Lectio: 5th Sunday of Lent | If you had been there
There was a man named Lazarus who lived in the village of Bethany with his two sister, Mary and Martha, and he was ill. The sisters sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill.’ Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to his disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea.’
On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb four days already. Mary went to Jesus, and as soon as she saw him she threw herself at his feet, saying, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ At the sight of her tears, and those of the Jews who followed her, Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ They said, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept; and the Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him.’
Still sighing, Jesus reached the tomb. Martha said to him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day.’ Jesus replied, ‘ Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. He cried in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with strips of cloth and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go free.’
I knew a priest who struggled with alcoholism for many years before he finally admitted he had a problem and went for treatment. When he came back he said, ‘I feel like Lazarus raised from the dead’. Lazarus may remind us of many people we know whose situation for one reason or another seems hopeless and beyond help: a family member who is addicted to drugs or to gambling, a young person who is continuously in trouble with the law and is in and out of prison.
In the wider world we think of survivors of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan who have lost their families, their homes and their livelihood. We think of the millions who suffer from HIV/Aids in parts of the world where the necessary medicine is not available to them. Only a miracle can save them.
And sometimes we see this miracle. The miracle is always the Lord’s work but it may come through the efforts of a good person or of a group of caring people. They do for the person in trouble today, what Jesus did for Lazarus. First of all they care deeply; they are like Jesus who loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus. He was greatly upset at Lazarus’s death and at the grief it caused his two sisters. St. Luke tells us that he sighed and he wept. He faced the unpleasant task of going to the tomb, where after four days the body would have begun to decay. Yet Jesus trusted in the power of the Father and did not hesitate.
Raised like Lazarus
When people are brought ‘back to life’ today, the circumstances are often the same as they were for Lazarus. There is some one who continues to care: it may be a spouse, a mother or grandmother or a group like Alcoholics Anonymous, the Simon Community or an aid agency. The people who enable the miracle to take place are willing to go into difficult and unpleasant places. Mothers and wives line up in prison waiting rooms: they would dearly wish to be somewhere else, but they continue to love the one in prison and to pray for the miracle.
In the months and years following the catastrophe in Japan, we may look for the same miracle for the survivors. We see the outpouring of love and generosity from individuals and groups. We admire the heroism of those who risked their health and their lives in going into the nuclear power stations and struggling to prevent a meltdown. We pray that all of this goodness will prepare the way for the miracle that will enable the survivors to come through their trauma and grief, and build up their lives and their communities again.
God, our Father,
we pray for those who are like Lazarus today.
Send your Son, Jesus, to them in the person of a friend or neighbour
who will love them as he loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus?
someone who will not be afraid to go to the tomb,
and remove the stone that is closing them in,
and call them out and set them free.