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Sunday Readings for Apr. 10, 2011 (5LentA)
By Fr. John Foley, S. J.
The Gospel for Sunday declares that “Jesus loved Martha and Mary her sister and their brother Lazarus,” who lived in Bethany.
This is a golden statement. It tells us so much about Jesus and his personal friendships. But it also emphasizes how very odd it was that, while Lazarus was sick unto death, Jesus camped out a fairly short distance from Bethany and would not go to heal his friend. Messages arrived calling for him. An easy journey, but no. His reason? “This illness is not going to end in death,” he says.
What? He is wrong! The illness of Lazarus led directly to death!
When Lazarus finally died, Jesus did go down to Bethany. Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. Martha runs to him and she sends back for Mary, who is so grieved she will not leave home. They each cry out, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Jesus saw Mary’s tears and those of the friends who had gathered, and we behold a touching revelation of Jesus’ love for them. The famous words that came next are unlike any others in the Gospels:
“And Jesus wept.”
His tears make Mary and Martha’s question even more poignant. “You love us and you loved him; why did you not come and cure him while he was still alive?” I think many of us ask God that question when a loved one dies. Jesus asked it from the cross: “God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Pretend that you are asking this last question directly to Jesus right now. Listen to whatever answer comes. Take your time. If what you hear is fruitful, please stay with it.
For my part, I hear Jesus saying this:Friend, I know that life, love, and death are hard for you to comprehend. I reveal to you what they mean in the flesh, but of course even my example can be ambiguous.
Listen. Not only life but even sorrow and even death are given by God’s gentle love. All three are like flowers pushing up from the earth. The ground from which they grow is God’s kind love. Human love gets its life from God’s love. Even life gets its life from God’s love. Even death gets its life from God’s love.
At this point you and I, startled, interrupt and say, But how can death receive life? Death is the end of life. What are you talking about?
Jesus replies that there are many beautiful plants and trees that come forth from God’s love. Life is surely one of them, he says. But death is too, and suffering. Let me show you, he says.
He calls out in a loud voice, calls into the soil of God-love where Lazarus’ soul is buried. From this womb of love Lazarus’s death gestates into life. Out of the tomb he walks.
Jesus says to us,You always think of love as something you can have because you are alive. But the opposite is true. Life is something you can have because you are rooted in love. Death does not erase love, it brings you more deeply back to it, to the place you came from—love’s rich loam.
Pray about it, Jesus says, because that is the reason I delayed going to Bethany.