I always get irritated when I read the Gospel story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. (John 11:1-45). Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus, they let him know his friend was sick. And yet, Jesus didn’t come.
Jesus allowed Lazarus to die. And then, two days too late, Jesus decided to mosey on in.
Too late, Jesus.
You should have been here days ago.
I can feel like this in my own suffering.
Where were you when I needed you, Jesus? Why did you stand back and let this happen? Don’t you have a handle on things?
I can begin to worry that maybe Jesus doesn’t love me enough.
But, if we look closely at this Gospel, we can see that’s not true.
Three times, we’re told of Jesus’ love for Lazarus: Master, the one you love is ill; Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus; So the Jews said, See how he loved him.
It’s not for lack of love that Jesus let Lazarus die.
Rather, Jesus allows Lazarus to die “that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Many times, we think that death is the worst thing that can happen in this life. It’s to be avoided at all costs.
But in reality, death is the only sure thing in this life. It’s the one thing we can’t avoid.
There’s something worse than death. And that’s the loss of faith.
Jesus didn’t allow Lazarus to die because he didn’t care if he died, he didn’t love Lazarus. No way. Jesus allowed Lazarus to die in order to stir up a deeper faith.
Jesus said, “And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.”
This is hard to come to terms with. Jesus’ friends were grieved that he was not there. They believed in his power and knew that Jesus could have saved their friend.
Jesus could have stopped this tragedy from happening. But he didn’t. He didn’t cause Lazarus to die, but he allowed it by withholding his presence during Lazarus’ sickness, Lazarus’ time of trial.
Lazarus died because Jesus wasn’t there.
And Jesus was GLAD he was not there.
Sometimes, and especially now, I feel distant from Jesus. I wonder why he cannot be physically present with me.
I went to a local parish yesterday, by myself, hoping to sit with Jesus in the empty church for an hour. Just sit and be near him.
The church was locked.
I felt so alone.
I sat in my car and cried, and made a spiritual communion.
Then I went home and cried some more.
In the moment, we don’t understand why Jesus can’t be here with us. But this line hit me – Jesus is glad (for our sake!) that he could not be here right now.
Because he is strengthening our faith.
Because he is doing something far greater than preserving us from physical death.
He is bringing us to new life.
And that’s why Jesus allowed Lazarus to die. And as he lay dead, Jesus proclaimed, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
And here, we come to the turning point of the Gospel.
When Martha makes an act of faith.
And she says to Jesus, “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
All it takes is that one act of faith for Jesus to set his miracles in motion. Martha goes to get Mary, and they all make their way to the tomb, the epicenter of their sorrow.
There, he enters into the depths of our sorrow.
Standing at his friend’s tomb, Jesus wept.
He cried tears of great sadness.
Death, suffering, the evils of this world, they are in fact grievous sorrows. And Jesus shows us that it’s okay to feel that suffering deeply.
It’s okay to cry when you deeply feel the loss of a loved one, a heavy burden, separation from the Sacraments.
When we feel that Jesus is far from us, he enters into our time of desolation. But he doesn’t enter into it to stay there with us.
He enters into our sorrow in order to raise us out of it again.
We weep when we feel far from him. He too weeps when we are separated from his great love. His love that never fails. His love that is with us, even when he seems so far away.
And then, Jesus’ allows his great love to bring new life to our souls.
He calls our name.
When we are dead in sin, he calls our name.
When we are unresponsive to the joys of life, he calls our name.
When we are numb, suffering, and feel like we are at the end of hope, he calls our name.
He raises us up again to new life.
He brings us out of that grave.
The grave of darkness, suffering, and fear. The grave of hopelessness, pain, and sorrow. The grave of sin and death.
He calls us to a restored faith in him.
All we have to do is get up and walk. “The dead man came out.” Out of the darkness, and into the light.
He was still wrapped up in the clothes that bound him in his death. He still had to be unbound (and probably washed!) and we may, too.
And like Lazarus, we have future deaths ahead of us.
But we need not fear.
Jesus says to us, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”
If you’re in the darkness of the tomb, now is the time to renew your faith in him.
If you feel Jesus is far away, renew your faith in him.
If you wonder why he didn’t show up to stop all the evils in your life, renew your faith in him.
He loves you deeply.
Trust in his promises.
If you believe, you will see him glorified in your life.