Fifth Sunday of Lent 2017

Readings can be found here.

(I used the long form for the Gospel.)
Image result for raising lazarus
Original painting by Leon Joseph Florentin Bonnat, 1857

For the last couple of weeks in my Philosophy of Religion class, we’ve been discussing the Problem of Evil. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the name, I guarantee you’ve heard or even considered the argument before. Depending on the variation, it goes like this: If God is almighty and all-knowing, then He’d know about and have the power to stop evil/suffering. If God is all-good, then He’d want to stop any (unnecessary) evil/suffering. However, there’s (unnecessary) evil/suffering in the world. Therefore, the Judaeo-Christian God doesn’t exist.

Now, how does this argument apply to this week’s readings? Honestly, I would never have thought it applied, either; after all, the story of our Lord raising Lazarus from the dead is one I’ve heard often. But I noticed, finally, all of the typical signs of the believer questioning the existence of evil paralleled this week: 1) Mary and Martha send a messenger informing the Lord that the one he loves is ill; this represents us reminding God in prayer that He loves the one whom we’re praying for and informing Him that he/she is ill/suffering. 2) Lazarus dies a couple of days after the news, and, I assume and hope, his sisters were there with him, waiting their Lord; this represents us watching our loved one suffer and perhaps pass away, despite our prayers. 3) Jesus finally decides to show up, and both Mary and Martha run up to him to tell him that if he had been there, their brother would not have died; this, most obviously, represents our anger in God if we think He “hasn’t heard our prayers,” shaking our fists in the air saying, “If You only existed…”

I think, out of all of the arguments against God, this one is the strongest case. After all, evil and suffering are things we hear about, witness first hand, and slave through ourselves. However, I think (understandably) what we fail to realize in our suffering is that God Himself suffers as well, both due to knowledge of the suffering and in His attempt to help us, and St. John shows us this. I won’t even attempt to explain God’s intentions, so I leave the interpretation of the following parallels up to you: 1) Jesus loves Lazarus and his sisters. 2) Jesus clearly wants to go back to Judea, where Lazarus has died, but the disciples remind him that it is dangerous to go back; despite this, he goes back, anyways, with Thomas Didymus saying, perhaps sarcastically, “Well, let’s go die with him.” 3) When Jesus sees Lazarus’s body, in his human nature, he weeps (once again, a reminder of how much he loved Lazarus).

I think it’s important to note that although Lazarus’s particular story has a purpose that we know and are familiar with–“that the Son of God may be glorified through it”–the characters in the story don’t, creating a dramatic irony. We don’t have the luxury of understanding the purpose of our sufferings most of the time; if we’re lucky, we’re graced with some hindsight that helps us see how it all fit together in the end, but this also rarely happens. I’m sure the Israelites who Ezekiel spoke to this week wanted some hindsight knowledge; for all they knew, God had abandoned them too. But Ezekiel promised them that God would bring them back to Israel, and while they thought he meant their physical homeland, it’s clear to us now (Hindsight? Nah, revelation.) that, in fact, it’s our spiritual homeland. Additionally, St. Paul this week reminds us that getting to the heavenly Israel has some requirements: We have to die first and have the spirit of Christ.

Jesus himself knows how difficult these requirements are. How? Through his Passion, which we’ll celebrate in just a couple short weeks. Both require us to suffer, physically and spiritually. Thomas, here, is our model: “Let us also go die with him.” We might not know what’s going on, and, very often, we want the answers. But, if we call ourselves Christian, we must follow Christ, unreservedly and patiently. Through Ezekiel, God tells us, “I have promised, and I will do it…” Through St. John, Christ reminds us that he is the “resurrection and the life.” May God help us to remember all of these things through our own weeping, and may our steadfastness in faith, hope, and love in these trying times help us–and others–come to believe in “the one who raised Christ from the dead.”

Originally posted on my Blogger on 4/1/2017.

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