When Connections Pay
by Rev. Matthew H. Zuebueler
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill. So the sisters sent word to Jesus saying, "Master, the one you love is ill," When Jesus heard this he said, "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." Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea." The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." He said this, and then told them, "Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him." So the disciples said to him, "Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved." But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, "Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him." So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go to die with him."
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." 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 Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, "The teacher is here and is asking for you." As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him. For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him. So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her 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. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him." But some of them said, "Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?"
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the dead man's sister, said to him, "Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they many believe that you sent me." And when he had said this, He cried out in a loud voice, "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 the, "Untie him and let him go."
Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.
Sometimes in the church people expect special treatment because they have a “connection.” Maybe their uncle is a monsignor or the pope or even president of the parish council — and they know they can, for example, get the wedding date they want (or whatever they might be seeking) because of this link. This Sunday’s long and rich Gospel passage begins with a very close link: Mary and Martha send word to Jesus, their personal friend, because their brother Lazarus, also Jesus’ friend, is very sick. “Master, the one you love is ill.” In the plea for His help and attention they give the reminder of how close their brother is to Jesus. Jesus, as we know and as we have come to expect, gives an unusual response. Read it again and think about it: When Jesus heard this He said, "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." Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was ill, He remained for two days in the place where He was.
The Evangelist, John, states plainly that Jesus loved these three people in a special way. We know that Jesus loves everyone so when it is pointed out that He loved them it means that He was particularly close to them. Because of this love one expects to read that Jesus rushed to their aid immediately. But He does not do so. Instead He lingers two more days where He is. What does it mean? Why does He give that response to their plea? We note that He also says that the illness will not end in death but will be a means by which He himself will be glorified.
It is this aspect of the situation that can be a key to help us understand a deeper meaning of the importance of the “connection” between Jesus and His close friends.
Knowing, as He does, of the depth of His friends’ confidence in Him and their love for Him, Jesus includes them in the special miracle He is about to work. We all try to avoid illness and suffering and, most certainly, death. Jesus, by not returning to heal his friend Lazarus, leaves Mary and Martha to suffer the loss of their brother. And, of course, He leaves Lazarus to suffer death.
The reality of all of this earthly loss was keenly felt by the three of them (and also by Jesus). For them, however, there was the underlying confusion caused by the Lord’s apparent decision to ignore their call for help. Did He not receive the message? Did He ignore it? These questions must seem familiar to all of us because we know the feeling of having God’s response to our prayers not match the response we wanted.
Everyone knows that Jesus raised His friend Lazarus from the dead. On the way to accomplish this dramatic work, He delayed and spent time explaining things to His disciples. His friends back in Bethany were paying the price for the lesson He taught the world by relying on their goodwill. Jesus calls Lazarus’ death “sleep” but then very plainly removes the confusion by saying, "Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him." Surely by this time the disciples with Jesus and His friends Mary and Martha were confused by His words and actions. When we meditate on what He does and says next we can recognize how the Savior Jesus was calling forth a deeper faith from these close followers. Martha displays for us the truly deep faith she had in Him through this trial, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." And even more impressively: "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."
We live today with a clear knowledge (made clearer by the gift of faith) of what Jesus did for us and what it means. When we accept a deeper friendship with Jesus, we find that He relies on us to take part in the ways He chooses to reach people. The struggles of life can be invitations to share in His plan to make Himself better known in this world. He is glad when His friends let Him rely on His “connections.”
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