A reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent
The question is often raised, “If God is good, why is there evil in the world?” Sometimes this dilemma is even used as a proof that God does not exist – if God is all-good and all-powerful, shouldn’t He be able to prevent all evil from happening?
The Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (John 11:1-45) sheds light on this question that has haunted humankind for centuries. What does God do in the face of evil? What is His response to suffering?
In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus has just fled Judea where the Jews have just attempted to stone Him to death. There on the far side of the Jordan, He receives news from Mary and Martha in Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem in the heart of Judea. They send word about their brother Lazarus, a close friend of Jesus: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” Jesus reassures His disciples saying, “this illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory.” Two days later, Jesus tells them, “Let us go to Judea again… Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples protest and reply that if Lazarus is simply sleeping, then he will be all right. Jesus clarifies, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Arriving in Bethany, Jesus learns that Lazarus has already been buried for four days. Understandably, Mary and Martha are distraught and heartbroken. Martha tells Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus tells her, “I am the resurrection and the life, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She replies, “Yes, Lord, I believe.” She then sends for Mary, who comes to Jesus saying the very same thing: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She weeps at the feet of Jesus. Those who are with her also weep. The Gospel recounts that Jesus was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” He says, “Where have you laid him?” Then, Jesus weeps
Jesus walks with them to the tomb. He tells them to roll away the stone. The Gospel tells us that there was already a stench; the body had begun to decompose. Jesus cries out, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus rises from the dead, wrapped in burial linens. Jesus tells them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
What do we see in Jesus’ response to this situation?
Jesus is informed that Lazarus is sick. Jesus says that it will not lead to death. Two days later, without any further news from Mary or Martha, Jesus knows that Lazarus has died and sets off to wake him up. Could Jesus have underestimated the illness of Lazarus at the outset? Surely not. Jesus knows that Lazarus will die of this illness, nevertheless He says, “this illness does not lead to death.”
What does this show us? Jesus knows that Lazarus will die, but that his death will not have the last word. There is something greater than the illness. The illness does not lead to death, it leads to resurrection.
Jesus ventures back into Judea with the express purpose of resurrecting Lazarus from the dead. There is no doubt in His mind. Arriving in Bethany He proclaims to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus knows He will raise Lazarus from the dead. Moments later, Jesus encounters Mary, and He weeps. Why is this?
Jesus does not weep because all hope is lost. He does not weep because Lazarus is lost forever. He does not weep because He will never see His friend again. Jesus knows that Lazarus will be raised from the dead.
Rather, Jesus weeps at the suffering of Mary and Martha. He does not weep because their suffering is hopeless or has no meaning. He knows their sadness will soon be turned to joy when He raises their brother from the dead. Yet Jesus weeps. He is greatly disturbed and deeply moved, and He weeps.
God is not blind to our suffering. He sees our grief, our sorrow, and our struggles. He sees what is wrong in the world. He sees children who have nothing to eat. He sees families broken by hatred and division. He sees babies born with terrible illnesses. He sees people caught in addiction. He sees people abused and treated unjustly. He sees us grieve the loss of our loved ones. And He weeps. God weeps before our suffering. He loves us as Jesus loves Lazarus. He is greatly disturbed and deeply moved. But His response does not end with weeping. Otherwise, the suffering, the evil, the death would have the last word.
Rather, God wants nothing more than to raise us from the tombs that deaden us, to unbind us and set us free. And this is what He does. This is why Jesus came. Not just across the Jordan back to Judea, but from heaven to earth. Not just to bring Lazarus back from four days in the tomb, but to bring us back, to raise us from our suffering, our sorrow, our grief, and finally to raise us from death to eternal life. He is the resurrection and the life. He comes to resurrect us and give us life forever.
No matter how long we have been stuck in the tomb, no matter how serious the problem or dire the situation – no matter how great the ‘stench,’ God will always have the last word. It may not seem clear to us. It may make us say, with Martha and Mary, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It may not relieve the pain or put an end to the hurt. But God sees. God knows. Our pain is not foreign to Him. He weeps with us. He gives us hope in the midst of our hurt. Because He says about us the same thing He said to His disciples about Lazarus: “Let us go to him…” “Let us go to her…” He comes and stands at the foot of our tomb to raise us from the dead. Listening to Him cry out our name, we too rise from the depths of the grave. In the face of evil, God weeps and comes to raise us from death to life.
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