Jesus’ love for Lazarus involves us all

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Readings for Sunday, April 2, 2017

By Glen Argan

The story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11.1-45) presents us with Jesus’ greatest outpouring of emotion in the four Gospels. Upon arriving at Bethany, Jesus was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” Then, when arrives at Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus is again “greatly disturbed.”

LazarusJesus weeps over the death of his friend Lazarus, but also over unbelief as well as sin and death. Jesus is far from neutral or dispassionate. Although he knows the human condition, his whole being rebels against the fallen, wretched state of humanity, which inevitably ends with death.

The Gospel reveals Jesus as the Lord of life, the Divine One sent to redeem humanity from its woeful condition. Yet, for Jesus, redemption is not simply a matter of business to which he must attend. Death and sin wrench him; they tear up his guts.

Further, his act of redemption is not something he does for humanity in general. Jesus brings an individual person, his friend, back to life. What is difficult to fathom is that Jesus also cares for each of us as deeply as he cared for Lazarus. Death is conquered, not by techniques or magic, but by love – the unfathomable, infinite love of the Son of God.

What most intrigues me about Sunday’s readings, however, is the juxtaposition of this Gospel with the brief selection from Romans 8 (8-11), a little piece of reflection that I consider to be the most central few words in all of St. Paul’s letters. This juxtaposition is a stroke of inspired genius.

Here, Paul contrasts the Spirit and the flesh. If one is in the flesh – living in the turmoil of conflicting desires and passions – one simply cannot please God. But Christian believers dwell in the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit dwells in us.

What is the fruit of that? The fruit of the indwelling Spirit is life, not just material life – although that too – but life in God. The fullness of human life then is to participate in divine life.

The Holy Spirit raised Christ from the dead, and he now dwells in us and “will give life to your mortal bodies.” No separation exists between spiritual life and our material being. They are one and the same.

It’s hard for us creatures to know what participation in God’s life might mean. However, we are already sharers in divine life. The Spirit is so close that we are unable to separate what is human from what is divine. We will receive the fullness of divine life at Christ’s Second Coming when the life of God becomes completely open to us.

The raising of Lazarus is a harbinger of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Christ’s resurrection is but the first fruit of the action and love of the Spirit which will transform our mortal bodies to life currently light years beyond our understanding.

What we do know is that to live eternally in God, we must become attuned to divine life now. Our action and contemplation are no mere boot camp for the really good stuff. They are the way that we participate in eternity today.

Jesus knows what the experience of divinization will be like for us because he himself is God. The gap between where we are today and where we will be when we are with him is infinite. Jesus knows the tragedy of human existence far better than we do. So when he comes to the tomb of one he loves, he is “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” Then he shouts for all he is worth, “Lazarus, come out.”

 [Other readings: Ezekiel 37.12-14; Psalm 130]

(Photo courtesy of Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints)

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