A Reflection on Jn 11:1-45
By Fr. Serg Kabamalan, CJM
Today is the fifth Sunday of Lent and we are being led to a deeper experience of faith as our spiritual journey continues. Jesus brought it to the fore through the miracle of calling back Lazarus to life, the last of the signs in the Gospel of John. After the preliminaries, where his purpose (“that they may believe”) was declared clearly several times and what fuels it (his compassion for his beloved friends) were expressed, he did it through the three commands which were all obeyed and rendered the miracle possible.
The first command was, “Take away the stone.” The stone blocked the burial chamber. It is what separates Lazarus from Jesus, the Lord of life. This was a command to open up and clear the way of any hindrance between Jesus and Lazarus. There was however a mild protest from Martha, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Indeed, after four days, the smell of death could be overpowering and sickening. We see in Martha a representation of how human beings sees reality vis-a-vis God’s plan. This brief exchange with Martha shows Jesus wants us to see things the way he sees it which can be accessed through deeper faith. Through faith, he wants all of us to transcend the limits of human capacity and embrace the boundless possibilities of the Divine. He commands us to take away the stone that block our own burial chambers, our own existential death, decay and limits. “Take away the stone!” Jesus knows that we cannot do it on our own because individually, when we are buried in our issues and wounds, we are overwhelmed and rendered powerless. We may not even be in the position to look at and evaluate our lives objectively. We need the people around us, we need our community to remove the stone for us and pave the way toward the light of Jesus.
The second command was meant for Lazarus. Jesus called out to him by name, “Lazarus, come out!” If the first command was addressed to the community, the second command more particular to Lazarus. But we all are Lazaruses. We are beckoned to come out of the darkness of our burial chambers like Lazarus. Imagine for a while how Lazarus was finally imbued again with the Spirit of Life, breathing again, through the action of the Father as requested by the Son. He awakened to the darkness and stench that he was unfamiliar with. He was probably in confusion as to where he was and what was happening, bound and tied up in burial cloths as was the custom among the Jews of that time. Just as Jesus spoke the command, he recognizes the voice of his beloved friend calling him to come out of the darkness. He no longer belonged to the darkness of death, he belonged among the living. He must heed the call of Lord of life. Imagine how with great difficulty he got up to obey that familiar, loving voice. Struggle he did, probably jumping up and down to get out of the cave. Like Lazarus, none of us belongs to the darkness of sin and death. We were not created for it. The Lord commands us to get out of the stench and rottenness of our sins. We, too, must struggle against the enslaving bonds of self-centeredness, indifference, and greed. We may feel hindered by our attachments and addictions as we try to get up from where we fell, but we must make the hard decision of going out into the threshold of God’s light even if we have to limp or crawl. Then, trust that God will enable us and sustain us in our response to his call, which bring us to the third command.
“Untie him and let him go,” so the final command went. Now, this command was directed to the community again like the first. Lazarus could not untie himself so that he may be freed from the unnecessary burial cloths that restrict his movement. He is alive again, and has no need of the cloths that cover his body and his face. He needed, however, the help of the people around him. In the same way, we also need the help of others to liberate us from our sinfulness. In the same breath, we also need to help others to unbound them and set them free. This is the communitarian dimension of healing and the common journey towards fullness of life. Rooted in Jesus Christ, we need each other to trudge the way of true freedom.
The result of obedience to these three commands, woven into the raising of Lazarus, led to firmer faith in those who already knew Christ, and to the new gift of faith in Jesus for the Jews who had just witnessed his compassion and power at work. It is worth noting that all these took place in active and dynamic participation of the community and the individuals involve. God does act in both communal and particular ways!