Water→Light→Life. There is a steady crescendo, a growing intensity, in the gospels of the last three Sundays—all from St. John. On the third Sunday of Lent, Jesus was portrayed as the living water that gave new life to the Samaritan woman and to her town mates. Last Sunday, fourth of Lent, Jesus was the life-giving light, which opened the eyes of the blind man—and his heart too. Today, Jesus is the resurrection and the life—the Lord and giver of life.
All three gospel events were signs (a favorite term of John’s gospel) meant to bring about faith in Jesus. The Samaritan woman and her town mates believed in Jesus. The blind man bowed down and worshipped him. And in today’s gospel, “many Jews began to believe in him.” Not only did they become believers—in all three instances; they also became apostles: The Samaritan woman brought her town mates to Jesus. The blind man defended Jesus before the Pharisees to the point of being expelled from the synagogue because of that. And Lazarus caused many Jews to believe in Jesus; so much so that the chief priests wanted to kill, not only Jesus but Lazarus as well, “because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him.” (Jn. 12:10-11).
These three gospels of John were used already in the early Church to instruct the catechumens (those who prepared themselves for baptism) in the faith, telling them that, through baptism, they were to become, not only believers but also apostles—and even martyrs, of Jesus Christ.
Today’s gospel about the rising of Lazarus proclaims above all the divinity of Jesus, the Lord and Master of life and death. It also underlines his humanity; he is a true man, with human feelings. No other gospel passage plays up Jesus’ feelings and emotions as much as this one. Like anyone of us, Jesus developed strong bonds of friendship. He was no cold and detached preacher but a very warm human being: “Lord, the one you love is sick.” No name is given, and no name was needed. Jesus’ love for Lazarus must have been so special that there could be no doubt about his identity.
Further down, in verse 36, the Jews themselves attest to Jesus’ love for Lazarus, “See how he loved him,” they said. Jesus’ love however was not confined to Lazarus; it extended to his two sisters as well: “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” What a lucky family indeed to have enjoyed the special love and friendship of Jesus!
The gospels are usually silent about Jesus’ feelings and emotions. Verses 33 to 38 however are an exception; they are truly emotion-laden. They bare the humanity of Jesus and reveal how deeply the death of his friend Lazarus affected him—even though he knew that he was about to raise him up from the dead: “Jesus became perturbed and deeply troubled.” “Jesus wept.” “So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.”
The core and centerpiece of today’s gospel is, of course, the dialogue of Jesus and Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life… Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” These words of Jesus are the backbone of our Christian religion; they sustain us in our grief over the death of a loved one, with the assurance that death is not the end of it all but rather the beginning of a more beautiful life with the Lord.
Those words of Jesus give us the courage we need to take up our daily cross and to accept illness, and even death, in a spirit of loving submission to the will of God. They dispose us too to enter into the approaching mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection with the firm conviction that suffering, sickness and death will not have the last word. With Martha, we burst into a profession of faith in the promise made by Jesus: “Yes, Lord, we have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is to come into the world.”