I thought we were friends. I thought I had done everything you asked for… but I just kept getting sicker – and you never showed up. How could you do that to me?! Where were you!?
Haven’t we all felt the same way at some point of our life? It seems some people get more than their fair share of suffering in this life. We pray – we ask others to pray. We send messengers to find Jesus – please – come to our aid! Make Haste to help me! But it seems sometimes that he’s not answering. Like he’s delayed or maybe he’s just not out there at all! Maybe we put our faith in the wrong guy! Jesus – where WERE you?!
Fortunately, the Church gives us this reading today – the story of the raising of Lazarus. This is the ultimate story of hope – for more than one reason. There’s so much packed in here, we need to take a few minutes for a little “scripture study” to unpack it.
Not long ago, Jesus barely escaped being arrested or killed in Jerusalem, and he fled across the Jordan into Gentile territory. Then today he gets word that one of his best buddies, Lazarus is sick. He KNOWS that if he goes back there – only two miles from Jerusalem – that this is the end. There is no turning back. Could that be why he waited around 2 more days before heading back? Was he just procrastinating? No – he said something which is our first source of hope: “this illness is not to end in death, but is for the Glory of God”. Remember that line – it’s going to be important.
So finally he decides to go back – and even the apostles recognize that he is going to his death. Jesus says something else which sounds an awful lot like a riddle – or maybe it’s just nonsense? “He who walks in the light does not stumble”. What’s that got to do with going to your death, Jesus? One way to interpret that is Jesus saying – I know the path I’m on is the will of God – and as long as I’m on that path, then I cannot stumble. God is lighting my way for me.
There’s a lot more to the story – but the other part I want to focus on is when Jesus wept. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible, but it’s loaded with meaning. Now most people interpret that he was crying because he was sad that Lazarus had died… we have proof of that right here in the reading… but he knew that Lazarus was about to be raised, so I’m not sure that explains it. See – I think he wept because - well – it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Death and suffering and weeping were not supposed to be part of the human plan… but evil had entered in and messed up everything. I think at that moment, Jesus’ humanity did feel the pain of losing his buddy Lazarus – but that sparked a deeper feeling in him of utter sadness that Evil had caused so much pain. He also might have been thinking about the fact that as soon as he raises Lazarus from the dead, he is sort-of signing his death-certificate. The Pharisees are already worried about him and really worried that people are believing in him because of all the miracles he was working. Once he raises Lazarus, people start flocking to believe in Jesus. People from all around travel to Bethany to see this miracle man Lazarus who was dead, but is alive again. And for that reason, the Pharisees actually looked for a way to kill LAZARUS – because he was LIVING PROOF of Jesus’ power.
So – that’s the scripture study…. Now – why is this such a reading of hope for us?
First – “this illness will not end in death, but is for the glory of God”. Jesus makes it clear that he recognizes that suffering is taking place – and in fact, Jesus allows the suffering to go on for even longer – for one good reason… to give glory to God. See, if he had just cured Lazarus, people could write that off - like – well, he was going to get better anyway… Jesus is nothing special. Or – if he had raised him from the dead one day earlier, they also would have said, ‘well, he wasn’t completely dead yet’… But – in the Jewish belief, the soul doesn’t leave the body until the fourth day after the person dies. So, by waiting, Jesus was able to prevent that argument. There was simply no way to deny the magnitude of THIS miracle.
This gives US hope, because we can always have faith that our sufferings are prolonged for some good reason. When it seems that God is delayed or just not answering, We have to believe that Somehow, God is going to use our sufferings for his glory. Don’t believe it? Think about some of the most inspirational stories you’ve heard: stories of people dealing with unbelievable suffering, but maintaining a positive view of God through it all. Somehow it is IN our suffering that we actually come closer to KNOWing God. We see that in our own parish here – people who have suffered more than any human should have to suffer – but they grow closer to God in that process.
The second reason this reading gives hope is that short phrase: Jesus Wept. It gives us a unique insight into the mind of God. Jesus, our brother, suffered just like we do. The emotional trauma he endured far surpassed anything we endure, since he sees the bigger picture – and knows what was lost when mankind fell to the lies of the serpent in the garden.
Jesus Wept. In a way – that answers the question from the beginning of my homily. JESUS – WHERE WERE YOU?! Jesus’ answer is simple…. I’m right here… I’ve been here all along… suffering WITH you.