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  • Writer's pictureThe Hermit of Antipolo

The Raising of Lazarus (A Perspective on Covid - 19 Part 11)

Today’s gospel: John 11:1-45

“Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany” (v.1a). “Lazarus has died.” (v.14a). Today ill, tomorrow dead. This is happening to many due to COVID-19. This is distressing to relatives, friends and the community. “Jesus saw (Mary) weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping” (v.33a). But our sorrow, which may lead us to ask “why,” should lead us to deeper reflection and understanding of the ways of God.

What can this episode of Lazarus teach us, in relation to COVID-19?

First, God does know our pain, and God does want to heal. “When Jesus saw (Mary) weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled” (v.33). Jesus shares our pain. “And Jesus wept.” (v.35). Jesus is distressed with our loss. But what distresses Jesus most is the presence of death, darkness and evil in the world. The literal translation in Greek of “became perturbed” is “he snorted in spirit,” indicating his anger at the presence of death and evil. In looking at COVID-19, we need to see that this chastisement from God has been occasioned by the darkness and evil that have beset the world.

Second, when Jesus “heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.” (v.6). He could have gone immediately to Lazarus and healed him, but he did not. This is what both Martha and Mary told him. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v.21,32b). Why does God not stop COVID-19? Why does God not heal those who are infected so they do not die? With Lazarus, there was a lesson to be learned. As for today, the world needs to be turned topsy-turvy in order to shake it from its spiritual stupor, and make people realize how far they have strayed away from God.

Third, Jesus says, “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.” (v.4). Now COVID-19 does result in death. How can we understand what Jesus said? Jesus is not referring to physical death but to spiritual death. Yes, we will die physically, at times due to illness. But we do not need to die spiritually. If our illness and the challenges we face in life bring us to repentance and we turn back to God, then we will not die but live.

Fourth, the way we are to live, even if we die, is to have faith in Jesus. “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live” (v.25). With COVID-19 comes physical death; with Jesus comes eternal life. This is what the world needs to learn. Then physical death need not be such a terrible or unwanted experience, as it would only be the gateway to true life. This is now the challenge for the world. Jesus states a truth and then asks us a question: “everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (v.26). The world should answer like Martha. “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” (v.27).

Fifth, Jesus told them to take away the stone that covered the tomb of Lazarus. Martha said, “Lord, by now there will be a stench” (v.39b). In the tomb was the darkness and stench of death and sin. So much of the world today is in darkness and sin. It is like we are all living in one big tomb, with zombies walking around. What separated the tomb from Jesus, what separated death from life, was the stone. The stone reflects the hardness of people’s hearts today. Their hearts have been hardened by sin. People’s lives today are driven by deadly isms.

“Stone” can be an acronym for the following:

* Secularism – this is indifference to or rejection of religion. Religious beliefs and practices are more and more being excluded by a secularized society. Religious freedom is being trampled upon.

* Transgenderism – this is gender identity or gender expression that differs from sex at birth. This is the ultimate manifestation of the Sexual Revolution and the perversity of LGBT. It is depravity and is contrary to God’s design.

* Opportunism – this is taking advantage of circumstances, with little or no regard for principles or negative consequences on others. This is self-interest at its worst. It is predatory. This brings about great injustices, and is contrary to love of neighbor.

* Nihilism – this is the rejection of all religious and moral principles. It is looking at life as having no objective meaning, purpose or intrinsic value. It dismisses morality. It is contrary to faith.

* Egoism – this is about looking to self-interest as the motivation and goal of one’s own action. This is selfism. It is contrary to Christian virtues of selflessness, self-denial and dying to self.

Now Jesus says, “Take away the stone.” (v.39a). The world needs to rid itself of S.T.O.N.E., and start to build on the Rock that is Christ. We are to repent of these isms and put our faith in Jesus. Then the world can be moved from the darkness into the glory of God. “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” (v.40).

Then Jesus cried out, “‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, ‘Untie him and let him go.’” (v.43-44). Jesus brings us out of darkness, death and the stench of sin, and sets us free. In this life, if we put our faith in Jesus, he sets us free of the deadly isms. But more importantly, Jesus sets us free from death and brings us to eternal life. For those who believe, death due to COVID-19 is not the tragic end but the glorious beginning.

Some of the Jews had said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” (v.37). God certainly can do something about COVID-19 so that people will stop dying. He can stop this pandemic in an instant. But God first wants to open the eyes of the blind. We need to see the futility of our investing ourselves in the pleasures of the world, and to see the preciousness of our faith in all its aspects, including our Eucharistic celebrations. The lockdowns are meant to impress upon us what God has been telling us all along.

So let us continue to pray, and pray fervently. Trust in Jesus. Be like Martha who said, “even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” (v.22). Let us ask our Lord Jesus to intercede for us before the Father. Let us pray in the mighty name of Jesus our Lord. We pray for this pandemic to end. But more so, we pray for people to repent of their sins and turn back to God.

Then let us in faith hear Jesus say to us and to the world, “Your brother will rise.” (v.23).

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