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?”
I spent this last week visiting a good friend and classmate in California. He is pastor of a parish named in honor of St. Irenaeus, who lived during the second century A.D. St. Irenaeus spent his life and wisdom defending and explaining the Catholic faith. He is credited with a beautiful quote: “The glory of God is man [fully] alive; and the life of man is the vision of God.” He is referring to us, transformed and renewed in Christ, reflecting the glory of God for others to see. When we show forth that life, because we have been transformed by a real, personal encounter with Jesus, then we become true evangelists. We reveal God’s glory in our world.
However, this is not a passive thing; and it is not an accident.
Today’s gospel continues our Lenten reflection on the real encounter with Christ that we are all called to have. As the woman at the well was convicted and became an evangelist to her village; as the man born blind revealed the vision of God in the person of Jesus; so too the raising of Lazarus is a call to us to consider how we encounter Christ and what that encounter has done to us – if anything!
This week, Jesus comes to the tomb of His friend, Lazarus. This is the first time in John’s gospel that we meet Lazarus; and he is dead. This is important. We know nothing of him except that he is Martha and Mary’s brother, and that they were good friends of Jesus – and that he is dead. In fact, Jesus is even certain to make sure that the Apostles (and we) know this fact. When they thought that he was just “asleep,” So then Jesus said to them clearly, “Lazarus has died.”
As He approaches the tomb, we see the great love that Jesus has for Lazarus. He weeps along with the mourners, and they recognize this love. Jesus has a personal relationship with Lazarus - like He wants with us. Then He reaches out to the tomb and calls Lazarus, and the dead man comes out – alive.
Jesus always reaches out – to us, to the world – and He calls us to life. This is not the usual “breathe-in-breathe-out” sort of life that we live “accidentally,” but rather, it is life to the full – life as God intends it! “The glory of God is man fully alive!” The raising of Lazarus is meant to reveal to us the radical difference that being a friend and disciple of Jesus makes. To be fully alive, we cannot consider business as usual as a believer in Jesus.
This is the Christian call to witness to Christ, and it is no simple thing; it is not delegated to a few “professionals”; it is not someone else’s “religious experience.” This is what faith in Christ means! “Everyone who believes in me will never die.” What a radical statement! How are we following it?
Pope Francis gives us a sense of the radical nature of discipleship. In his exhortation to the Church to become and evangelizing community, he writes:
But this conviction has to be sustained by our own constantly renewed experience of savoring Christ’s friendship and his message. It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights. We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything. This is why we evangelize. A true missionary, who never ceases to be a disciple, knows that Jesus walks with him, speaks to him, breathes with him, works with him. He senses Jesus alive with him in the midst of the missionary enterprise. Unless we see him present at the heart of our missionary commitment, our enthusiasm soon wanes and we are no longer sure of what it is that we are handing on; we lack vigor and passion. A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody (EG, 266).
Jesus knew that this encounter with Lazarus was meant for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it. As Lazarus returns to life, he is renewed and cannot live the same way – how could he? We are given this life through our first encounter with Christ in Baptism. Remembering that, can we live the same as everyone else?
The difference between a life lived with Jesus and a life lived without Him must be as radical as night and day, black and white, life and death. That is what this gospel encounter is all about. Our Lord’s question to Martha is the same as He asks us: “Do you believe this?”
Does your life with Jesus look exactly the same as a life without Him? Are we trying to build a world based on our relationship with Christ, or are we trying to simply “be nice” and tolerate each other?
Life in Christ is life to the full, and in it we reveal the fullness of God’s glory. This is an “all or nothing” proposal, and we cannot live it by accident or passively. Today, Jesus calls you out of the tomb to new life. How will that life be different now?