Today we’ll hear the familiar, amazing story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. One thing I need to bring up which may help you understand the story. In the ancient world, you had to be dead for three days to be declared legally dead. Up to that point, you might just be sleeping. But when the body started to decay, that was a clear sign that the spirit had left the body. That’s a key point, so keep it in mind.
There’s so much in this story, so listen closely – but I’ll call your attention to this one line – actually you’ll hear it twice: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”. Have you ever said something like that to God? I propose to you that this one statement applies to all of our lives. We all have that thing in our life which seems hopeless – and if God really loved me and really was with me, He would have fixed it a long time ago! In fact, if God really loved me, he would never have let this happen!
Call those situations to mind as you prepare to listen to the Gospel – because this is not just a story of something that happened 2000 years ago – it is our story – your story – my story. Each of us has given up on God ever showing up in some aspect of our lives… but today listen closely to hear the command of Jesus… ‘Roll away the stone’.
OK – so finish this sentence: Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he ______. We’d expect it to say – so Jesus immediately ran back to his friend to cure him. Any of us would have done that. But no – our Gospel says, ‘when he heard he was ill, he remained where he was for two days. What kind of heartless Messiah is Jesus to LET his friend die! We HAVE faith in you Jesus – we KNOW you can heal him – and THAT makes it even worse. We know our God has the power to remove whatever it is in our own lives… this illness – this death – this evil – this relationship gone bad – the job situation - whatever it is in our life – We HAVE FAITH that Jesus COULD take it away, but apparently He has CHOSEN NOT to act. What? God – I thought I was your friend- I’ve served you my whole life – I pray – I fast – I go to Mass – why aren’t you acting?
Our tendency is to come to the conclusion that – well either God isn’t as powerful as we thought He was – or I’m not his friend like I think I am. At first, we maintain our faith in God and think – I must be doing something wrong… so we re-double our efforts at prayer and fasting and trying to do everything right to win the favor of God to take this pain away…. But still, we hear only silence. At some point, we give up – OK – there’s nothing I can do about this, and God, if you’re there, you apparently ain’t gonna do nothin’ either – so we roll a stone across the entrance of the tomb and walk away. We get discouraged… which literally means to lose heart – ‘cor’ being the root word meaning heart.
Yet, even in our despair, we know somewhere in the depths of our spirit that God is still good and any hope that exists will come through God. That’s why both Martha and Mary approached Jesus and the first thing they said was, ‘if you would have been here, my brother would not have died’. They had faith!... but Jesus let them down. They had become discouraged – lost heart – given up on Jesus, rolled the stone across the entrance of the tomb and walked away.
Why? That's the question most of us ask... Why doesn’t God cure everyone? Why doesn’t he annihilate the pandemic? Why didn’t he stop it before it started? Why has he taken a year already. Why is our country going down the toilet? Why are the morals of our society being ripped to shreds? Why doesn't God act?
I’d say it’s the same reason that Jesus gave for why he didn’t get up immediately and run to save Lazarus. Listen:
“This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Somehow, Jesus knew that the only way people were really going to understand the kingdom he was preaching was to see firsthand that behind every death is a resurrection… beyond every hopeless situation is hope… beyond every discouragement is a new heart. Sounds harsh – but Jesus knew he had to let the situation progress beyond hope, because – without death there can be no resurrection. Jesus knew that people needed to COMPLETELY give up hope before they could realize that all their hope is in Him alone. That’s why he waited… so that Lazarus would be in the tomb for four days. Legally, a person had to be dead for three days before they could be declared dead. Up to that point, there was still hope that maybe they’re just sleeping or maybe their spirit will reenter their bodies… If Jesus had shown up before Lazarus died, it would have been just another miraculous cure, instead of this super-miracle. If Jesus had shown up even one day earlier, Lazarus would not yet have been legally declared dead, and the impact of the miracle again would have been minimized because people would have explained it away with whatever science they could use to back up their opinions – they would come up with an answer why Lazarus was alive, and it wouldn’t have anything to do with Jesus.
Like Lazarus, you and I aren’t given a choice whether we want to suffer. Suffering is a part of life. We pray for miracles – we pray for Jesus to show up – but often we’re disappointed because He doesn’t show up when and how we want him to.
But even when all evidence is to the contrary, God IS up to SOMETHING. Somehow He will reveal His glory through our situation… Perhaps we could pray differently – we could pray more daringly: ‘God – I surrender all to you. Do with me whatever brings you the most Glory.’ Embrace the suffering… embrace the cross we’ve been given. Surrender everything to Jesus. Yikes – that’s a tough prayer.
Only when things are hopeless can we see clearly that Jesus is the only source of Hope. Only when things are dark can we see the cracks of light shining into our tomb. Only when we’ve become discouraged – lost heart – can we receive a new heart and a new Spirit.
As we all lie in our tomb of grief and despair and discouragement, hope springs eternally in our hearts. We strain our ears in the silence… listening for the command of Jesus as he speaks into the darkness: “Roll away the stone”.