thus says the Lord God: …I will open your graves and have you rise from them”. In their original form, these words could be taken figuratively, but here Jesus literally carries them out. His claims to be the Son of God suddenly become even more credible.
It is also important for the circumstances that surround it. Jesus could have performed a long-distance cure, as He had done on more than one occasion. He knew of Lazarus’ illness even before the messengers came to Him, and He loved Lazarus as a very close friend. Yet, He chose to wait and go in person, after Lazarus’ death, knowing the suffering that this delay would cause for many people. Jesus Himself suffered as a result; He was “deeply troubled” and wept for the pain of the friends and family. Yet, He chose this path, as He told His disciples, “for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
In fact, much good surrounded this painful event. It was the occasion for Jesus to declare Himself as the “resurrection and the life”, and to invite Martha to a greater faith, which she willingly professes. When the people saw Him perform the miracle, it created an important reaction: many more believed in Him. Although it was a resurrection to normal human life that would later end when Lazarus died again, it was a symbol and promise of the resurrection for eternal life that Jesus also promised and described to Martha (and which St Paul elucidates in our second reading today). Similarly, it was a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own resurrection. Thus, it teaches us that God allows suffering for good reasons, even if those reasons are not immediately evident – and God Himself is moved to compassion by our pain, even when that pain is necessary for our salvation.
Not everyone reacted the same way to this miracle. Immediately following the passage we read today, the Gospel explains that those who had already hardened their hearts against Jesus actually dig in their heels even more, and begin to seek to have both Jesus and Lazarus killed. In a way, this miracle, which is a show of Christ’s power and compassion, is also a decisive moment on the road to His passion and death.
Today, let us renew our confidence in God’s compassionate love and the wisdom of His plan. We all pass through times of suffering and pain, and it can be very hard to comprehend why God allows it. Today’s gospel reminds us that Jesus suffers with us, and it teaches us to echo the words of the psalm: “I trust in the Lord, my soul trusts in His word. More than sentinels for the dawn, let [us] wait for the Lord.”