Jesus’ great love for the family of Bethany – Mary, Martha and Lazarus – made His apparent indifference to Lazarus’ illness incomprehensible. But when God delays in intervening, it is for higher reasons and because He will surely reward us with superabundance.
Newsroom (29/03/2023 18:00, Gaudium Press) St. John wrote his twenty-one chapters with the concern to demonstrate, through facts, both the divine origin of Jesus’ doctrine and the omnipotence of His Person.
In addition to finding elevated supernatural aspects through which we get to know the Saviour better in His two natures, St. John’s account confirms his literary style. It is beautiful, attractive and moving, and unique in its kind.
It embodies historically the precious details of one of the most important miracles of Jesus, which conferred on Him a great glory – leading to belief in a good number of Jews – and, at the same time, produced the greatest degree of hatred in His enemies, to the point of hastening their intentions to kill Him. This episode, so pervaded with divine and human pulchritude – beauty – would be the immediate cause of the Sanhedrin’s fury and consequent determination to put Jesus to death.
Jesus’ meeting with Martha and Mary
Many Jews had come to Martha and Mary’s house to console them on account of the death of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus had arrived, she went to meet Him. Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even so I know that whatever You ask God, He will give it to You” (Jn 11:19-22).
Mourning of a death was observed over seven days, the first three of which were set aside for mourning and the other four for visits of condolence. The visitors did not say a word, since this initiative was up to the relatives of the deceased. Living together in these circumstances meant silence.
Mary remained silent because she had no idea that Jesus had arrived in the village, while Martha went to meet Him to tell him what had happened.
Martha was more given to administration, social relationships, etc., and Mary was more given to loving fervor. For this reason, Martha does not inform her sister because it would be impossible to keep her company with the visitors while her dialogue with the Master takes place. In fact, this dialogue could not have taken place with greater tenderness and delicacy. There is not the least shadow of complaint on Martha’s part when she says, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died”. On the contrary, it is the manifestation of a sorrowful feeling of trust in the power of Jesus. Mary, in her turn, will repeat shortly afterwards exactly the same sentence, allowing us to perceive the tenor of the conversations that took place between them in those last days.
Resurrection of Lazarus
“Jesus was again inwardly moved. He arrived at the tomb. It was a cave, shut up with a stone” (Jn 11:39).
Unlike other tombs, the tomb of Lazarus was dug out of the rock, not horizontally, but vertically and on the ground. To reach the place where the body of Lazarus was laid, one had to descend a good number of steps. All around the sepulchre, everyone was in great expectation, for the precedents foresaw a portentous event.
Jesus said: “Take away the stone!” Martha, the sister of the dead man, intervened: “Lord, there is a smell already. He has been dead for four days” (Jn 11:39).
With great authority, Jesus commands, to the astonishment of those around Him, “Take away the stone”. Martha, ever judicious, does not resist pondering that the corpse would already be decomposing after four days. “Lord, he already smells”. Jesus’ reply was masterly: “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?“
Our Lord’s prayer is very beautiful: with the tomb already open, the foul odour afflicting the nostrils of those present, their attention could not have been more intense. He prays not out of necessity, “but I say this for the sake of the people around Me, that they may believe that You have sent me” (cf Jn 11:42).
By a simple desire of His, the tombstone would have come to nothing and Lazarus would have appeared at the door of the tomb, rejuvenated, limpid and perfumed. And since it was convenient for the eyes of all to see the power of His orders, “He cried out with a loud voice: ‘Lazarus, come out!
Two mighty miracles take place, not only that of pure resurrection. Lazarus was bound from head to foot, unable to walk; meanwhile, he climbed the ladder leading to the entrance to the tomb, even while still wearing a shroud around his face.
“Untie him and let him walk” (Jn 11,44), is the last voice of command of the Divine performer of miracles.
Nothing more does the Evangelist relate; no word concerning Lazarus or his sisters’ manifestations of joy; only the conversion of “many of the Jews who had come to Mary’s house”.
Today’s liturgy has not mentioned the betrayal by some people who, certainly outraged, “went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done” (Jn 11:46), leading the Sanhedrin to decree His death (cf. Jn 11:53).
An invitation to trust
Here we have the power of Christ manifested in full splendour to nourish us in our faith. This liturgy invites us to a greater trust than that of the Roman Centurion, that is, to believe in Jesus with a Marian ardour. If the Blessed Virgin were beside the sisters, surely – besides advising them to await with peace of soul the arrival of her Divine Son – She would recommend that they both try to do “whatever He tells you” (Jn 2,5).
However great the dramas or afflictions in our existence, let us follow Mary’s example and guidance, believing in Jesus’ omnipotence, mindful of St. Paul’s words: “All things work together for good for those who love God, for the elect according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).
Compiled by Sandra Chisholm, with files from CLÁ DIAS, João Scognamiglio.