In the readings, it is as if the Lord God is telling us very boldly: “I will never be satisfied until I have helped you overcome sin in your life and have you reigning with me in eternal glory.” His words in Ezekiel and in the Gospel are bold, stark, dramatic, loving and hope-filled.
In the first reading, Ezekiel uses resurrection language as a metaphor for the re-establishment of the nation of Israel after the exile. “Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus, you shall know that I am the Lord. I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.”
God is promising the Israelites that His Spirit in them is powerful enough to overcome their weakened flesh. When this happens, they will rejoice in God’s great and eternal glory!
Paul continues to develop the same theme, namely the power of God’s spirit to overcome all weaknesses of the flesh. “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Although the Romans may at times feel weak and powerless, the Spirit within them is more powerful that the flesh. “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”
Before we look at the Gospel, we might want to pause for a moment and reflect on John the Evangelist and his intention behind relating this scene of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
Father John Cameron, in a book titled: “To Praise, To Bless, To Preach,” reminds us that in John’s Gospel, the raising of Lazarus accomplishes much the same purpose as the Transfiguration scene does in the three synoptic gospels. In these three Gospels, the Transfiguration scene reveals the divinity of Christ and His profound obedience to the Father.
Let us keep these things in mind as the Gospel unfolds.
It is true that Jesus had a special predilection for the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. He frequented their home for meals and conversation. When Lazarus became sick and Jesus was out evangelizing the kingdom, Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was ill. Instead of leaving immediately for Bethany, Jesus said: “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.” Yet in spite of His love for Martha, Mary and Lazarus, Jesus stayed on for two more days. Finally, He said: “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” The disciples interpreted this as Lazarus being physically asleep.
“So then Jesus said to them clearly, ‘Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.’”
Notice that Jesus, even though He had a great love for Martha, Mary and Lazarus, was glad that He was not there during Lazarus’ illness. It is obvious that Jesus is preparing them for a spectacular surprise! “I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.”
“When Jesus saw her (Mary) weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled … So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.”
Father Cameron tells us “This weeping is not a sign of weakness but rather of reverent self-giving that prompts Jesus to pray aloud to the Father.”
When Jesus tells them to take away the stone, Martha reprehends Him severely: “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” A well-meaning creature is trying to set straight the Creator and Redeemer of the universe! Jesus responded, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you will see the glory of God?”
“So, they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.’ And when he had said this, He cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus come out!’ The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, his face was wrapped in a cloth. So, Jesus said to them, ‘Untie him and let him go.’”
Notice, there were no Mount Horeb theatrical displays of lightning, earthquakes, and destructive winds. Only the dialogue of Jesus and the Father. That’s where the glory is, the dialogue between Jesus and the Father. That is where the quiet intimacy of Jesus and the Father is bringing about our glory in spite of our sinful proclivities and self-centered way of living. They know we are overwhelmed by our own sinfulness and the sinfulness of others, but they also have a passionate heart to help us to cope with every human weakness and frailty.
So, don’t ever think that the Resurrection is meant for just special people. You and I are special people because we have the very Spirit of God dwelling within us. This is where the Father is conquering us through the Holy Spirit. At the raising of Lazarus, we see the quiet intimacy of Jesus and the Father also dramatically at work within us!