PARISH LENTEN MISSION 2018: "THE MIRACLES OF CHRIST"
Conference V, Friday, March 23, 2018 A.D.
“When Mary [the sister of Lazarus] therefore was come where Jesus was, seeing Him, she fell down at His feet and saith to Him: Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. Jesus, therefore, when He saw her weeping, and the Jews that were come with her weeping, groaned in the spirit and troubled Himself. And said: Where have you laid him? They say to Him: Lord, come and see. And Jesus wept. The Jews therefore said: Behold how He loved him. But some of them said: Could not He that opened the eyes of the man born blind have caused that this man should not die? Jesus therefore again groaning in Himself, cometh to the sepulchre. Now it was a cave: and a stone was laid over it. Jesus saith: Take away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith to Him: Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he is now of four days. Jesus saith to her: Did not I say to thee that if thou believe, thou shalt see the glory of God? They took therefore the stone away. And Jesus lifting up His eyes said: Father, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast heard Me. And I knew that Thou hearest Me always: but because of the people who stand about I have said it, that they may believe that Thou hast sent Me. When He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice; Lazarus, come forth. And presently he that had been dead came forth, bound feet and hands with winding bands. And his face was bound with a napkin. Jesus said to them: Loose him and let him go. Many therefore of the Jews who were come to Mary and Martha and had seen the things that Jesus did, believed in Him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things that Jesus had done.”–John 11:32-46
Of all of the Miracles which Our Lord Jesus Christ performed during His visible Life on earth, this Miracle of the Raising of Lazarus of Bethany from the Dead was, by far, the most spectacular display of divine power. Why? Because it showed Christ’s complete power over even the invincible law of nature regarding death and decay.
All of the other 41 detailed cases of Miracles we find in the Gospel Books–the 9 Miracles of Nature, the 20 special cases of healing, the 7 special cases of deliverance, the 2 cases that appear to involve a supernatural display of power over hostile human wills, and even the other 2 of the 3 cases of resurrection–they still operate within the natural world of the living. When Jesus raised Jairus’s twelve-year-old daughter from the dead after she had just died, for example, He was reviving her, bringing the spirit of life back into her. Likewise, outside the village of Naim, when He interrupted a funeral procession which was for the only son of a widow (Luke 7), He revived the young man who had been dead only a few hours. (According to Jewish religious custom, the dead had to be buried before sundown on the day of death: we see this in place on Good Friday, when Christ Our Lord is taken down from the Cross and hastily placed in the Holy Sepulchre before nightfall, even if that meant leaving undone some of the important rituals of burial until the Passover Sabbath was over.) Not so with Lazarus who had been dead for four days.
Let us review some important details of this Miracle. It is a few weeks before the Jewish Passover. On account of the organized persecution of His powerful enemies among the Pharisee party and the Temple Authority in Jerusalem, Jesus cannot safely move about in the vicinity of Jerusalem anymore. For that reason He has taken refuge on the the east bank of the Jordan River, in a territory outside of His enemies’ control. Then word comes to Him from Bethany, which is a village two miles from Jerusalem. The two sisters Martha and Mary (if we may follow Pope St. Gregory’s interpretation then “Mary of Bethany” is one and the same person as Mary Magdalene) have a brother Lazarus and he is sick unto death. But the Lord Jesus inexplicably delays His return. When He does finally come to Bethany it is the fourth day since Lazarus has died and been buried.
The Lord had His reasons for the delay. By the fourth day of death (without any embalming) the natural process of decay has set in with a vengeance. There can be no doubt about the fact that a once living human being is now going back to dust. This is why Lazarus’s sister Martha is so shocked when Christ asks to have the stone in front of the sepulchre removed. “By this time there is a stench for he is now of four days!” There was also the pious belief among the Jews of that time that, when someone died, the soul lingered about the tomb for three days afterward, seeking in vain for a return to its body. Then on the fourth day, seeing that the body was going back to the dust of the earth, the soul at last gave up and sank to the netherworld, Sheol, nevermore to return. Jesus therefore waited four days to establish that Lazarus was absolutely dead and beyond the reach of the living world to brink him back.
St. John spares us any further detail, but when the stone is rolled away surely there would have been a great stench of death assaulting the senses of the crowd of onlookers, and it is at this moment that Christ calls out in a loud voice: “Lazarus, come forth.” It is the voice of Christ the Lord, the Divine Savior, summoning the soul of Lazarus back from the abode of the dead and commanding it to re-enter its body. Here is something utterly unheard of in human experience: a man brought back to life through the instantaneous reversal of the natural process of decay.
Let us try to imagine the amazement, the terror even!, of the witnesses of this scene. Before a foul tomb, suddenly the corpse comes staggering out, bound and constricted by the burial shroud and the napkin over his face. Imagine the trembling, nervous feelings of the ones who actually had to undo Lazarus’s burial cloths and there they found, not a monstrous corpse, but an intact, living, healthy man!
How could anybody not believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ and Son of God after seeing such a Miracle as this? And, in fact, many did believe as the Gospel tells us–but not all. For the direct consequence of the Raising of Lazarus was the secret council which decided upon Jesus’ death (and Lazarus’s too): “The chief priests, therefore, and the Pharisees gathered a council and said: What do we, for this Man doth many miracles? If we let Him alone so, all will believe in Him: and the Romans will come and take away our place and our nation...From that day therefore they devised to put Him to death.” (John 11)
With the Raising of Lazarus we have the pinnacle of Christ’s Miracles in His Mission to inaugurate the Kingdom of God and the last Age of Man, which is the Age of the Gospel. He will do two more miracles even greater than Lazarus thereafter, but these will not be seen by anybody but His closest disciples, those of the “little flock” who have believed in Him.
The first of these two greater-than-Lazarus miracles is the Mystery of Faith at the Last Supper, when the Lord Jesus institutes the Miracle of the Holy Eucharist. Under the consecrated Bread and Wine of the Passover Meal, the Apostles eat His Body and Drink His Blood. It is a sacramental reality even before Christ actually sheds His Blood on Good Friday a few hours later. It is not properly understood by them at that moment, but it will soon become the Church’s greatest treasure.
The second miracle is the Lord’s own Resurrection on Easter Sunday, the “first day of the week”. But He will not be like Lazarus, as an ordinary man of earth: He will instead be “glorified”, He will be in an altogether higher state of existence. He will be in the final state of the Resurrection. And in that state of the Resurrection He will show Himself alive by many proofs to His disciples over a period of 40 Days. Then when the Forty Days are done, His visible Body will have ascended into the supernatural Heaven. The disciples will know Him from now on in the Mystery of Faith which is the Holy Eucharist. Thus the two greater than-Lazarus Miracles end up being presented to us as one: the Living Lord Jesus, who rose from the dead, nevermore to die, present to us in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Over these Lenten Conferences we have been recalling the many Miracles of Christ as we find them recorded for us in the Gospel Books. And here at the end we are left with a renewed awareness that the pinnacle of Christ’s Miracles is with us still in Christ’s Eucharistic Existence. He will never leave us. And what is more, His Miracles have not ceased on this earth, for Jesus Christ continues to act through His Eucharistic Life, though not to dazzle us nor to “prove” Himself to us. Now, as once in Galilee and Judea, Christ waits for the opening from us– however faint it might be in the human heart–in order to then show us His power and His love. Christ knocks at the door. But we must open it to Him.