John’s Gospel account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead is very poignant for our present time. Mary and Martha and Jesus’ disciples wonder why Jesus does not go to be with his friend as soon as he receives word that he is dying. Jesus has healed and restored so many people, why would he delay? With the present worldwide spread of Covid-19. Many of us may be asking the same thing. Why is Jesus allowing this to happen? Why do so many have to suffer? Why the delay?
Jesus responded to the disciples’ inquiry by saying, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (Jn 11:4). We know from the Gospel reading for today that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. We do not know the ending regarding our present plight. What many have experienced is the death of their family and friends, as did Martha and Mary. Many people are in fear and their daily lives have been uprooted on a massive scale. Many who are elderly or immunocompromised are facing the real prospects of death. There are those who want to help but they are being told to stay home. Many people want to worship in their faith communities, of all faith traditions and are not able to do so.
Does the Gospel speak to us today in our present moment, in our present global crisis? Yes. As I echoed yesterday from Pope Francis, Jesus, “more than anyone, cares about us.” Just as Jesus wept when he witnessed the anguish of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, so he weeps in this present situation. We were able to see God’s glory revealed in Jesus raising Lazarus, but we are in the midst of our own anxiety, pain, and anguish now as Martha and Mary were when Lazarus was sick, dying, then died. It would not be until four days later that Jesus came.
We may still be experiencing the first day of our crisis. Jesus had a plan for Lazarus and he has one for us. We need to have the same faith as Martha. Though she did not understand why Jesus had not come sooner, she trusted in him and who he was, the Messiah, the Son of God. Just as Jesus was present to Martha, he is present and among us as well.
I do not believe that God brought this pandemic upon us as a punishment, but I do believe he has allowed it to bring about a greater good, and that is different for each of us. What we need to do in times like these is to evaluate what is really important in our lives, who are really important to us. What are apparent goods and what is truly good?
Also, many of us who have been and continue to be so better off financially are experiencing some serious inconveniences, loss of work, livelihood, but we may have savings, we will be able to recover. There are many throughout our country and world that have been dealing with subsistence living and mere survival for maybe their whole lives. Maybe we can gain a little more empathy for those who have been suffering all along and are even more vulnerable now to the Corona Virus than many of us who have homes to isolate ourselves in.
Much of the anxiety we face may be having to deal with the reality of our own mortality. We are looking at the very real possibility of our death either from knowing those who have died or hearing about the vast numbers who have died from Covid-19. Being faced with the prospect of our death is a good thing. Those who I have known who have done so, have more often than not lived their lives more fully because they have not taken their lives for granted, they have lived their lives more richly, and they have been more present to others.
The key take away from the story of Lazarus is that no matter how wonderful the raising of Lazarus, a dead man four days in a tomb, was, it was just a foreshadowing of the truly incredible miracle of miracles we are about to celebrate in just a few weeks. The fact that Jesus rose again from the dead himself was no mere resuscitation as with Lazarus. Jesus experienced the fullness of death and conquered it becoming the firstborn of the new creation. Jesus would later ascend into heaven and from the right hand of his Father, he would send us the Holy Spirit.
We are not alone in our present suffering. Jesus cares and accompanies us in each of or present situations. I do not know how much worse this pandemic will get before it gets better, but I trust as did Martha and Mary in Jesus. As we draw closer to him and each other, we will see the glory of God at work and we will overcome and emerge stronger than before all this began.