It was a matter of life and death! Lazarus was very ill and Martha and Mary had done everything they possible could to help their brother Lazarus, but to no avail. So they sent for Jesus. They knew that if Jesus laid His hand upon Lazarus, he would be made well. We know this to be true because Jesus healed so many others in miraculous ways during His ministry. Lepers were made clean; the blind were made to see, a young girl was raised from the dead. Jesus was a wonderful healer! And He loved Lazarus, so it stands to reason that Jesus would do all in His power to save Lazarus. Yes, He loved Lazarus, and Martha and Mary too. And they loved Him very much. Sometimes, Jesus would go to Lazarus’ home to have dinner with him and Martha and Mary and to teach them. He revealed the meaning of the law and the prophets to them. Sometimes, Mary would sit for hours at Jesus’ feet listening to Him. Her sister, Martha, would often get impatient with her and complain because she was so engrossed in listening to Jesus that she wouldn’t help her get the food prepared and on the table. So when Lazarus grew gravely ill, they called for Jesus, certain that help would soon be on the way. But their certainty quickly turned to despair when Lazarus died. Now, instead of hope they were faced with the somber ritual of a funeral and burial. They had performed all the rituals and laid Lazarus in the tomb, but there was still no sign of Jesus. They had been so sure that Jesus would come. How could He possibly ignore their request? Mary and Martha both felt confused, angry and disappointed. After all, wasn’t it Jesus Himself who once said, “Ask and you shall receive?”
Jesus eventually did finally did get to Martha and Mary’s house, but by the time He arrived, Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Everyone knew that having been dead four days, there would be no bringing Lazarus back. Why had Jesus waited so long? But it was, after all, a dangerous thing for Jesus to return to Judea. Only a short time before Lazarus became ill, there were those who tried to stone Jesus to death because he had told them that He and the Father were one. But, despite the danger, Jesus did come, and many of His followers came with Him. It was certainly a risk for them to make the journey, especially since Jesus had told them before they left that Lazarus was already dead. But he also told them that Lazarus’ illness was to bring God glory, and Jesus always did what he knew would give glory to God and taught His followers to do the same. Once Jesus had made it clear that He was, indeed, going to Judea despite the threats, we are told that one of the disciples, Thomas, said to the others, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”
Those who truly loved the Lord were willing to die in order to be with Him. Isn’t it sad that so many of us today wouldn’t even think of doing such a thing? I mean, we profess to be Christians, to be disciples of Christ, but are we truly willing to die for Him or because of Him?
By the time Jesus arrived, Martha and Mary were deep in mourning. Friends and members of the community in Jerusalem had come to the house to comfort them and to share their grief. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him. She went to Him and said what was in both their hearts, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Those words were in affront in some ways but also a statement of faith. And Martha continued to have faith, even though Jesus had disappointed both her and Mary by not saving Lazarus from death. She said to Jesus, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of Him.” Sometimes, it is hard to remain faithful when you are hurt and angry, but Martha held on to her belief in the Lord.
And her faith was answered. Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” Well, they all knew that. Most Jews of that time, like all of us today, believed that we would be resurrected on the last day, and Martha told Him she knew that. But then Jesus told her something that she did not already know. He said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in Me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” And then, He asked Martha, “Do you believe this this?” Personally, if Jesus asked me that question, I don’t know how I would have answered Him. How do those who die live and how could a person never die? I think I would have been stumped, but Martha answered by telling Jesus what she did know about Him. She said, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Messiah, the Son of God, the One coming into the world.” I think for Martha, it was enough to know that Jesus was the One God had promised to send. Even if some of what Jesus said was a mystery, she knew that she could trust what he said because she knew who he was and who had sent Him.
After that, she went back to the house and told Mary that Jesus had come and that He was looking for her. Mary hurried out to meet Him. Many of the people who had come to visit and console Martha and Mary saw Mary run out of the house. They assumed she was going to her brother’s tomb to mourn, and they followed after her. When she came to the place where Jesus was, she immediately fell at His feet, overcome by emotion; and, like Martha, she said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus looked at Mary and at those who had followed her; and when He saw how everyone was crying out in distress and grief, He became very disturbed. Jesus was moved by their pain and asked where they had laid Lazarus’ body. They said to Jesus, “Lord, come and see.” And then, Jesus began to weep. Some of the crowd assumed that He was mourning Lazarus, and they said, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not He who opened the eyes of a blind man have kept this man from dying?” I think Jesus wept not only for His dear friend Lazarus but for some other reason too.
Martha and Mary and those with them cried aloud for their loss. Kit was the way they were taught. Some people say that the more a person is loved the louder was the mourning people did for the person. In some cultures, people even hired professional mourners to come and moan and wail over the deceased to show just how much the person was loved. But I believe that Jesus’ tears were different. He cried softly, almost to Himself. I do not think that He was crying for Lazarus alone; I think he was crying for all of us, for the terrible pain of death itself. God’s children were not created for death but for life, that we might give glory to God. The terrible power of death disturbed Him, and He wept.
When everyone arrived at the tomb, Jesus asked that the stone that secured the tomb be pushed out of the way. Martha was quick to protest. “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.” Martha, Martha, always worried and distracted by many things (Luke 10:41). The Lord is about to answer her prayers, and give glory to God, and she is worried that things won’t have that clean, fresh scent. Can you believe it?! Well, OK, maybe it is not so hard to believe. Actually, maybe we are all a little like Martha sometimes. I mean, how many times have I asked God to do something and tried to take back control because there might be something unpleasant I do not want to deal with in the process? How often do we feel the panic that comes with realizing the fulfillment of our prayers may mean having to face what just plain stinks?
People pray for peace of mind for those who struggle with addiction and then say, “I don’t want a halfway house in my backyard.” Folks complain about how the environment is being ruined but we don’t want to deal with the smell, the discomfort, or the inconvenience of public transportation. We declare that something should be done for the homeless, but we pretend we do not see them when we pass them on the way to work each day. Like Martha, we want Jesus to work miracles as long as there is nothing to offend our senses or sensibilities.
But Jesus knows that we have to believe beyond the fear, and he reminded Martha of His promise that her faith would be rewarded; that she would see the glory of God. So, they moved the stone away. Jesus prayed aloud for the benefit of all those who had gathered. He said, “Father, I thank You for having heard Me.” And he added that he knew the Father always heard Him but that He wanted those present to believe that the Father had sent Him. And then he shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus walked out of the tomb to the astonishment and amazement of all present, still covered by the cloth strips with which they had bound him before placing him in the tomb. Jesus said, “Unbind him and let him go.” It was a miracle! Jesus had brought life back to Lazarus. As others witnessed the new life in Lazarus, they came to believe in Jesus.
Now, I do not know where you are in your faith today, but I am willing to bet that there is something in this story of Lazarus being raised from the dead for you. Maybe like Martha and Mary, you have asked Jesu to help you, and you are sure He hasn’t heard you. In fact, you believe with all your heart that your request has fallen on deaf ears. But what you must remember, my children, is that Jesus always hears you when you talk to Him. And He always hears your requests. What you need to remember as well, however, is that Jesus will not answer when or how we expect. He will find a way to use even the most painful of situations we experience to give glory to God.
Maybe you are in a place in your life where you feel confused by something that Jesus said. Perhaps you are struggling with the Word of God or something that the Church teaches. Remember that while there will always be some lessons and things we may not fully understand, we may still trust in Jesus because we know who He is and we know who sent Him; and sometimes if we just keep faith and continue to walk with Jesus, he will take us to a place where everything will become as clear as a cloudless blue sky.
Maybe, like Martha, you have turned to Christ for help but fear that the answer will be messy in some way. Jesus knows your doubt but wants you to keep faith so that you, too, will see the glory of God.
Or maybe you are like Lazarus, and you feel as though the life has gone out of you or perhaps that life has passed you by. Maybe you are feeling soul-less and wrapped up in things that won’t let you go. No matter how you feel, know this: Jesus offers you new life. He will call you by your name and loose the ties that bind you and hold you fast in the darkness of the tomb. And then, as others witness the change that Jesus makes in you, they, too, will come to believe and will find new life in Christ. That is how it has always been. Those who answer Christ’s call to new life find a teacher and a friend for whom they are willing to die. But, of course, it is Jesus who dies for us that we might have eternal life.
I started this homily this morning telling you: “It was a matter of life and death.” But the truth is that, with Jesus, it is really a matter of life together with Him in the blinding radiance of the glory of God. What more could we possibly ask for?