April 2, 2017
Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A
We could say that the entire journey of Lent has been quite simply the progressive rediscovery of a God who speaks to us; a deepening encounter with the Lord who addresses His Word to us, which will bring us back again to intimacy with Him.
Tempted in the wilderness by the devil, Jesus remains attentive to the Word of the Father in order not to fall into the enemy’s illusions, which suggest to Him a false image of the Father, of himself, and of man.
On the second Sunday we ascended Tabor, and there also the voice of the Father resounded, which told us: “Listen to him” (Mt 17:6).
We were in Samaria where, to the woman who asked Him about the Messiah, Jesus spoke in this manner: “I am He who speaks with you” (Jn 4:25). Similar words were addressed to us last Sunday, here in Jerusalem, “You have seen Him: the one who speaks with you is truly Him” (Jn 9:37).
Today’s Gospel is the peak of this revelation of a God who speaks: because, as we will see, Jesus also speaks to Lazarus, closed in the tomb for four days. And, speaking to him, calling him by name, He restores him to life.
As at the beginning of creation, out of nowhere, God by His word, calling everything by name, created the universe, so, just in the same way, by a word, Jesus restores his dead friend to life. He calls him, and he lives.
At the beginning of the passage we find a long introduction, no less than sixteen verses, before Jesus sets out on the road to Bethany, despite being aware that His friend’s sickness is a fatal one: it is as if, somehow, he’s not interested in sparing him death. When he learns that he is sick, He stays where he was two more days (Jn 11:6), and then starts the journey with his disciples.
This delay, considered as the cause of Lazarus’ death, is stressed repeatedly in the rest of the passage: both Martha (Jn 11:21) and Mary reproach Him (Jn 11:32): “If you had been here, my brother would never have died”; and the Jews also rub it in: “the One who opened the eyes of the blind man could not even keep this man from dying?” (Jn 11:37).
All the hope of Lazarus’ closest relatives could just come to this point, that his death might have been prevented.
But Jesus let Lazarus die, to the great scandal of all.
And then, in death, He joins him, because He loves him.
Friendship and love are the two terms that speak of the relationship Jesus has with Lazarus (Jn 11:3-36).
But what does it mean that Jesus loves Lazarus? How does Jesus love?
Jesus does not prevent Lazarus’s death, but enters death with him, He enters into the tomb with him. He does not abandon him even there, and there also He can reach him with His powerful voice.
And so He also transforms death into a place of life.
So also, the Father loves Jesus. Neither will He prevent Jesus’s death, but neither will He abandon Him in the tomb.
We are made for communion with God, to be in dialogue with Him, and death is simply distance from Him, it is the place where the Word, which causes us to exist, is no longer heard.
But for those who live in friendship with the Son, this place does not exist; and in John’s Gospel, Jesus repeats several times that whoever believes in Him has already passed from death to life, “Truly, truly, I say to you: whoever hears my word and believes in the One who sent me has eternal life; and does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (Jn 5:24; cf. 8:51).
So, God is not resigned to our death. But to not leave Lazarus alone in death, He Himself decides to enter it also. And since He enters it out of love, His death is not a dying, but a giving of life.
It is no coincidence that the journey which begins in verse 16 of today’s episode does not end at the tomb of Lazarus, but at Christ’s: it is the same journey that frees Lazarus from death, and that leads Christ to Easter. He is indeed giving His life out of love, dying for us, that our death will be conquered.
This is why Jesus says He is happy to have been absent at the illness of Lazarus (Jn 11:15), so that the disciples might believe, or see that His love is stronger than death.
Faith is the only real antidote to death: the faith of those who believe that our life is always preserved by the hands of the Father, even in death; the faith of the one who listens.
Jesus enters into the death of Lazarus with this certainty, and so, with this same certainty, He will enter His own death.
Lazarus, then, is the figure of man: the man wounded by sin, destined for death, a prisoner of death. Jesus joins him there, and Lazarus comes back to life.
The life which is born from the encounter with Christ in the tomb is a completely new life, different; it is a risen life that has no fear.
In Baptism, we already received this risen life and can die no more.
This life will pass again through death, through so many deaths and sometimes death almost seems to prevail; but in reality Life will never remain a prisoner there.
Original version in italian