26 March 2023

Why did he wait four days?

5th Sunday of Lent

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Two weeks before he exits his own grave, Jesus re-animates a four-day old corpse. We call this foreshadowing – a neat literary trick to connect distant parts of a story. Of course, foreshadowing isn't really necessary in the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. He's been laying out the plot and characters almost from the beginning. That his disciples are still confused about his end is less amazing than simply frustrating. Raising Lazarus from the grave is one more plot line in his tale and one more tell-tale sign that his time among us is coming to an end. With all the characters, dialogue, and action, the central motive of this longish miracle story is easily overlooked. Why is Lazarus given new life? For that matter, why does Jesus linger for two days before heading out to Bethany? As Martha mournfully notes, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Martha knows what Jesus himself knows – he could've healed her brother and spared him death. But he waited. He waited until Lazarus was dead and dead for two days before he started out. His reason for waiting foreshadows his own exit from the grave. His reason gives purpose to our work in his name.

Why did he wait? When told that Lazarus was ill and near death, Jesus says, “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.” IOW, the end, the purpose of Lazarus' illness is not to kill him but to give Jesus an opportunity to give glory to God by returning him to life after death. Jesus waits to attend Lazarus so that there can be no doubt that he is good and dead. Four days in the grave. No embalming. No refrigeration. Desert heat. Martha warns of the stench. And yet, when the grave stone is rolled away and Jesus says, “Lazarus! Come out,” he does. We have to imagine Martha's reaction to seeing her four-day-dead brother emerging from his grave. We have to imagine Lazarus' response to being alive again. What does he say? What does he do when his hands and feet are untied? We have to imagine these reactions because they are not recorded in the gospel. They aren't recorded b/c they aren't important to the motive of the story. What's important is this: “Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.” Jesus returned Lazarus to life so that many might believe.

Martha believed before this miracle. The disciples followed Jesus even though they struggled at times to believe. Maybe they needed another show to be convinced. But Martha and the disciples aren't the audience for the miracle. There are two audiences here. The Jews and us. Many of the Jews came to believe and many of us have come to believe. The Jews – at the time – didn't know about the resurrection. It was still two weeks in the future. We do know about the resurrection. Have known about it for over 2,000 years. That knowledge and our belief in the Christ compel us to take up his mission and ministry where and when we are. And we do. Sometimes zealously. Sometimes lazily. And often with confused motives. Why do we do the good works that we do? Why did Jesus wait four days to raise Lazarus from his grave? To give glory to God and reveal the glory of the Son of God. Jesus allowed a beloved friend to die. Rot in a grave for four days. And raise him to life again so that God the Father might be glorified. So that the Jews – and we – could bear witness to the glory of the Son, the Christ and believe in him. Why do we do the good works that we do? To bear witness to the glory of the Son, the Christ, so that all may come to believe in him.

Lazarus' resuscitation foreshadows the Lord's resurrection. The Lord's motivation for reviving Lazarus is a foreshadowing of what should be our motivation for the work we do in his name. The only legitimate agenda for our schools, hospitals, universities, social services – the only agenda that matters eternally is to give God glory and to reveal the Christ so that all might come to believe in him. Ask yourself: is everything I do, say, and think everyday focused on giving God the glory and revealing the Christ? Yeah, I know. That's a big job description. I should've been fired years ago. How about you? Think of Lent as one, long job evaluation. You're sitting across from The Boss, going over your work history. Day in, day out over your lifetime. Every word, every deed, every thought. Are you thanking and praising God? Are you bearing witness to His mercy? Are you revealing Christ to others so that they can believe in him too? How are you doing? Me? Not as well as I could. Fortunately, The Boss is merciful. We have another week for evaluation and improvements. He showed us how it's done. He let his friend die, rot in a grave for four days, and raised him to life again – to show us how it's done and why. We do his work now, and now we can do it for the right reason. 

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