By Fr. Robert J. Carr
©Catholic Online 2005
If we do not understand well the story of the raising of Lazarus, we will reduce it to something just above a magic show. Indeed, it is meaningless if we see the focal point as Lazarus. It is not. Lazarus is the climax of the story, whose focal point is Martha.
I use this gospel for funerals and one of the reasons is obviously that this is a typical funeral scene. Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, and most likely as much as a sinner as was his sister, has died. The scene would be a typical Jewish funeral scene. Remember the Jews bury their dead as soon as possible. The call for Jesus is left unheeded, and finally Jesus arrives four days after his death. There is no way that Lazarus can be revived because so much time has passed. It is then that both Martha and Mary express complete logical assumption that their brother will never recover.
SPOTLIGHT ON MARTHA
Here is where the focal point is on Martha. Here we begin to see a teaching about everything from the role of the laity to why we do what we do. Jesus speaks to Martha, she, a woman feels free to talk to not only the teacher, but also the one who was his friend and hers as well. So it is an intimate conversation. This is not the local celebrity making it good who comes to a funeral. This is a friend who happens to be a local celebrity. This is key. Remember if we misunderstand this gospel, it becomes no more than a show.
When Jesus and Martha have their interchange, it is here that Martha acknowledges that she believes in the resurrection from the dead. She does not expect Lazarus to resurrect, but does expect it at the end of time. Here you can imagine her answer is the product of many nights over wine and food. Jesus, smiling and laughing and talking, as friends do, with Martha, Mary and Lazarus in their house. Others come over to hear Jesus' teaching. There are questions asked in all sincerity, mysteries revealed. People whose hearts are set aflame who understand Jesus in ways the leaders of the Temple never will. Now, all that comes to the fore. She got the teaching, she understands, there is a resurrection, just as he taught. She believes. Jesus goes over to the tomb of Lazarus. Others respond from a distance. They were not as intimate friends with Jesus as was Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Further, if Jesus arrived on time, this whole matter would be moot. Lazarus would have been healed. Yet, that is too late now. If only he cared enough to come when he was called.
Jesus raises Lazarus, however remember the focal point of the story is not Lazarus it is Martha. As Martha acknowledged that she understands the resurrection of the dead, so too has she been commissioned to teach those who just watched the whole event as is Mary and now Lazarus. They need to know that indeed, there is a resurrection, Lazarus is the example. Martha and her siblings have just been commissioned to testify to that fact. Jesus does not say it to Martha, but he shows her: "You believe in the resurrection from the dead; now teach that truth to your village."
THE GREAT COMMISSION
Yet, notice that the Apostles are not mentioned except at the beginning of the story. The apostles will eventually go out and preach the gospel both before Jesus' death and resurrection and clearly afterwards. Yet, that is their role, to go out and preach the gospel on the countryside. Everywhere they go, they are to find a Martha, Mary and/or Lazarus and they will be the leaders in the village teaching the faith on a day to day level. While the Apostles work across villages and towns and nations.
This becomes the role of the laity in the Church. Stay home and teach the message, there is a resurrection from the dead for those who die in Christ! You are called to be the witnesses to the truth, teach the truth in every corner of your village. Preach the gospel so that your neighbors may be saved.
Jesus gives Martha both a commission and a vision. "Look at the people here who are open to what you know. Go out and teach them. Show them that I am the resurrection and the life." It is here that the role of laity is commissioned. It is domestic, but not domesticated. It is lived in the nitty gritty of life. It is not go out and preach my gospel, it is stay here and help the seeds that Jesus and the Apostles planted to grow. Martha, Mary and Lazarus are commissioned. So are you. Do it.
BE FRUITFUL AND SAVE SOULS
You are the tree that distributes its seeds all over the field. You are the source of the gospel in your village so that all in your village may be saved. You are the teachers of the resurrection. The priest's role literally in the liturgy is as persona Christi. He is the one called liturgically to commission you. You are the backbone not only of the Church, but more so, of the very gospel message itself. You must have the passion for the gospel. The priest is not here to feed you, he is here to enrich you, that you may go out and bear fruit. You are not here to be nourished, you are here to be energized, that you may bring people into the fold.
Why? because we are in the business of saving souls. Those souls need to be saved and it is God's will that each and everyone are. Yet, they cannot be saved if they are not called to repentance and conversion. You are the agents of that call. The priest is the one who takes them sacramentally through the fruitfulness you planted in their hearts and minds. Yet, you are the planter, you are the irrigator, the priest is supplier of seeds that you sow. The priest is the agent here to help you serve Christ. If he fails, you may fail. If he succeeds, you succeed. If you fail, because he fails, God help him. If you fail, even though he succeeds, God help you.
Those who dismiss Christ and focus on the joys of a temporal life will be lost with all things temporal. Those who focus on the eternal will live.
Do you know that many people refused to ride the Titanic because its message was no different than that of the Tower of Babel: "We have conquered nature we are gods and we have built the unsinkable." People, just like you and I knew that to tempt God like that was recipe for disaster. Those who had a focus on the eternal lived for a ripe old age. Many who did not, died two hours after the ship hit an iceberg.
You are the difference between someone going down with the ship of arrogance or living eternally in the kingdom of God. You were commissioned, as was Martha, go out and teach them. Jesus lives, and so do we. Pray, fast, read the bible and learn the truth, that you may preach Christ.
http://www.catholicismanew.org MA, US
Fr. Robert J. Carr - parochial vicar, 617 542-5682
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