Gospel: John 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45

Hope in a Time of Loss

What was the last funeral you attended? Was the deceased close to you? Did you need time to grieve?

In spite of all our efforts, we cannot escape death. How we face death, however, can help determine our quality of life. Does the end of life give us despair or hope? In the story of Lazarus, John challenges us to see hope in death through the eyes of faith.

Popular Translation

3 The sisters Mary and Martha sent Jesus a message: "Lord, your close friend Lazarus is ill." 4 When Jesus heard this, he replied, "The illness of Lazarus isn't the end of him. It's really for the glory of God! And, through this illness, God's Son will receive glory." 5 Now, Jesus really liked Martha, her sister Mary, and brother Lazarus. 6 But, when he heard Lazarus was ill, Jesus stayed where he was. 7 Two days later, Jesus finally told his followers, "Let's go to Judea."

17 When Jesus arrived at Bethany in Judea, Martha and Mary's hometown, he found out Lazarus was dead. He had been buried four days before.

20 Martha heard Jesus had come to town. So, she went to met him, while her sister Mary remained at home. 21 "Lord!" Martha exclaimed. "If you would have been here earlier, my brother wouldn't have died! 22 But even now I know whatever you ask God to do, he will do it!"

23 "Your brother will rise again," Jesus replied.

24 "Yes," Martha said. "I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."

25 "I am the resurrection and the life!" Jesus exclaimed. "The person who trusts me will live with God, even though his body dies. 26 Everyone who trusts me and lives with God will never really die. Do you believe this?"

27 "Yes, Lord," Martha answered. "I really believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God! God sent you into the world for us."

33b Jesus was deeply touched. 34 "Where did you bury Lazarus?" he asked the people around him.

"Come and see, Lord," they replied. 35 At this, Jesus cried. 36 "See how much Lazarus meant to Jesus," they whispered to each other. 27 But others grumbled, "Jesus cured the blind man in Jerusalem. Why couldn't he keep Lazarus from dying?"

38 The tomb where Lazarus was buried was a cave with a large stone over the entrance. When Jesus came to the tomb, he again was deeply touched. 39 "Take the stone away!" Jesus commanded.

"But, Lord!" Martha objected. "We buried him four days ago. He will have the stench of death!"

40 "Didn't I tell you if you trusted me you would see the glory of God?" Jesus replied. 41 So, they took the stone away from the tomb entrance. Jesus looked up and prayed, "Father, thank you for listening to me, as you always do. 42 I say this prayer, so the people here might believe you sent me." 43 Then, Jesus screamed, "Lazarus! Come out here!" 44 Lazarus came out of the tomb with his hands and feet tied in burial bandages, and with his face covered with a cloth shroud. "Untie him," Jesus commanded.

45 Many of the people who came to Mary's house saw what Jesus did. And they put their trust in him.

The narrative about the resurrection of Lazarus stood out as the premier miracle before the Passion. John crafted the story to remove any doubt in the power of Jesus. And to present the reader with a real challenge of faith in God's Son.

Literal Translation

3 Then, the sisters (Martha and Mary) sent (a message) to HIM, saying, "Lord, Look! (The one) you love is ill." 4 Hearing (the message), JESUS said, "This illness will not (lead) to death, but (is) for the glory of God, so that the Son of God might be glorified through it." 5 Now, JESUS loved Martha and Mary, her sister, and Lazarus. 6 So, when HE heard that (Lazarus) was ill, HE stayed in the place (that) HE was two (more) days. 7 Then, after this (time frame), HE said to his disciples, "Let us go to Judea again."

17 Coming (to Bethany) then, JESUS found him having been in the tomb already four days.

20 So, when she heard that Jesus was coming, Martha met HIM. But Mary sat at home. 21 Thus, Martha said to JESUS, "Lord, if you were here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever (petitions) you ask God, God will give you." 23 JESUS told to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha said to HIM, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." 25 JESUS told to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. The (person) trusting me, even if he should die, will live. 26 Everyone living and trusting me does not die in the (final) age. Do you believe this?" 27 "She said to HIM, "Yes, Lord! I have (and continue to) believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the One coming into the world."

33b HE groaned (with anger) in (his) spirit, he was troubled, 34 and (HE) said, "Where did you lay him?" They said to HIM, "LORD, come and see." 35 JESUS cried. 36 So, the Jews said, "See how much (JESUS) loved him!" 37 But some of them said, "Was this (MAN), the (one) opening the eyes of the blind (man), not able to make (it happen), so that even this (man) should not die?" 38 Then, JESUS, again groaning (with anger) inside himself, came to the tomb, (which) was a cave and a stone was lying upon it. 39 JESUS said, "Lift (away) the stone!" Martha, the sister of the one having died, said to HIM, "LORD, he has a (death) stench now, for it is the fourth (day since his burial)." 40 JESUS said to her, "Did I not tell you that, if you trusted (me), you would see the glory of God?" 41 So, they lifted (away) the stone. Jesus lifted up (his) eyes and said, "Father! I thank you that you listen to me. 42 I know that you always listen to me, but I say (this) because of the crowd standing around (here), so that they might believe that you sent me." 43 After saying these (things) , he cried out in a loud voice, "Lazarus! (Come) out here!" 44 The (one) having died came out, (his) feet and hands having been bound with bandages and his face having been wrapped with a (head) cloth. JESUS said to them, "Untie him and let him go." 45 Then, many of the Jews, the ones having come to Mary and having seen what (HE) did, believed in HIM.

11:4 "This illness will not (lead) to death, but (is) for the glory of God." This illness of Lazarus would lead to his death. But, implicitly, it would also lead to the death of Jesus. The death of both men would result in the glory of God, their resurrections. Hence, the phrase had a double meaning (Lazarus and Jesus).

"so that the Son of God might be glorified through it." The phrase "through it" can have a double meaning: the illness and the glory of God. John could have meant both meanings.

11:20 "But Mary sat at home." Sitting was the traditional posture of mourning and comforting in the ancient world.

11:26 "Everyone living and trusting me does not die in the (final) age." This sentence has two areas that need explanation. First, "living" could refer to physical life or spiritual life. In the first case, the translation could read "everyone living (today) and believing in me." In the second case, "living" and "believing" were synonymous.

"...does not die in the (final) age." The "(final) age" referred to the Second Coming and was equivalent to eternal life.

11:27 "You are the Christ, the Son of God, the One coming into the world." The three titles in this verse summarized the gospel writer's view of Jesus: the Messiah, the Son who had a unique relationship with God the Father, and the Word who came into the world.

11:33b This verse is difficult to understand, especially considering the context. The Greek clearly showed that Jesus was angry. But at who? In 11:33a, Jesus saw Martha and the others weeping in sincere and in ritual mourning. He reacted with anger and a troubled heart. Why did Jesus react in this way to a situation that was culturally appropriate? Was he angry at the crowd's lack of faith? Or was he angry at death itself? The verse and context do not explain. Yet, to translate the verse as "deeply moved" does not seem to do justice to the language. Angry and a troubled heart seemed to the catapult to the question in 11:34 and the eventual resurrection of Lazarus (see 11:38).

11:35 Unlike the cultural wailing expressed in 11:33a, Jesus simply shed tears. (For you trivia buffs, this is the shortest verse in the Bible.)

11:39 "for it is the fourth" The word "fourth" is a adjective that can refer to the day of the dialogue ("it is the fourth day") or to Lazarus ("he is a fourth day man"). The translation above used the former meaning.

11:43 "Lazarus! (Come) out here!" Jesus' command to Lazarus was literally two adverbs ("here out").

As the passage began, Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, sent Jesus an urgent note about his grave illness. [11:3] The note revealed their faith in Jesus only as a healer.

Jesus responded with a statement of faith. The illness would not lead to death, but to God's glory and the glory of his Son. [11:4] In this sense, death meant the final end of existence. Jesus inferred death would not end existence for Lazarus or himself. No, even through sickness and death, people would praise God and his Son. Death would lead to new life.

To make his point, Jesus delayed a few more days, in spite of his love for the family. By the time he arrived, Lazarus had been buried for four days. [11:5, 17] Many Jewish rabbis held a soul hovered near the body for three days; beyond the third day, there was no hope of reviving the corpse.

When Martha heard Jesus was coming, she left her home (the customary place of grieving) to meet him. As she greeted Jesus, she believed in him only as a healer. Yes, placed her faith in Jesus and in his relationship with the Father. God still worked through Jesus. But, only if things were different...

When Jesus announced Lazarus would rise again, Martha responded with an answer many Jews at the time of Jesus held; Lazarus would indeed rise on the day of judgment. [11:21-24] She could not see beyond her assumptions.

Jesus, then, revealed himself to Martha: "I AM the resurrection and the life." Just as he identified himself to the Samaritan woman in John 4:26, Jesus used the phrase "I AM" to denote his own divinity and his relationship to the Father. He was God and he was God's instrument.

Jesus directed his identity toward the subject at hand. "I AM the resurrection and the life." Those who entrust themselves to Jesus will never see spiritual death. In spite of physical death, they will always have life in Christ. (Perhaps, we should reverse the phrase. In Christ, we have eternal life now that will bring us to resurrection). In 11:23 Jesus inferred Lazarus had eternal life because he would be raised. Did Martha entrust herself to Jesus, so she, too, could have life? [11:25-26]

Yes, Martha believed. She saw Jesus was more than a mere healer. In Jesus, she experienced God. She professed Jesus to be the Messiah, the One promised in the Scripture. [11:27]

But, Mary and the others did not understand. Their sorrow moved Jesus, but their immature faith angered him (see 11:32 for Mary's reaction; 11:37 for the crowd's reaction). At this point, Jesus felt sorrow for the loss of his friend and indignation at the crowd. [11:33-38]

At the tomb, Jesus ordered the stone to the tomb rolled away. Martha objected with the obvious. There would be a stench. Jesus countered with question of faith. Instead of odor, Martha would see God's glory through eyes of faith. [11:39-41]

After the stone was removed, Jesus thanked the Father for their relationship. The Father (always) listened to Jesus. (He repeated the phrase "listen to me" twice). In Greek, "listen to" projected as sense outside of time, in the realm of the eternal. Throughout time, the Father heard the request of the Son. Jesus prayed, not for his own benefit, but for the faith of his audience. [11:41-42]

Jesus gave two orders: first, that Lazarus to come out and, second, that the crowd to untie his burial cloth. [11:43-44] In these two orders, Jesus showed his faith in the Father was certain. Those who trusted Jesus could share in that certainty. Those in Christ would have a life that led to resurrection.

Catechism Themes: Christ's Resurrection and Ours (CCC 992-1004)

When he created humanity, God sowed the seeds of salvation, specifically, the resurrection. Over the time, we have come to realize God wants more for us, his creatures, than a transient nature. He wants us to live with him as he created us, body and soul.

As Christ rose from the dead, he became a sign of our destiny and a pledge of God's will for us. More important, when we join ourselves to Christ, we share in the power of his resurrection. Like the "here.. but not yet" nature of God's Kingdom, we experience rising from spiritual death every time we reconcile with Christ and join intimately with him in the Eucharist. Yet, our physical resurrection is to come.

"What is rising?" When we rise from the dead, we will be made permanently whole, body and spirit, never to die again.

"Who will rise?" The blessed will see God forever while the damned will eternally reject his presence.

"How?" We will rise in the same way Christ rose, through the same power of his resurrection. Our lowly bodies will become "spiritual." While we do not know the specifics of this new life, we can rest assured in the knowledge it will happen.

"When?" We will rise on the last day, when Christ will return to judge all humanity.

Because God will raise our bodies up on the last day, our bodies are the vessels of salvation. To show our faith in Christ, we wash our bodies in the waters of Baptism and nourish them with the Bread of Life at Eucharist. In these ways, our bodies partake in their future glory, here and now. Thus we should show respect to our bodies and to others', especially the weak and the suffering. And we should honor the bodies of the dead who live with the Lord.

How can faith strengthen you in your loss? Do you know of anyone who has lost a loved one and who has become stronger because of faith?

The loss of a loved one can bring despair in the loss, or it can bring hope found in the resurrection. Our hope depends upon our faith in Christ. Is our faith active, seeking a closer walk with the Lord? Or, is the Lord at a comfortable distance of our choosing? Remember, how we live reflects how we view death..

Does the idea of death inspire faith or doubt? Share your answer with the Lord in prayer.