March 13, 2005 - Year A - Lent 5

John 11:1-45

11  1 There was a sick man named Lazarus who was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was the same Mary who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair. Her brother Lazarus was sick.

So the sisters sent this message to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” On hearing this Jesus said, “This illness will not end in death; rather it is for God’s glory and the Son of God will be glorified through it.”

It is a fact that Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus; yet, after he heard of the illness of Lazarus, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Only then did he say to his disciples, “Let us go into Judea again.” They replied, “Master, recently the Jews wanted to stone you. Are you going there again?”

Jesus said to them, “Are not twelve working hours needed to complete a day? Those who walk in the daytime shall not stumble, for they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, for there is no light in them.”

11 After that Jesus said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going to wake him.” 12 The disciples replied, “Lord, a sick person who sleeps will recover.” 13 But Jesus had referred to Lazarus’ death, while they thought that he had meant the repose of sleep. 14 So Jesus said plainly, “Lazarus is dead 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, for now you may believe. But let us go there, where he is.” 16 Then Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go that we may die with him.”

17 When Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. 18 As Bethany is near Jerusalem, about two miles away, 19 many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to offer consolation at their brother’s death.

20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him while Mary remained sitting in the house. 21 And she said to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha replied, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection, at the last day.” 25 But Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection; whoever believes in me, though he die, shall live. 26 Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 Martha then answered, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”

28 After that Martha went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, “The Master is here and is calling for you.” 29 As soon as Mary heard this, she rose and went to him. 30 Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him.

31 The Jews who were with her in the house consoling her, also came. When they saw her get up and go out, they followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep.

32 As for Mary, when she came to the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews also who had come with her, he was moved in the depths of his spirit and troubled. 34 Then he asked, “Where have you laid him?” They answered, “Lord, come and see.” 35 And Jesus wept.

36 The Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “If he could open the eyes of the blind man, could he not have kept this man from dying?”

38 Jesus was deeply moved again and drew near to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across it. 39 Jesus ordered, “Take the stone away.” Martha said to him, “Lord, by now he will smell, for this is the fourth day.” 40 Jesus replied, “Have I not told you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone.

Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you for you have heard me. 42 I knew that you hear me always; but my prayer was for the sake of these people, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When Jesus had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips and his face wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

 45 Many of the Jews who had come with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw what he did;

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• 11.1 This is the seventh and last miracle of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel. Intentionally, the first words are designed to present the sick man: Lazarus personifies the person wounded by sin, who is in process of dying unless Christ calls him to life.

Lazarus came back to life! Let us not be astounded that Lazarus had the good fortune to live for a few more years and the misfortune of having to die again. This noticeable miracle only foretells the true resurrection that does not just prolong life but transforms our entire being. The resurrection is spiritual. It begins when faith moves a person to give up wrong ways of living and become open to receiving God’s life.

The Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead on the last day, as Martha mentioned (v. 24). They thought a divine force would come to shake the universe and open the tombs so the dead could come out. In reality, the resurrection of the dead comes about through someone, the Son of God, who has in himself all the power needed to raise people to life and to transform creation. One who lives in submission to Christ has already passed from death to life (5:24) and, because of this, will never die (v. 26).

All the persons mentioned here called Jesus “Master,” but John has them say Lord. In this way he teaches us that this miracle of Lazarus recalled to life is an image of the glorious resurrection of Jesus, the Lord. (Regarding this term “the Lord” which is one of the strongest proofs of the faith of the early Church in the divinity of Jesus, see the commentary in Acts 2:36.)

The Jews wanted to kill Jesus (v. 8), but it was legally difficult for them to take Jesus prisoner. They could do this only in the province of Jerusalem, where their religious communities and political organization were strong. As long as Jesus remained on the other side of the Jordan, he was secure. The resurrection of Lazarus hastened the time of Jesus’ death and glorification.

The twelve hours (v. 9). Jesus will complete the twelve hours of his journey, that is, of his mission, without fear of the risks involved. Those who, like him, walk by day, that is, in accordance with the divine plan, will not stumble; Christ will be for them the light of the world.

I have come to believe that you are the Christ (v. 27). What more extraordinary profession of faith is there than Martha’s! It is like Peter’s (Mt 16:16), and in a short while it will be Mary who will tell about the resurrection to the same apostles. Truly the Gospel is not male chauvinist, nor does it enthrone ecclesiastical hierarchy.

Father, I thank you … (v. 41). This act of thanksgiving is the only one we read in John, aside from the long prayer in chapter 17 that is full of praise for the Father. We read another such prayer in Luke 10:21. These recorded acts of thanksgiving may seem very few, considering that thanksgiving is an essential attitude of a Christian, but Jesus expressed his act of thanksgiving in all he did. In his mortal existence, he dispossessed himself of his own will and power so that the Father could use him for his greater glory (Jn 12:27-28).

Untie him (v. 44). For burial the Jews bound their dead with linen. This word “to untie” means something more, it was the expression used by the primitive Church in referring to forgiveness of sins. Like Lazarus, one who receives pardon returns to life.


Caiaphas’ words were fulfilled but not in the sense he intended. Jesus was going to die to gather into one the scattered children of God (v. 52).

The worldwide effect of Christ’s resurrection is to unite all of humanity in renewed creation – as Jesus himself put it, “when I’m lifted up from earth I shall draw all to myself” (Jn 12:32). That is to say, the cross and resurrection are the source of communion and fraternity.

The Church reunites believers of all races and cultures: we call it “Catholic,” that is, universal. This Church, however, is but a beginning and a sign of that which will be attained at the end of time, when the whole of humanity will be reunited in Christ (Rev 7).

In our world, preventing people from grouping together to discuss and understand their situation perpetuates the oppression of rural and urban masses. This hidden violence opposes unity. Some current ideologies promote a struggle for liberation that attempts to unite people by targeting adversaries and continually deciding on whom to expel. There, too, the seed of violence (for both murder and exclusion are violence) gives birth to more oppressive societies.

Christians should be the first to notice we are living in an exceptional century in which, for the first time, all peoples share the same history and must accept a common destiny, either willingly or by force. This awareness enables them to see and to indicate the goals of human effort. They must ponder all of human reality, and even international relationships, in the light of the Gospel and not waste all their energy in projects of aid for the poor.

[The Community Christian Bible]

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1. The miracle of Lazarus' raising is like to the first miracle John records - turning water into wine at a wedding. Requests from important women find Jesus putting things off with the understanding that it isn't time for this sign to be shown. In each case Jesus finally comes around to provide the request in a rather startling fashion. This model may also be the model Jesus' followers are still using - repeatedly trying in every way to get out of having to reveal the connection we have with GOD where all manner of unexpected paths are opened. This evidences a great false humility that presumes we can judge the times. All we can do is what we have at hand to do. So let us be about the business we know about.

2. Martha "came to believe" Jesus gave a clearer glimpse of life's meaning for her than any other source. This process of coming to believe is still crucial for the life of individuals and the church. All too often we have solidified our thinking and what we are willing to take as evidence and keep running around the same circle, again and again and again. We believe what we have believed, which is all there is to believe.

Martha can be a good icon for us - too busy to listen and still able to reflect and move on. There is growth going on. May we see others as potential Martha's even when they are in their "too busy" mode. Everyone can grow, even if that is not currently visible. Those who grow the most are those who see even more belief ahead than behind. They bend more easily toward new understandings - they might be labeled neotropic.

I look forward to the Church doing a better job at "coming to believe." In our usual mode of concretized belief we prevent people from grouping together to discuss their present need and sources of hope. This does not bring more belief. It only perpetuates oppression.

3. It is intriguing to reflect on Jesus' different responses to Martha and Mary. Though sisters they have different perceptions and needs. The same is true of Jesus' sisters and brothers. While we have Jesus in common, we don't have much more in common.

Martha, the kitchen-maven, gets the intellectual approach, a mini-sermon on resurrection. Mary, the scholar willing to break gender stereotypes to receive the instruction she needs, gets the emotional approach from the depths of Jesus troubled spirit. This is more than just playing against type, it reminds us of the unplumbed depths of mind and soul and how connected they and we are.

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