Fifth Sunday in Lent
“Lazarus, come forth!” It was a shocking demand. The dead cannot hear, can they? Everyone held their breath, waiting to see what would happen. Necks were straining so that eyes could see the open cave. Men and women stood paralyzed, as if time had stopped. Suddenly, a shrouded figure appeared in the gaping mouth of the tomb. From the land of the living a great gasp rose into the air. The dead man stood motionless while the living staggered backwards in shock. They saw the shroud of death and they were afraid. Is it a ghost? What is under that shroud? Jesus saw the hidden life within the shroud so he said, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Surprisingly, the Gospel is silent about the joy that must have erupted after the crowd got over their initial shock. Instead, St. John writes, from that day forward the chief priests and Pharisees planned to kill Jesus. The gift of life to Lazarus was met with a sentence of death for Jesus.
“Lazarus, come forth!” It was a very loud cry. Never before had Jesus raised his voice against death with such open defiance. Jesus had said, “The hour is coming when all who are in tombs will hear [my] voice and will come forth…” (Jn 5:28-29). Jesus raised Lazarus to show that is a promise he can and will fulfill.
“Lazarus, come forth!” It was the call of a Shepherd to one of his own. “I am the Good Shepherd, I know mine and mine know me … My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.” This was not yet the hour for the general resurrection on the last day. But the Good Shepherd can give life whenever he wills, to whomever he wills because he is Life. He gave us human life at conception in our mother’s womb. He gave us his divine life at baptism. And he will give our dry bones new flesh like that of a little child when he calls us by name to come forth in the resurrection. Jesus was deeply troubled, even angry at the scourge of death. We suffer when a loved one dies. But the Good Shepherd who loves all he has created weeps at every death because “God does not delight in the death of the living” (Wis 1:13). And by raising Lazarus Jesus foreshadows our own resurrection when God “… will wipe away every tear from our eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
On the night of April 14, 1912, the Titanic crashed into an iceberg and four hours later sank to the bottom of the Atlantic. Survivors spoke of a woman who left the relative safety of the upper decks to return to her cabin. She hurried along the corridors already tilting at a dangerous angle. She crossed the gambling room where money and costly gems littered the floor. Reaching her stateroom, she saw her own treasures waiting to be picked up. But she paid no heed to them. Instead she took as many oranges as she could hold and hurried back to the life boats. An hour earlier it would have seemed incredible to her that she could have preferred oranges to diamonds, but Death boarded the Titanic and all values were transformed. Precious things became worthless, and common things became precious. Oranges became more important than diamonds. But what is really important for us? Is it not to be a friend of Jesus, like Lazarus?