The way of the cross: live or die

Tom Bartolomeo
5th Sunday Lent A 2014
Ezekiel 37: 12-14 Psalm 130
Romans 8: 8-11 John 11: 1-45
Reproduced with Permission

There is no event or story in the Gospel which reveals more about Jesus' humanity and divinity than Lazarus' resurrection from death. There are other instances in Scripture of individuals dying and resuscitated, but only one man, Lazarus, who died, was buried and after four days was raised from the dead - except Jesus who raised himself from the dead just as he raised Lazarus to life. "I lay down my life in order to take it up again", Jesus said. "No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord." (John 10:17-18). In raising Lazarus from the dead - Jesus revealed his divinity at work in his human nature to draw attention to the sanctity of human life which much of the would glosses over. Only the author of life could contrive a lesson from Lazarus' death and give him back his life. What was the lesson Christ had in mind?

Every man wants to live forever, knows he can not in this world. No matter how old he gets he still thinks he has a few more and a few more years left. Dying was never an issue in the beginning. God gave man life without end as long as he remained one with God, his Creator. When "God said, 'Let us make mankind in our image, according to our likeness" we were meant to live forever in the company of our creator. (Genesis 1: 26; Italics mine). In their Creator's image Adam and Eve were free like God to perfect their human nature in harmony with God's and the world he created for them. Above all the other creatures man was created with a will to choose God's way for himself. Adam and Eve were warned not to take the fruit from the "tree of good and evil" or they would die. (cf. Genesis 2: 15ff). They could not disobey and claim ignorance. They choose to "be like God knowing good and evil." They already knew the good God provided them. Knowing evil, however, brought them nothing: essentially nothing good . . . nothing altogether, a void, a black hole, death. All they got for their effort was shame in their nakedness no longer under the cover of God's protection which they abandoned. (Genesis 3: 2-7). The rest of Scripture plays out the consequences of their decision which we have inherited and raises the question, What became of the living "image" of God in man?

Man's image of God now is disordered, has a mind prone to error and a will weakened by sin. In our sordid state we often do not think straight or act prudently, a fact which God the Son of Man came to correct for those who were willing to accept his help. At their last supper and day together Jesus prayed for his disciples, "Father, everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine." (None of us are solitary planets in the constellation of God' people created in his image although we often think and act like errant meteors through the sky.) "And now", Jesus prayed, "I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me [Savior and Son of Man] so that they may be one, as we are one [brothers and sisters in Christ and adopted sons and daughters of God]". (John 17: 10-11).

If we were always in our right mind we would not separate ourselves from the source of our existence and life, a matter we often regret by our actions.

We remember the hard lessons of life we have learned, that there really is a world of difference between "good and evil." None of our agnostic brothers in the world can deny it. Perhaps, we remember the good image of God in our fathers and mothers who love us no matter how bad we are. Lazarus' story as told by Jesus put life and death, good and evil, in God's perspective. (I would happily die here and now if Jesus would tell my sisters, "Your brother will rise".) (John 11: 23). Everything Jesus said and did in his dramatic encounter with his disciples and friends - the Apostles, Lazarus, Martha and Mary -- was intended for their instruction and ours. Jesus did not exaggerate when he told his Apostles that "Our friend Lazarus is asleep". The abiding life of Lazarus rested in God "whether in the body or out of the body" as Saint Paul once described his own encounter with God. (2 Corinthians 12: 2-4). The 'becoming' or the loss of human life we can no more explain by our empirical sciences than we can manufacture life, spirit and truth. Lazarus was dead to this world but alive to the next where we, too, may "see the glory of God" which Jesus promised. (John 11: 40). Anyone who would say that Jesus was not both human and divine has not read or heard the story of Lazarus' death and resurrection. It was Jesus' last and greatest sign before he would lay down his own life for our sake and "take it up again". (John 10: 17).

Jesus allowed his close friend Lazarus to die "for your sake", Jesus said. "I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." (John 11: 15). Over the four days travel to Bethany where Lazarus was entombed Jesus anticipated Martha and Mary crying, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw them "weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved," we are told. (John 11: 33).

Our culture of death is an affront to God's creative work in the world. Anyone who destroys human life at any stage of inception strikes at the goodness of the Creator. What an incredible presumption! And don't tell me God or nature approves. Ninety-eight percent of us during our child bearing years have used contraceptives or have sterilized ourselves! [1] We have made the 'modern' world into a mortuary for the living dead incapable of procreation for our sins against humanity. A ruling, a sentence of eternal death and mortal sin hangs over our heads. Yet despite it all we are capable of repenting in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation to raise ourselves up from the dead. It may require our tears. Martha wept. Mary wept. And Jesus wept. Can we not weep over our sins? When Jesus' disciples warned him that his life was in danger, should he return to Judea where Lazarus was "asleep", Jesus reminded them that they had to leave while there was still daylight, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight?," he said. "Profrock" in T. S. Elliot's poem tells the story of endless procrastination: "There will be time . . . There will be time to murder and create . . . Time for you and time for me, and time yet for a hundred indecisions . . . ." We will not know the time of our death and salvation. The circumstances in the death and resurrection of Lazarus were only known by God. Besides, the resurrection of Lazarus' body was a minor consideration because his living soul was right with God. The wide-spread practice of contraception thoroughly defines our culture of death, not just children barred from conception but the men and women who lie to each other that they are the gods who decide who lives and dies and who deal humanity, the 'pearl of great value' in creation, a death blow from which there is no reprieve without repentance. How Jesus weeps suffering what we have made of the world: married men and women fearful of bringing life into eternity, what the world cynically calls "safe sex". Eventually, this culture of death affects all human relationships including respect for ourselves and children. For every thousand people in our country today only 63 out of a thousand are conceived and born, our lowest birth rate on record [2]. From a child's nursery to an adult nursing home we go, alone without children to come and visit us. We become people with fewer or no aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces. In the end when the fleeting opportunities of this life pass us by and we retire dependant on others for our care will we have our children and our children's children to thank God for? We will always have, however, our first Father who forgives his children who seek him out. I pray that Jesus calls each one of us "out" by name, "Lazarus, come out!" Martha come out! Mary come out! Come out from the tomb having confessed our sins before the God of Mercy.