The Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent tells us of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. In the early part of the story, Jesus tells Martha that he is the resurrection and the life. In John’s theology this is an obvious claim for Jesus’ divinity. Jesus proves this divinity in the last section of the Gospel by raising Lazarus from the dead, for only God has power over death and life.
Jesus promises Martha and Mary that their brother will rise again. The two sisters, however, have misconceptions concerning what it means to rise from the dead. In Martha’s case she thinks only of resurrection at the end time. Mary, attentive only to the historical fact, does not think it is possible at all for Lazarus to rise from the dead. Despite the clear meaning of Jesus’ words they do not understand, so they think Lazarus already has started to decay in the tomb.
Still Jesus insists that Lazarus will rise from the dead for the glorification of God. Those standing around cannot understand the literal meaning of Jesus’ claim. The whole scene becomes a test of faith. Martha and Mary must believe that their brother will be restored to them. The bystanders who had been in the house with Mary ask, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” Even Jesus’ own disciples did not believe what Jesus has been telling them. In this impossible situation, Jesus continues to claim that Lazarus will rise again and that this rising is for the glorification of God.
The church places this Gospel reading on the Fifth Sunday of Lent as a prelude to our commemoration of Jesus’ own passion, death and resurrection. Jesus’ followers will have their faith tested even more severely within a short time. If the raising of Lazarus is for the glorification of God, even more so will be Jesus’ own passion, death and resurrection. As we celebrate the events of Holy Week, we to are invited to believe and to glorify God.
Jesus claims in the Gospel that he is the resurrection and the life. He proved this claim by raising Lazarus from the dead. It is only after his passion, death, and resurrection, that the disciples understand the significance of his claim. Jesus’ very identity is resurrection and life.
Each year we are drawn deeply into the paschal mystery. As we have more and more experience as our years pass not only do we have a greater understanding of Jesus’ identity, but we also have a greater love of the one who came to save us through suffering, death and rising. Our annual celebration of these mysteries helps our own faith and more generally the glorification of God.
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.