JESUS, THE GIVER OF LIFE
Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A. John 11:1-45.
AIM: To proclaim Jesus as totally human and totally divine, giver of eternal life here and now.
Why was Jesus crucified? Luke’s gospel suggests that it was the result of the resentment felt by the leaders of Jesus’ people at the enthusiasm of the common people “for all the great things they had seen” Jesus do. (Lk 19:37, Jerus. Bible) In John’s gospel the raising of Lazarus is the climax of these “great things” which provoked enthusiasm in some, resentment in others. It is the last and greatest of the seven “signs”, as John calls them, which show us who Jesus is. Last Sunday’s gospel, in which Jesus healed the man born blind, showed us Jesus as light of the world, and the giver of light. What does the sign in today’s gospel tell us? Three things.
1. Jesus Christ is our brother and our best friend.
“Master, the one you love is ill” was the message Lazarus’ sisters sent to Jesus. No specific request was necessary. Jesus would know what to do. Nor did Mary and Martha need to name their brother. “The one you love” was all the identification Jesus required. The gospel writer, in recording these words, means us to understand that Lazarus stands for all those Jesus loves — ourselves included.
“See how he loved him,” the friends of Mary and Martha say. It is their response to the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” We call Jesus the God-Man. Does that mean that he is partly God and partly man? No! Jesus is completely divine, and completely human. What better example of his humanity than his tears at the grave of his dear friend Lazarus?
Jesus was no Superman immune to human suffering. However deeply we suffer, Jesus has suffered more. When we think that no one can possibly understand what we are going through, we are wrong. There is One who always understands, who is always close to us. He is Jesus Christ: our brother, our lover, our best friend. But he is more.
2. Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God.
This gospel according to John begins by saying of Christ: “In him was life and the life was the light of the human race” (1:4). Last Sunday, in the healing of the man born blind, we saw Jesus as the giver of light. Today we see him as the giver of life. Perhaps you’re wondering what that means. Don’t we have life already? How, then, can Jesus give us what we already have?
The life we possess already, which we received from our parents, is passing away. Every hour, every minute, every tick of the clock, brings us closer to the end of this life. Jesus Christ is the giver of a new and higher life, one that is not passing away. “I am the resurrection and the life,” he says in our gospel reading. “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
To believe in Jesus Christ means to trust him. For those who trust Jesus physical death will not be the snuffing out of a candle. It will be the gateway to a new and higher life; a form of existence which, unlike earthly life, is not passing away: where there is no more suffering, no more sickness, no more death; where — as we read twice over in the last book of the Bible -- “God will wipe away all tears from [our] eyes.” (Rev. 7:17 & 21:4). Before he went to his own physical death on
Calvary, Jesus showed himself to his friends as the giver
of life, the one with power even over death.
Between the raising of Lazarus, however, and the resurrection of Jesus there was a crucial difference. Lazarus returned to his former life. Jesus went ahead to new life. We see that even in the details. Lazarus came forth from the tomb still wearing his burial clothes. He would need them again. Jesus left his burial garments behind (cf. Jn 20:6f). He needed them no more. He had passed beyond death to a new and higher life.
Jesus’ tears for his dead friend Lazarus are a sign of Jesus’ humanity. His tears show that Jesus is our brother, our lover, our best friend. The raising of Lazarus shows us Jesus as the giver of life, divine Son of God. But Jesus is the giver of life not only to Lazarus — and this is the third thing this sign shows us:
3. Jesus Christ gives eternal life to believers here and now.
We friends of Jesus live on two levels. We live, first, on the level of physical life, growing shorter every day and terminated by death. And second, we live on the spiritual level, on which we have an eternal and indestructible relationship with our heavenly Father. Eternal life is not something far away, pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die. No, the eternal life which Jesus gives to those who trust him and believe in him begins right now.
The principal means Jesus uses us to give us his gift of eternal life is the sacraments. The sacraments, however, are not merely infusions of some kind of spiritual power called “grace.” Every sacrament is a personal encounter with Jesus, our brother and our best friend; with Christ the eternal Son of God; with the One who loves us more than we can ever imagine.
These three lessons of today’s gospel are beautifully summed up in the introduction to the Eucharistic prayer which we shall hear in a moment:
C As a man like us Jesus wept for Lazarus his friend;
C As the eternal God he raised Lazarus from the dead;
C In his love for us all Christ gives us the sacraments to lift us up to everlasting life.
So much meaning in this simple story; so much beauty; so much to cheer us, to uplift us; to comfort us when we are discouraged; to strengthen us when we grow weak; to raise us up when we fall; to fill our mouths with laughter and our tongues with joy! Do we ever stop to realize the glory of it all, and truly worship?