Fifth Sunday of Lent

Lectionary: 34

O my people, I will open your graves 
and have you rise from them, 
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD, 
when I open your graves and have you rise from them, 
O my people!

When Jesus arrived in Bethany on the fourth day of Lazarus' funeral and found the sisters and many others still weeping, he also was swept up in the grief.

But when "Jesus wept" there were whispers in the crowd, "Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?"

I used to wonder the same thing when I watched TV shows like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. The witches can do "this" but they can't do "that." Why not?

And Jesus, we happen to know, is going to call Lazarus out of the grave; so why is he weeping?

Especially today, after several centuries of technical progress when it seems there is nothing we cannot do, we ask why did this man die?

In my experience very few people die in the hospital without a discussion about withdrawing life support. Sometimes the patient is "kept alive" for hours or days until an immediate family member arrives from a distant state or nation. And then, finally, the patient is allowed to die. Often, survivors have to be reminded the patient could not be kept alive indefinitely, and there was no reason to prolong his dying.

"So where were you, Jesus, when Lazarus was sick?"

It's a question about power and authority. It reflects a deep confusion about God and ourselves, and some ambivalence about God's claim upon us.

In all of the gospels, and especially in Saint John, Jesus is revealed as the Savior and Lord; he has authority to heal, reconcile and forgive. He does not have the authority to alter human life with its hardships, disappointments and tragedies. Made in the image and likeness of God, we cannot be human without the capacity for suffering. Jesus will not save us from that.

So of course Jesus wept as he approached the cemetery. How could this man not be swept along by the sorrow of Martha, Mary and all their friends? To be human is to weep.

By his poverty, helplessness, suffering and death Jesus shows us the essential beauty and dignity of human life, its divine qualities. We have too often hidden our divinity behind pretentions of wealth, power, comfort and security. Wanting to be like gods, we despised our human nature, which is the only path to knowledge of God. Jesus comes to us as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Through him we come to life.

When Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb he gave him a temporary reprieve from death. But he also signed his own death warrant in doing so. The story spread like wildfire and the authorities realized they must respond. The emptied tomb demanded another death. There is no escape from hardship, suffering and tragedy. During these last two weeks of Lent, we must walk with him to Calvary and in his dying find our life.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.