Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Raising Lazarus


John 10:17-18

Giuseppe D'Arena
 
Perhaps one of the most dramatic and emotional occurrences in Christ's ministry is the demonstration of His power over death. "I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." 


When we look at the raising of Lazarus, we see beyond to the resurrection of Christ.

John the Evangelist traces the story to when the Jewish leaders are antagonistic toward Christ, searching for opportunities to arrest him. 

They have accused Him of blasphemy because He had performed miracles. The chief priests and Pharisees took up stones against Him. It was no longer safe for Him to preach openly in Judea. Christ knows He and His beloved disciples are in much danger. In order to escape the hands of the Jews, Christ has retreated to the other side of the Jordan.
(John 10:31-40)
 
The story of Lazarus of Bethany begins with his two sisters who send a message to Christ: "Lord, the man whom you love, behold, he is ill." But at this news, Jesus was content to reply, "This sickness is not death, but it is of interest to the Glory of God; it is to serve for the Glorification of the Son of God."

Because Christ loved Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, he considers returning despite the danger in Bethany, which was very close to Jerusalem.
 
The disciples argue with the Master, trying to discourage Him from returning to where His life would be in danger again. Knowing in His spirit that Lazarus was not ill, that he was dead, 
He tells His disciples:
 
"Our friend, Lazarus, has slept, but I am going to reawaken him..." The disciples say, "Lord, if he sleeps, this means that he will get well." 

Christ abruptly informs them. "Lazarus is dead; and I rejoice because I was not there, I rejoice over this for your sake, so that this might be of service to your faith..."

They would not understand the words in the banal sense. They would not comprehend these words until manifested in power. He declares that this sickness of Lazarus is not to culminate in death but to serve the divine glory. Permit God to act, and allow the Father and I to be One.

He allows two days to pass in order to try their faith.

When He arrives at Bethany, John narrates, "He found that His friend had been shut up in the tomb for four days..." The Jews interred their dead the day of death. Christ being a Jew, knew that this additional two days would certainly make no difference. 

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  
Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”   
She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
(John 11:23-32)

Christ has before Him the many friends of Lazarus, Mary and Martha: a mourning scene common among the Jewish people.

The emotion of Christ is described by John the Evangelist in exceptional language. Lazarus, this close friend of Jesus, is now buried in the tomb before them. Christ experiences again what it feels to be human in losing Lazarus: the reality of death. John describes Christ as being "deeply moved in His spirit", "greatly troubled". This disturbance is quite real, not for the gallery of onlookers. It is at this place of grief that we arrive at John's final narration.

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 
Jesus wept.
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
So they took away the stone. 
And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that You sent Me.” 
When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 
The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  (John 11:33-44)
Immediately John informs us concerning the impression made upon the Jewish milieu of Jerusalem: numerous persons from the upper society of the capital also witnessed the miracle, and returned to their usual patrons. The consequences: Lazarus brought back to life, Jesus Christ condemned to death.  
John 11:45-57
 
The prophetic tragedy: Consequent to this, the chief Priests and Pharisees call a meeting of the Sanhedrin. Members of this assembly have worries: "What are we doing while this man performs miracles? If we allow him to continue, everyone will believe in Him. Then the Romans will come and they will destroy everything we have, both our holy places and our nation."

But in this quandary, one of them interrupts: Caiaphas. It is he who is the High Priest that year. "You do not know anything. You do not even reflect that it is to your interest that a single man die for all the people, lest the entire nation perish." 

All possible political cunning is employed to entrap Christ. He is now a threat to both the Jews and the Romans. Many thousands believe in Him at the time of Passover. Christ was certainly on the path to becoming a national hero, both religiously and politically. 

It is Caiaphas who laid down such a maxim. John reports this to us without prejudice, as a point of history. Look carefully. Caiaphas was not aware of having spoken so prophetically. He thought he uttered in his anger only an axiom of politics. His declaration was of a more profound sense. His was an expression of the mystery of that Holy Year, spoken by the sovereign pontificate, now hatching his plot. 

Caiaphas had been persuasive; the high council resolved to bring Christ to death, and from that day on, the Jewish authorities held to this decision. These high-placed judges would observe the appearances of the Law: they would hold legal procedures and official sessions. They would even comply with the high authority of the Romans.

With this intention, they would seize the opportune moment, with the assistance of Judas Iscariot, to capture and crucify Christ.

Image:   
The Raising of Lazarus by Giuseppe D'Arena, 1677, at St George's Basilica Victoria Malta.


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