Fifth Sunday: The Resurrection of Bethany
Fr. José Granados, dcjm
The Resurrection of Lazarus that we read during Lent contains a great lot of mystery, because it shows Jesus as is coming close to his death. It is a festival of life, preceded by the pain of illness, and likewise followed by the threat of an oncoming death. Jesus says that Lazarus’ illness will serve to glorify him, and there are two meanings to this: it glorifies him through the miracle, but it also glorifies him because, after this great sign, the Jews decide to kill him.
There is a mixture here of life and death, that last week has prepared us for, and that gives us a proper disposition to live Jesus’ passion. Here we learn how the Resurrection is foreshadowed, how it really accompanies Jesus’ whole life, and how Jesus’ death almost naturally flows into the Resurrection. Here death is understood as the highpoint of life, as a ripe fruit, like in the poet Rilke’s work: “Lord, give to each one his own death, / the death that sprouts up from his life…,” like the fruit of a plant. And he continues: “Because what makes dying strange and difficult/ is that a death that carries us up at the end/ be not ‘our death’/ since we never ripened any death within ourselves.” The death of Jesus is indeed “his death,” because it occurs when “his hour” arrives.
We are familiar with the contrast with Jesus’ second sign, in Jn 4: the healing of Regulus’ son. In that case Jesus heals with the word alone. However, in the case of Lazarus, he is glad he had not been there. Without a doubt, he could have healed him by the word even if he had not been there. And of course, if he had been there he would not have been able to wait on account of the persistence of Martha and Mary, which would have weighed on his heart. The issue here is not of power, whether more or less, but rather of love. Jesus does not heal Lazarus beforehand precisely because he desires to get close; he wants this miracle not just to be a communication of his word, but a communication of his voice, of a strong shout that remains engraved in Lazarus’ ears; he wants this to be a communication of a crying-out, and therefore, of the flesh.
Let us examine the various ways that Resurrection anticipates death and becomes intertwined with it. In the first place, we observe gratitude to the Father, whom he recognizes as the source of goodness. We know that Jesus, in this case, is anticipating gratitude, that is, he thanks the Father even before receiving gifts from the Father. This is utmost confidence, which reveals him as the Son of God, as one who is still sure of the gifts of God even in the face of an evidently imminent death. This is just what he would later do during the Last Supper with regard to himself: he gives thanks to the Father before dying – thanks for the life that would later be granted him. It is also the same as he did when he multiplied the loaves of bread. This is how Resurrection anticipates death: he who knows how to thankfully appreciate every gift as coming from the Father, will prolong his gratitude in the future.
In second place, life is a preparation for Resurrection if we fully live our relationships with others. Lazarus dies in Bethany, in the house where Jesus is welcomes into a family. And much of Bethany dies with him: all there was in Lazarus of Mary and of Martha, of Jesus. By raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus also raises Bethany somewhat from the dead, and revives lost relationships. And Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead precisely because Lazarus belongs to Bethany, to that home where Jesus was taken in as a friend. In Judaism, Resurrection was not an isolated event, as the first reading from the prophet Ezekiel reminds us: “I will open your graves, and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel” (Ez 37:12). Here, rising out of the tomb means coming into the land, because one can only live in the land and among the relationships with his brothers who abide in the land.
Let us live, then, if we are to be raised up, from thankfulness to the Father, and let us live within Bethany. Our flesh will thus be raised up, because the testimony of the Father’s original gifts is characteristic of flesh, just as the relationships are that unite us to our brothers. To believe in the Resurrection of the body we must believe that flesh already contains life, which comes from the relationships among which the body abides. To believe in the Resurrection of the body we must practice the language of the body, that is, the language of amor. This is what Saint Paul tells us in the second reading: “you are not in the flesh,” that is to say, you are not in a body closed off to love, self-sufficient and autonomous; “on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you,” that is, you are in a body open to love, a body in which the Spirit dwells. This way, the Spirit goes about preparing you for the Resurrection, and will give life to your mortal bodies.
Thus, in the third place, we can look at Jesus. He is the one who brings us the Spirit, the love that does not pass away. Just afterwards, Saint John narrates another scene, after the Resurrection of Lazarus, that takes place in Bethany: Mary’s anointing with precious perfumes. The smells of each scene are at contrast. The sense of smell is an environmental sense – it spreads out and reveals that we live in the same environment as others. Jesus arrives and lifts up the stone from Lazarus’ tomb: “there is already a stench,” Martha says, in her ever-present practicality. But Jesus alters the situation with the life he brings, and Mary, in her ever-present perceptiveness, picks up on the new ambiance by pouring the aromatic nard. It is for Jesus’ burial, because Jesus, filled with the Spirit, will not be corrupted by rot, but will bring “the odor of life that leads to life” (2 Cor 2:16).
So, with Jesus, we have anticipated life. Jesus says it today to Martha: “I am the Resurrection.” We know He is also the life, but it seems that by saying “I am the Resurrection,” he says even more. He declares: “I am not only the life, that must fight with death, and which death could overcome, but I am the Resurrection, that is, life that has passed through death, that has conquered it, I am the life despite anything, and the life that keeps living even when surrounded by threats and sadness.” He says: “the days of the Passion are approaching, but even amid greatest suffering, I will still be the life.” Like Lazarus, threatened to death for the very act of being raised from the dead by Jesus, let us follow the Master in his battle, anticipating our gratitude to the Father: He has overcome the world.