Dear Parish Faithful,
To stay with Lazarus Saturday for a moment, I wanted to share some excellent comments by a contemporary biblical scholar, Brendan Byrne, as he offers an in-depth exegesis (interpretation) of the incomparable narrative of Jesus raising Lazarus to life. His comments are so effective because of how convincingly he relates the entire episode to our lives today as Christians facing the exact same dilemmas and challenges - beginning with the challenge to faith that the reality of death raises.
Be that as it may, Byrne writes the following:
Lazarus is a character with whom anyone who reads the Gospel can identify. "I" am Lazarus - in the sense that Jesus left his "safe country" to enter this world, placing his life in mortal danger in order to save me from death, to communicate, at the cost of his own life, eternal life to me.
I am the "friend" of Jesus - he or she whom he loved. For me Jesus has wept. Before my tomb, so to speak, he has wrestled with the cost of life-giving love. It is to call me forth into life, to strip from me the bands of death that Jesus has come into the world and given his life. So I am to read the forthcoming account of the passion and death of Jesus with intimate personal involvement, knowing that Jesus is undergoing all this insult and suffering for love of me and to give life to me."The story of Lazarus, with its full acceptance of human death and grieving, with its realism about the cost of giving life, with its invitation to enter upon a deeper journey of faith, speaks as powerfully to the present as it did to the past.
God is neither indifferent to the distress death brings nor unsympathetic to our struggles of faith. More than anything else in the gospel, Jesus' demeanor in John 11 expresses divine involvement in human grief and suffering. In the person of the Son, God becomes vulnerable physically and psychologically, to death. At its deepest level the story of Lazarus invites us to believe in God as the One who gives life in death and out of death.
To every believer, confronted like Martha with mortality, Jesus addresses his words: "Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?" (11:40) Each of us has a perfect right, indeed an invitation, to write ourselves and our world into the script - to be, each one of us, Lazarus, whom Jesus loved and for whom he gave his life.
When Christ goes to the Cross, He does so on behalf of all humanity, but each person can say: He is dying so that I can have abundant life.
In the expressive icon presented here, we are given a real sense of the power of Jesus over death, as He authoritatively gestures toward the tomb to bring the bound Lazarus out. In the Gospel, we read that Jesus "cried with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out'." The word of the Word is life-creating and life-giving, so dramatically revealed in this event. Martha and Mary are at the feet of Christ imploring His mercy as the startled crowd of both disciples and fellow-mourners look on with amazement. This was the final "sign" in the first half of the Gospel that will now move toward an even more ultimate "sign" of Jesus offering His life "for the life of the world."