Monday, March 22, 2010

The Third Scrutiny - what does Lazarus have to say to us?

This weekend, my parish used the readings for the Third Scrutiny, focusing the theological reflection of the entire faith community on the Gospel of John account of the raising of Lazarus, as the adults readying themselves for Baptism enter their final two weeks of preparation. Although the Third Scrutiny was actually celebrated at another Mass, I could still sense the power of the presence of our two catechumens in the community.

Since our focus this Lent was on recovering the power of our own baptism, as we walk with the catechumens, our reflection on the Rite of Baptism this week focused on the Ephphetha - the opening of the ears to hear the Word of God and the opening of the mouth to speak its witness. Our pastor, in his homily, chose the figure of Martha, whose profession of faith in Jesus is a model for our own:

“Your brother will rise.”  Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,  the one who is coming into the world.”  (John 11:23-27)

In this passage lies the power of witness and a clear model for how we are to speak up for Jesus and the Gospel.
Beyond this great connection made in the homily, however, I found myself once again processing the death of my beloved friend Jim, who, coincidentally was born on the Feast of St. Lazarus. Jim's final work of art was a powerful photographic series called "Lazarus" and in his artist statement, he wrote:  "Once I was told it might be possible to live twice..."  The photos showed a variety of symbols of life, time, death and resurrection, many of them coated in pristine white paint, which "preserved" them, as did the photographs. The first photo in the series (left) featured paint-coated Easter lilies over the text of the story of Lazarus in Latin from the Vulgate.  The final photo was of rotting, spoiled fruit... not coated in paint - what would have happened to many of the other objects had they not been preserved "eternally" in the photographs.

What does the raising of Lazarus say to those of us who grieve the death of a loved one?  Since his raising was a one-time miracle  "for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it" are we to hope for anything more for us and our loved ones than the resurrection on the Last Day?  As I heard this reading yesterday, I found myself saying with Martha both "Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died" and "yes, Lord I have come to believe that you are the Christ..."  In the process of grieving, that is the conundrum - the struggle between feelings of betrayal and faith - saying "Lord, if only you had been there..." and "Lord, I know you are here..."

1 comment:

  1. According to the Bible, how many Old Testament prophets raised people from the dead? Answer: Two. Elijah and Elisha.

    That's it. And they only did it three times. So the act of raising someone from the dead would have been seen as a very, very big deal. It was not like healing someone of a disease or casting out demons. Lots of people, it seems, could do those miracles. Nope, raising someone from the dead was the big kahuna of all miracles!

    In the Gospel of John chapter 11, we are told that Lazarus had been dead for four days. His body was decomposing to the point that he stunk. Lazarus death and burial were very public events. His tomb was a known location. Many Jews had come to mourn with Mary and Martha and some of them were wondering why the great miracle worker, Jesus, had not come and healed his friend Lazarus; essentially blaming Jesus for letting Lazarus die.

    Let's step back and look at the facts asserted in this passage: Only two OT prophets had raised people from the dead, and these two prophets were considered probably the two greatest Jewish prophets of all time: Elijah and Elisha. If this story is true, the supernatural powers of Jesus were on par with the supernatural powers of the greatest Jewish prophets of all time! If this event really did occur, it should have shocked the Jewish people to their very core---a new Elijah was among them! This event must have been the most shocking event to have occurred in the lives of every living Jewish man and woman on the planet. The news of this event would have spread to every Jewish community across the globe.

    And yet...Paul, a devout and highly educated Jew, says not one word about it. Not one. Not in his epistles; not in the Book of Acts. Think about that. What would be the most powerful sign to the Jews living in Asia Minor and Greece---the very people to whom Paul was preaching and attempting to convert---to support the claim that Jesus of Nazareth himself had been raised from the dead? Answer: The very public, very well documented raising from the dead of Lazarus of Bethany by Jesus!

    But nope. No mention of this great miracle by Paul. (A review of Paul's epistles indicates that Paul seems to have known very little if anything about the historical Jesus. Read here.)

    And there is one more very, very odd thing about the Raising-of-Lazarus-from-the-Dead Miracle: the author of the Gospel of John, the very last gospel to be written, is the only gospel author to mention this amazing miracle! The authors of Mark, Matthew, and Luke say NOTHING about the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Nothing.

    To continue reading: