Lent V year A 2017
Fr. Dale Matson
It is an obvious theme in both our Old Testament Lesson and our Gospel Lesson that God is able to raise the dead to life. In the Old Testament lesson it was Ezekiel who spoke the word of God to the bones of a dead Israel and the bones came back together with human form. Ezekiel spoke the word of God once again and the Spirit of God gave them life. God did this to demonstrate that He is God. “Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, oh My people and brought you up from your graves. Why did God do this? He did it because He could do it and to demonstrate His reality and glory to Israel.
Before I get to the Gospel account, however, I want to draw upon the parable from St. Luke’s Gospel about the rich man and Lazarus. In this story, a poor beggar named Lazarus died and went to the bosom of Abraham. Perhaps the bosom of Abraham should best be thought of as the place of bliss and rest between death and resurrection. The rich man went to Hell and in his pleading was told that there is a chasm between him and Lazarus that cannot be crossed. Upon hearing this, the rich man asked Abraham to warn his five brothers who were still living so that they would not also wind up in Hell. "But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them. But he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!' "But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'" Keep this in mind as we move on to the Gospel account. I believe Jesus has himself in mind when he tells this parable. It is also interesting that it is the only parable that Jesus relates where he uses a specific name “Lazarus”. He may also be referring to the other Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha.
In this Gospel account, Jesus was in Perea, when word was sent from Mary and Martha in Bethany that His good friend Lazarus was sick. I would say that Lazarus was dying and may have died before the message even got to Jesus. Even though Scripture only says that Lazarus was sick, he was dying otherwise, why would they have sent for Jesus? Jesus spoke as a Prophet when he stated that the sickness of Lazarus would not end in death. At the same time, He must have known that Lazarus may have already died. If Lazarus was in the tomb for four days, and Jesus stayed in Perea for an additional two days, it would leave one day for the message to get to him about Lazarus and one day of travel to Bethany.
There is another point worth noting. Jesus stated that He was on this earth both to do the will of His Father in Heaven and to bring Him glory. If he had gotten to Bethany before Lazarus died, he may have healed him. He went against the wishes of His friends. Instead of one more of countless healings, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead which brings God even more glory.
In verse eleven, while He is still in Perea, Jesus actually told the disciples that Lazarus had fallen asleep but he was going to wake him up. As usual, His disciples do not understand what Jesus is getting at and He had to explain to them by asleep, He means that Lazarus has died.
Martha ran out to meet Jesus and stated “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Even though this may sound like a criticism, I believe it should be taken at face value and as a statement of faith. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” In fairness to Martha, this also balances somewhat another account where she appears a bit self-righteous as the hostess who complained to Jesus that she had to do the work while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. In this account Mary stayed home mourning her brother while Martha went out to meet Jesus. Then Martha states, “But I know that even now that God will give you whatever you ask”. This statement tells me that she already believes that Jesus can raise her brother from the dead. Jesus understands her unspoken hope and simply says, “Your brother will rise again”. Her next statement sounds like she is backpedaling on her hope but I think she said what she did say in hopes Jesus would bring Lazarus back to life before the resurrection.
Jesus then makes a claim which is a song in our heart and the hope we receive by faith as Christians. If it sounds more familiar than other passages it is because it is the Gospel reading in our burial service. Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” There is also a passage I am reminded of similar to this in the “Great Thanksgiving” portion of our liturgy. “….and at the last day, bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom”. Every time I read this, I am deeply moved. It is also reflected in verse three of today’s gradual hymn. “Jesus, hail! Enthroned in glory, there forever to abide; all the heavenly hosts adore thee, seated at thy Father’s side. There for sinners thou are pleading: there thou dost our place prepare; ever for us interceding, till in glory we appear.”
When Jesus states, “I am”, we have one of the seven “I am” statements of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of John. “I am” is not accidental. Jesus is saying that He is God. I ask you, “Do you believe this?" Jesus is not just life, he imparts life to us.
Jesus puts a challenge to Martha following His statement about who He is. “Do you believe this?” She replies, “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the son of God, who was to come into the world. Her statement of faith, while less famous that Peter’s statement of faith is of equal value. It frequently happens that Jesus will challenge someone requesting healing about their faith in His capacity to heal them. I believe that it is not an accident that the faith statement of Martha was associated with a kind of intercessory prayer for her dead brother who could not answer Jesus.
When Mary finally comes out to meet Jesus she repeats what Martha said. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Others said the same thing but their comments were based on the previous miracles of Jesus. Martha and Mary based their comments on faith in Jesus Himself.
Can you imagine the crowd gathering around Jesus as He is overcome with grief for Lazarus and begins weeping himself? He asked where Lazarus was laid and went to the tomb where Lazarus was entombed four days before. There was a stone covering the entrance. Does this remind you of another case of being raised from dead?
And now we come to the moment that transcends Ezekiel. Ezekiel prophesized to the dry bones, using the words the Lord had given him. He spoke to the dry bones and the Spirit brought them back to life. Jesus was and is the living Word. As God spoke the universe into existence, Jesus spoke and Lazarus was raised to life to reveal the glory of God. “Jesus simply said, “Lazarus come forth”. Lazarus was also raised to life to reveal the glory of God the Son. The Spirit of the Lord called Ezekiel “Son of man.” Jesus referred to Himself as the son of man and the son of God.
And now I return to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Abraham told the rich man, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”
So why is it that even when someone rises from the dead, it is still not enough to persuade people? Why is it that when someone rises from the dead that some will still not believe? Nothing will persuade those who have something to lose. Following this, the Jews plotted to kill not only Jesus but Lazarus (John 12:9). We understand better if we go to the next few sentences. “Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done. Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, "What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. "If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."
You see, even the Pharisees and Sanhedrin did not question the authenticity of the miracles of Jesus but they had something to lose. They were afraid of losing their place and their nation. Those who seek to save their life will lose it. Those who lose their life for His sake will gain eternal life.
Only God can raise the dead to life. Those of us like Lazarus and the dry bones of Israel, who have been raised from death to life, must tell the five brothers of the rich man and all the nations that Christ has raised us from the dead. We have been raised with Christ to the heavenly places. We must also know that there are others who have something to lose be it position or power. They will look to discredit our witness. We also must be on guard that we don’t discredit our own testimony. We must not however be the ones to say, “We must remain silent or the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” If we do this, we will be seeking to save our life and wind up forfeiting our soul. In the Spirit we must speak to the dead with the words of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that they may be brought to life by the Spirit of God.
Christians have nothing to lose for they have sold all that they have for the pearl of great price Jesus the Christ and because of this, we are persuaded that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He is the great I AM and with Martha and Peter we too confess that He is the Christ, the son of the living God. Amen.