Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Resurrection of Lazarus

Pietro Annigoni (1910–1988)
Risurrezione di Lazzaro (Resurrection of Lazarus) 1946
Oil on canvas
98 x 80 cm
Coll.Arte Rel.Moderna, Città del Vaticano, Vatican

The raising of Lazarus from the dead is one of the most dramatic and important events recorded in Saint John’s Gospel.

The subject occupies a whole chapter: Chapter 11

Thirty seven verses are taken up as an introduction to the action of the miracle and the events before Jesus walks to the tomb of Lazarus

Only six verses are taken up with the recounting of the actual miracle: what Jesus said and did at the tomb and Lazarus coming out of the tomb.

"38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” "

The remainder of the Chapter (12 verses) are about the consequences of the miracle.

The miracle is a reminder that Christ was truly man, experiencing the whole gamut of human feelings and emotions

Blessed Pope John Paul II said (General Audience 3rd February 1988)

"[Christ] truly experienced human feelings of joy, sadness, anger, wonder and love. For example, ... He also wept after the death of his friend Lazarus. "When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said to him, 'Sir, come and see.' And Jesus wept" (Jn 11:33-35)."

It is also a manifestation of Christ’s power to break the bonds of death and an anticipation of the new creation.

Of this Blessed Pope John Paul II said (General Audience 25th November 1987):

"Among the various dead people raised to life by Jesus, the case of Lazarus of Bethany merits special attention.

His resurrection was a prelude to the cross and resurrection of Christ, which achieved the definitive victory over sin and death.

The evangelist John has left us a detailed description of this event.

For us, let it suffice to refer to the final moment. Jesus asked that the stone which closed the tomb be removed ("Take away the stone"). The dead man's sister Martha observed that her brother had been dead for four days and that there would be a stench. Nevertheless Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" "And the dead man came out," the evangelist tells us (cf. Jn 11:38-43).

This fact caused many of those present to believe in Jesus.

Others, however, went to the representatives of the Sanhedrin to report the event. The chief priests and the Pharisees were alarmed, thinking of the possible reaction of the Roman occupying power ("the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation," Jn 11:45-48).

At that very moment Caiphas' famous words broke the silence of the Sanhedrin, "You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish." The evangelist notes, "He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied."

What was the nature of the prophecy? John gives us the Christian understanding of those words. "Jesus was to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God" (cf. Jn 11:49-52).

As is evident, John's description of the resurrection of Lazarus also contains the essential indications regarding the salvific significance of this miracle.

They are definitive indications, because it was then that the Sanhedrin decided to put Jesus to death (cf. Jn 11:53). It will be the redemptive death "for the nation" and "to gather into one the dispersed children of God," for the salvation of the world. But Jesus has already said that his death would become the definitive victory over death.

On the occasion of the resurrection of Lazarus he assured Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, shall live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die" (Jn 11:25-26)".

In the presence of the people Jesus prays aloud, thanking his Father for the mighty deeds he will do. Christ has a unique relationship with the Father. He reveals this unique relationship so that people will have faith.

Blessed Pope John Paul II (General Audience 3rd March 1999) said:

"Jesus' relationship with the Father is unique.

He knows he is always heard; he knows that through him the Father reveals his glory, even when men may doubt it and need to be convinced by him.

We see all this in the episode of the raising of Lazarus: "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 hear me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that you sent me"" (Jn 11:41f.).

Because of this unique understanding, Jesus can present himself as the One who reveals the Father with a knowledge that is the fruit of an intimate and mysterious reciprocity, as he emphasizes in his joyful hymn: "All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Mt 11:27)"

God’s saving work is accomplished through Christ so that all will come to believe.

Again Blessed Pope John Paul II said (General Audience 21st October 1987)

"The decisive importance of faith appears even more clearly in the dialogue between Jesus and Martha before the tomb of Lazarus.

"Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise.' Martha said to him, 'I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.' Jesus told her, 'I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'

She said to him, 'Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world'" (Jn 11:23-27). Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead as a sign of Jesus' own divine power not only to raise the dead, because he is the Lord of life, but also to conquer death he who is the resurrection and the life, as he said to Martha.

Jesus' teaching on faith as a condition of his saving action is summed up and confirmed in his nighttime conversation with Nicodemus, a Jewish leader who was well disposed to him and ready to recognize him as a "teacher come from God" (cf. Jn 3:12)."

As a historical event, it explains the hostile environment in which Jesus operated and explains why the raising of Lazarus led to an increase in the level of hostility towards Christ that people worked actively for his death. It was this event which became the trigger for the arrest of Jesus and the Crucifixion.

Blessed Pope John Paul II said (General Audience: September 28, 1988)

"[W}hat were the circumstances that led to the death of Jesus of Nazareth? How does one explain the fact that he was handed over to death by the representatives of his nation, who delivered him to the Roman procurator, whose name, recorded by the Gospels, is mentioned in the creeds of the faith? ...

We know that there was conflict already at the beginning of Jesus' teaching in his native town. Speaking in the synagogue, the thirty-year-old Nazarene indicated that he was the one in whom Isaiah's announcement of the Messiah was fulfilled. This caused a sense of wonder in his hearers, and later provoked them to wrath. They wished to throw him down headlong from the brow of the hill "on which their city was built...but passing through the midst of them he went away" (Lk 4:29-30). ...

The fact that eventually brought things to a head and led to the decision to kill Jesus was the raising of Lazarus from the dead in Bethany.

John's Gospel informs us that at the subsequent meeting of the Sanhedrin it was stated: "This man performs many signs. If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation."

In view of these forecasts and fears Caiaphas, the high priest, said to them, "It is evident that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation should not perish" (Jn 11:47-50).

The evangelist adds, "He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God, who are scattered abroad." And he concludes, "So from that day on they took counsel how to put him to death" (Jn 11:51-53).

In this way John informs us of the twofold aspect of the position adopted by Caiaphas.

From the human point of view, which could be more accurately described as opportunist, it was an attempt to justify the elimination of a man regarded as politically dangerous, without caring about his innocence. From a higher point of view, made his own and noted by the evangelist, Caiaphas' words, independently of his intention, had a truly prophetic content regarding the mystery of Christ's death according to God's salvific plan."