Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Follo: Life Gives Life

With the invitation to meditate on the fact that Jesus gives us life because he gives us God and that, if we are his friends, we will have life because he is Life.

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Roman Rite – 5th Sunday of Lent – Year A – March 29, 2020

Eze 37, 12-14; Ps 130; Rom 8: 8-11; Jn 11: 1-45


Ambrosian Rite – 5th Sunday of Lent

Ex 14.15-31; Ps 105; Eph 2,4-10; Jn 11: 1-53


  • The truth of death and the voice of the heart.

The last word doesn’t  belong death but to the God of Love who gives life. Those who know this love live already an eternal life. Faith teaches us that life does not end with the  biological death but is transformed into eternal life thanks to the love of God shared daily: love knows how to give life to the end. God is love, bottomless bottom, beginning of everything and endless end. Human love is opposed to death and wants life. The love of God gives this life now and for eternity. The reality of death can be expressed in all its truth only with the language of love. In fact, love resists death and desires life, as Maria and Martha express it speaking to Christ of Lazarus, their brother who had died a few days early. The truth about death can only be expressed starting from a perspective of life, from a desire for life: that is, from the permanence in the loving communion of a person, of the person of Christ. The truth about death is expressed in today’s liturgy in relation to the voice of the human heart: that of the two sisters and that (human-divine) of Christ, Lord of life and death.

Indeed, today’s Gospel passage shows Jesus as true Man and true God. Saint John insists on Christ’s friendship with Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. The beloved Apostle underlines that «Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus» (Jn 11.5), and for this he wanted to perform the great miracle. «Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going to wake him up» (Jn 11.11 )  he told his disciples expressing with the metaphor of sleep the point of view of God on physical death: God sees it precisely as a sleep from which he can awaken us. Jesus showed absolute power over death as we can see when he gives life back to the young son of the widow of Nain (cf. Lk 7: 11-17) and to the twelve-year-old girl (cf Mc 5,35-43) . Speaking of her, he said: «She is not dead, but she sleeps» (Mk 5:39), attracting the derision of those present. In truth it is just like that: the death of the body is a sleep from which God can awaken us at any time.

The fact of being King of life did not prevent Jesus from feeling sincere compassion for the pain of  detachment. Seeing Martha and Mary cry and those who had come to console them, Jesus also «was deeply moved, troubled» and finally «burst into tears» (Jn 11: 33.35). The heart of Christ is divine-human: in Him God and Man met perfectly without separation and without confusion. He is the image, indeed the incarnation of the God who is love, mercy, paternal and maternal tenderness, Life. Therefore he solemnly declared to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live; whoever lives and believes in me, will not die forever. » And he added: «Do you believe this?» (Jn 11.25-26). This is a question that Jesus asks each of us; a question that certainly surpasses us, exceeds our ability to understand, and asks us to entrust ourselves to him, as he entrusted himself to the Father. Martha’s reply is exemplary: «Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who is coming into the world» (Jn 11:27).

We too believe despite our doubts and our obscurities; we believe in Christ, because he has words of eternal life. Let’s ask Jesus to increase our faith in him, who gives us a sure hope of life beyond life, of authentic and full life in his Kingdom of light and peace.

  • Love conquers death.

The passage of the Gospel that is proposed today by the Liturgy of the Mass invites us to contemplate the the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus[1] as an anticipation and prophecy of the resurrection of Jesus which will take place in Jerusalem on Easter day. The event of the raised Lazarus is also a «sign» that life, when lived in friendship with Christ, is not defeated by death. Those who love do not die, because they give themselves and live in the other. Moreover, those who are loved by Christ do not die; they “sleep”» and are awakened by Christ.

Love for Lazarus «pulls out» a miracle from Jesus. If in the Canticle of Canticles it is said that «love is as strong as death» (8,6), in this gesture Jesus shows that love is stronger than death. In fact, he»awakens» the friend from mortal sleep.

There are many aspects that can be highlighted in this episode.

I think it is useful to start from the place: the house of Lazarus, Martha and Mary in Bethany[2]. Jesus goes to this house because these three people are a «place» of friendship, and therefore their home is a «place» of sharing and not only of rest or refuge.  It is a place of life that conquers death, that goes beyond death, and a relationship of true friendship and of deep communion.

Then it is important to note the superposition of two facts: Lazarus is left to die by Jesus as Jesus is left to die on the Cross by the Father. Humanly it is outrageous. Jesus loves Lazarus (the Gospel underlines him repeatedly) and yet lets him die: why? And God the Father loves the Son indicating him as the Beloved and yet lets him die on the cross. Why? How can we believe that the last word is not up to death but to the God of love who gives life and does not stop with the end of biological life? By asking that Christ increase our faith and by contemplating Christ in his life, death and resurrection.

Everyone understands that this is the mystery of man’s existence: a promise of life which then seems to be contradicted, a promise of salvation by God who then seems to contradict himself. A disturbing mystery which in no way should be mitigated. Jesus also cried when his friend died, as he felt bewildered by the imminence of the Cross. Death, like the Cross, continues to remain something incomprehensible: God says he loves us and then lets us die. It  seems like an abandonment.


3) The weeping of God and the «resurrection» of Martha and Mary.

Jesus weeps, thereby demonstrating that he loves Lazarus deeply. But here is the question: «Could this man who opened the eyes of the blind man have prevented him from dying?» It was the question of those present then and it is also our question today.

We have the same question before Jesus’ death on the Cross. If Jesus is the Son of God, loved by God, why is he abandoned to the Cross? If God is with him, shouldn’t it happen otherwise? Yet God also wept over Christ and weeps over us: «Mass is the weep of God» (Saint Pio of Pietrelcina) and «God also weeps: his weeping is like that of a father who loves his children» (Pope Francis at Mass on February 5, 2014).

It is not easy to see in the Cross an epiphany of love, but Lent and the approaching Holy Week are given to us to contemplate this manifestation of charity by learning, to «love the pain which reveals the work of his love» (St. Pio of Pietrelcina) and make ours the prayer of the psalm «The source of life is in you, in your light we see the light» (Ps 37).

The mystery of the existence of man, loved by God and yet abandoned to death, is mirrored and magnified in the mystery of the Cross of Jesus. But it is also resolved there. Because there is seeing and seeing and two are the possible readings of the cross, as of the existence of man. There is the faithless gaze of one who stops at the scandal and sees in the death of man as in the Cross of Christ the sign of failure. And there is the gaze that opens to faith and overcomes the scandal, and sees that in the Cross of Jesus the resurrection shines, as it is in the death of man. This is truly a firm point for Christians: if you want to find meaning in history and in life, you need to know how to see the glory of God in the Cross of Christ. It is not possible otherwise.

The resurrection of Lazarus is a sign of a more general destiny that involves those convened around this table. Jesus calls Lazarus out of the grave. But Lazarus resurrected is the sign of what also happens to his sisters Martha and Mary. Martha in fact recognizes in her friend the Lord of life.

I believe that it is correct to say that the resurrection is to believe in Jesus, because whoever lives and believes in him does not die forever (cf. Jn 11:26), Martha’s «confession of faith» is also the resurrection of the two sisters.

The consecrated Virgins give us an example of a «resurrected life» because they live their vocation as a journey of resurrection and the spousal friendship with Christ as a personal relationship in love based on the complete dedication of Christ and on the radical recognition of him. Along this witness of love, these women show us the importance of contemplation as the ability to know how to see the Lord shine through the events of our daily existence and that of all humanity. In this they put into practice what the Congregation for Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life wrote: “Consecrated life, in the continuous succession and affirmation of ever new forms, is already in itself an eloquent expression of this presence of Christ, almost a kind of Gospel spread over the centuries. Indeed, it appears as «an extension in the history of a special presence of the risen Lord». From this assurance, the consecrated persons must draw a renewed impetus, making it the inspiring force of their journey. Today’s society expects to see in them the concrete reflection of Jesus’ action, of his love for each person, without distinctions or qualifying adjectives. It wants to experience that it is possible to say with the apostle Paul «This life in the flesh, I live it in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me» (Gal 2:20). » (Instruction Starting afresh from Christ: a renewed commitment to consecrated life in the third millennium, May 19, 2002, n. 2).

Patristic Reading

Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine): Tractate 49

  1. Among all the miracles wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ, the resurrection of Lazarus holds a foremost place in preaching. But if we consider attentively who did it, our duty is to rejoice rather than to wonder. A man was raised up by Him who made man: for He is the only One of the Father, by whom, as you know, all things were made. And if all things were made by Him, what wonder is it that one was raised by Him, when so many are daily brought into the world by His power? It is a greater deed to create men than to raise them again from the dead. Yet He deigned to create and to rise again; to create all, to resuscitate some. For though the Lord Jesus did many such acts, yet all of them are not recorded; just as this same St. John the evangelist himself testifies, that Christ the Lord both said and did many things that are not recorded; but such were chosen for record as seemed to suffice for the salvation of believers. You have just heard that the Lord Jesus raised a dead man to life; and that is sufficient to let you know that, were He so pleased, He might raise all the dead to life. And, indeed this very work has He reserved in His own hands till the end of the world. For while you have heard that by a great miracle He raised one from the tomb who had been dead four days, the hour is coming, as He Himself says, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth. He raised one, who was putrid, and yet in that putrid carcass there was still the form of limbs; but at the last day He will by a word reconstitute ashes into human flesh. But it was needful then to do only some such deeds, that we, receiving them as tokens of His power, may put our trust in Him, and be preparing for that resurrection which shall be to life and not to judgment. So, indeed, He says, the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
  2. We have, however, read in the Gospel of three dead persons who were raised to life by the Lord, and, let us hope, to some good purpose. For surely the Lord’s deeds are not merely deeds, but signs. And if they are signs, besides their wonderful character, they have some real significance: and to find out this in regard to such deeds is a somewhat harder task than to read or hear of them. We were listening with wonder, as at the sight of some mighty miracle enacted before our eyes, in the reading of the Gospel, how Lazarus was restored to life. If we turn our thoughts to the still more wonderful works of Christ, every one that believes rises again: if we all consider, and understand that more horrifying kind of death, everyone who sins dies. But every man is afraid of the death of the flesh; few, of the death of the soul. In regard to the death of the flesh, which must certainly come sometime, all are on their guard against its approach: this is the source of all their labor. Man, destined to die, labors to avert his dying; and yet man, destined to live forever, labors not to cease from sinning. And when he labors to avoid dying, he labors to no purpose, for its only result will be to put off death for a while, not to escape it; but if he refrain from sinning, his toil will cease, and he shall live forever. Oh that we could arouse men, and be ourselves aroused along with them, to be as great lovers of the life that abides, as men are of that which passes away! What will a man not do who is placed under the peril of death? When the sword was overhanging their heads, men have given up every means of living they had in reserve. Who is there that has not made an immediate surrender of all, to escape being slain? And, after all, he has perhaps been slain. Who is there that, to save his life, has not been willing at once to lose his means of living, and prefer a life of beggary to a speedy death? Who has had it said to him, Be off to sea if you would escape with your life, and has delayed to do so? Who has had it said to him, Set to work if you would preserve your life, and has continued a sluggard? It is but little that God requires of us, that we may live forever: and we neglect to obey Him. God says not to you, Lose all you have, that you may live a little time oppressed with toil; but, Give to the poor of what you have, that you may live always exempt from labor. The lovers of this temporal life, which is theirs, neither when, nor as long as they wish, are our accusers; and we accuse not ourselves in turn, so sluggish are we, so lukewarm about obtaining eternal life, which will be ours if we wish it, and will be imperishable when we have it; but this death which we fear, notwithstanding all our reluctance, will yet be ours in possession.
  3. If, then, the Lord in the greatness of His grace and mercy raises our souls to life, that we may not die for ever, we may well understand that those three dead persons whom He raised in the body, have some figurative significance of that resurrection of the soul which is effected by faith: He raised up the ruler of the synagogue’s daughter, while still lying in the house; Mark 5:41-42 He raised up the widow’s young son, while being carried outside the gates of the city; Luke 7:14-15 and He raised up Lazarus, when four days in the grave. Let each one give heed to his own soul: in sinning he dies: sin is the death of the soul. But sometimes sin is committed only in thought. You have felt delight in what is evil, you have assented to its commission, you have sinned; that assent has slain you: but the death is internal, because the evil thought had not yet ripened into action. The Lord intimated that He would raise such a soul to life, in raising that girl, who had not yet been carried forth to the burial, but was lying dead in the house, as if sin still lay concealed. But if you have not only harbored a feeling of delight in evil, but hast also done the evil thing, you have, so to speak, carried the dead outside the gate: you are already without, and being carried to the tomb. Yet such an one also the Lord raised to life and restored to his widowed mother. If you have sinned, repent, and the Lord will raise you up, and restore you to your mother Church. The third example of death is Lazarus. A grievous kind of death it is, and is distinguished as a habit of wickedness. For it is one thing to fall into sin, another to form the habit of sinning. He who falls into sin, and straightway submits to correction, will be speedily restored to life; for he is not yet entangled in the habit, he is not yet laid in the tomb. But he who has become  habituated to sin, is buried, and has it properly said of him, he stinks; for his character, like some horrible smell, begins to be of the worst repute. Such are all who are habituated to crime, abandoned in morals. You say to such an one, Do not so. But when will you be listened to by one on whom the earth is thus heaped, who is breeding corruption, and pressed down with the weight of habit? And yet the power of Christ was not unequal to the task of restoring such an one to life. We know, we have seen, we see every day men changing the very worst of habits, and adopting a better manner of life than that of those who blamed them. You detested such a man: look at the sister of Lazarus herself (if, indeed, it was she who anointed the Lord’s feet with ointment, and wiped with her hair what she had washed with her tears), who had a better resurrection than her brother; she was delivered from the mighty burden of a sinful character. For she was a notorious sinner; and had it said of her, Her many sins are forgiven her, for she has loved much. We see many such, we know many: let none despair, but let none presume in himself. Both the one and the other are sinful. Let your unwillingness to despair take such a turn as to lead you to make choice of Him in whom alone you may well presume.
  4. So then the Lord also raised Lazarus to life. You have heard what type of character he represents; in other words, what is meant by the resurrection of Lazarus. Let us now, therefore, read over the passage; and as there is much in this lesson clear already, we shall not go into any detailed exposition, so as to take up more thoroughly the necessary points. Now a certain man was sick, [named] Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and Martha, his sisters. In the previous lesson you remember that the Lord escaped from the hands of those who sought to stone Him, and went away beyond Jordan, where John baptized. When the Lord therefore had taken up His abode there, Lazarus fell sick in Bethany, which was a town lying close to Jerusalem.
  5. But Mary was she who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. Therefore his sisters sent unto Him, saying. We now understand whither it was they sent, namely, where the Lord was; for He was away, as you know, beyond the Jordan. They sent messengers to the Lord to tell Him that their brother was ill. He delayed to heal, that He might be able to raise to life. But what was the message sent by his sisters? Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick. They did not say, Come; for the intimation was all that was needed for one who loved. They did not venture to say, Come and heal him: they ventured not to say, Command there, and it shall be done here. And why not so with them, if on these very grounds the centurion’s faith was commended? For he said, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof; but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. Matthew viii No such words said these women, but only, Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick. It is enough that You know; for You are not one that loves and forsakes. But says some one, How could a sinner be represented by Lazarus, and be so loved by the Lord? Let him listen to Him, when He says, I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. Matthew 9:13 For had not God loved sinners, He would not have come down from heaven to earth.
  6. But when Jesus heard [that], He said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified. Such a glorifying of Himself did not add to His dignity, but benefited us. Hence He says, is not unto death, because even that death itself was not unto death, but rather unto the working of a miracle whereby men might be led to faith in Christ, and so escape the real death. And mark how the Lord, as it were indirectly, called Himself God, for the sake of some who deny that the Son is God. For there are heretics who make such a denial, that the Son of God is God. Let them hearken here: This sickness, He says, is not unto death, but for the glory of God. For what glory? For the glory of what God? Hear what follows: That the Son of God may be glorified. This sickness, therefore, He says, is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God maybe glorified thereby. By what? By that sickness.
  7. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister Mary, and Lazarus. The one sick, the others sad, all of them beloved: but He who loved them was both the Saviour of the sick, nay more, the Raiser of the dead and the Comforter of the sad. When He heard therefore that he was sick, He abode then two days still in the same place. They sent Him word: He abode where He was: and the time ran on till four days were completed. And not in vain, were it only that perhaps, nay that certainly, even the very number of days has some sacramental significance. Then after that He says again to His disciples, Let us go into Judea: where He had been all but stoned, and from which He had apparently departed for the very purpose to escape being stoned. For as man He departed; but returned as if in forgetfulness of all infirmity, to show His power. Let us go, He said, into Judea.
  8. And now see how the disciples were terrified at His words. The disciples say unto Him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone You, and You are going there again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? What does such an answer mean? They said to Him, The Jews of late sought to stone You, and You are going there again to be stoned? And the Lord, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbles not, because he sees the light of this world: but if he walk in the night, he stumbles, because there is no light in him. He spoke indeed of the day, but to our understanding as if it were still the night. Let us call upon the Day to chase away the night, and illuminate our hearts with the light. For what did the Lord mean? As far as I can judge, and as the height and depth of His meaning breaks into light, He wished to argue down their doubting and unbelief. For they wished by their counsel to keep the Lord from death, who had come to die, to save themselves from death. In a similar way also, in another passage, St. Peter, who loved the Lord, but did not yet fully understand the reason of His coming, was afraid of His dying, and so displeased the Life, to wit, the Lord Himself; for when He was intimating to the disciples what He was about to suffer at Jerusalem at the hands of the Jews, Peter made reply among the rest, and said, Far be it from You, Lord; pity Yourself: this shall not be unto You. And at once the Lord replied, Get behind me, Satan: for you savor not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. And yet a little before, in confessing the Son of God, he had merited commendation: for he heard the words, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 16:16-23 To whom He had said, Blessed are you, He now says, Get behind me, Satan; because it was not of himself that he was blessed. But of what then? For flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but my Father who is in heaven. See, this is how you are blessed, not from anything that is your own, but from that which is mine. Not that I am the Father, but that all things which the Father has are mine. But if his blessedness came from the Lord’s own working, from whose [working] came he to be Satan? He there tells us: for He assigned the reason of such blessedness, when He said, Flesh and blood has not revealed this unto you, but my Father who is in heaven: that is the cause of your blessedness. But that I said, Get behind me, Satan, hear also its cause. For you savor not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Let no one then flatter himself: in that which is natural to himself he is Satan, in that which is of God he is blessed. For all that is of his own, whence comes it, but from his sin? Put away the sin, which is your own. Righteousness, He says, belongs unto me. For what have you that thou did not receive? 1 Corinthians 4:7Accordingly, when men wished to give counsel to God, disciples to their Master, servants to their Lord, patients to their Physician, He reproved them by saying, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbles not. Follow me, if you would not stumble: give not counsel to me, from whom you ought to receive it. To what, then, refer the words, Are there not twelve hours in the day? Just that to point Himself out as the day, He made choice of twelve disciples. If I am the day, He says, and you the hours, is it for the hours to give counsel to the day? The day is followed by the hours, not the hours by the day. If these, then, were the hours, what in such a reckoning was Judas? Was he also among the twelve hours? If he was an hour, he had light; and if he had light, how was the Day betrayed by him to death? But theLord, in so speaking, foresaw, not Judas himself, but his successor. For Judas, when he fell, was succeeded by Matthias, and the duodenary number preserved. Acts 1:26 It was not, then, without a purpose that the Lord made choice of twelve disciples, but to indicate that He Himself is the spiritual Day. Let the hours then attend upon the Day, let them preach the Day, be made known and illuminated by the Day, and by the preaching of the hours may the world believe in the Day. And so in a summary way it was just this that He said: Follow me, if you would not stumble.
  9. And after that He says unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleeps; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. It was true what He said. To his sisters he was dead, to the Lord he was asleep. He was dead to men, who could not raise him again; but the Lord aroused him with as great ease from the tomb as one arouses a sleeper from his bed. Hence it was in reference to His own power that He spoke of him as sleeping: for others also, who are dead, are frequently spoken of in Scripture as sleeping; as when the apostle says, But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others who have no hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 Therefore he also spoke of them as sleeping, because foretelling their resurrection. And so, all the dead are sleeping, both good and bad. But just as, in the case of those who sleep and waken day by day, there is a great difference as to what they severally see in their sleep: some experience pleasant dreams; others, dreams so frightful that the waking are afraid to fall asleep for fear of their recurrence: so every individual sleeps and wakens in circumstances peculiar to himself. And there is a difference as to the kind of custody one may be placed in, who is afterwards to be taken before the judge. For the kind of custody in which men are placed depends on the merits of the case: some are required to be guarded by lictors, an office humane and mild, and becoming a citizen; others are given up to subordinates; some, again, are sent to prison: and in the prison itself all are not thrust together into its lowest dungeons, but dealt with in proportion to the merits and superior gravity of the charges. As, then, there are different kinds of custody among those engaged in official life, so there are different kinds of custody for the dead, and differing merits in those who rise again. The beggar was taken into custody, so was the rich man: but the one into Abraham’s bosom; the other, where he thirsted, and found not a drop of water. Luke 16:22-24
  10. Therefore, to make this the occasion of instructing your Charity, all souls have, when they quit this world, their different receptions. The good have joy; the evil, torments. But when the resurrection takes place, both the joy of the good will be fuller and the torments of the wicked    heavier, when they shall be tormented in the body. The holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and good believers, have been received into peace; but all of them have still in the end to receive the fulfillment of the divine promises; for they have been promised also the resurrection of the flesh, the destruction of death, and eternal life with the angels. This we have all to receive together; for the rest, which is given immediately after death, every one, if worthy of it, receives when he dies. The patriarchs first received it— think only from what they rest; the prophets afterwards; more recently the apostles; still more lately the holy martyrs, and day by day the good and faithful. Thus some have now been in that rest for long, some not so long; others for fewer years, and others whose entrance therein is still less than recent. But when they shall wake from this sleep, they shall all together receive the fulfillment of the promise.
  11. Our friend Lazarus sleeps; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said His disciples— according to their understanding they replied— Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. For the sleep of the sick is usually a sign of returning health. Howbeit Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He spoke of the taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly,— for He said somewhat obscurely, He sleeps;— therefore He said plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe. I even know that he is dead, and I was not there: for he had been reported not as dead, but sick. But what could remain hid from Him who had created it, and into whose hands the soul of the dying man had departed? This is why He said, I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to thei ntent ye may believe; that they might now begin to wonder that the Lord could assert his death, which He had neither seen nor heard of. For here we ought specially to bear in mind that as yet the disciples themselves, who already believed in Him, had their faith built up by miracles: not that a faith, utterly wanting till then, might begin to exist; but that what had previously come into being might be increased; although He made use of such an expression as if only then they would begin to believe. For He said not, I am glad for your sakes, that your faith may be increased or confirmed; but, that you may believe; which is to be understood as meaning, that your faith may be fuller and more vigorous.
  12. Nevertheless, let us go unto him. Then said Thomas, who is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with Him. Therefore Jesus came, and found that he had [lain] in the grave four days already. Much might be said of the four days, according to the wont of the obscure passages of Scripture, which bear as many senses as there is diversity of those who understand them. Let us express also our opinion of what is meant by one four days dead. For as in the former case of the blind man we understand in a way the human race, so in the case of this dead man many perhaps are also to be understood; for one thing may be signified by different figures. When a man is born, he is born already in a state of death; for he inherits sin from Adam. Hence the apostle says: By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so that passed upon all men, wherein all have sinned. Romans 5:12 Here you have one day of death because man inherits it from the seed stock of death. Thereafter he grows, and begins to approach the years of reason that he may know the law of nature, which every one has had implanted in his heart: What you would not have done to yourself, do not to another. Is this learned from the pages of a book, and not in a measure legible in our very nature? Have you any desire to be robbed? Certainly not. See here, then, the law in your heart: What you are unwilling to suffer, be unwilling to do. This law also is transgressed by men; and here, then, we have the second day of death. The law was also divinely given through Moses, the servant of God; and therein it is said, You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and mother; you shall not covet your neighbor’s property; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. Exodus 20:12-17 Here you have the written law, and it also is despised: this is the third day of death. What remains? The gospel also comes, the kingdom of heaven is preached, Christ is everywhere published; He threatens hell, He promises eternal life; and that also is despised. Men transgress the gospel; and this is the fourth day of death. Now he deservedly stinks. But is mercy to be denied to such? God forbid; for to raise such also from the dead, the Lord thinks it not unfitting to come.
  13. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him; but Mary sat [still] in the house. Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if You had been here, my brother had not died. But I know that even now, whatsoever You will ask of God, God will give it You. She did not say, But even now I ask You to raise my brother to life again. For how could she know if such a resurrection would be of benefit to her brother? She only said, I know that You can, and whatsoever You are pleased, You do: for Your doing it is dependent on Your own judgment, not on my presumption. But even now I know that, whatsoever You will ask of God, God will give it You.
  14. Jesus says unto her, Your brother shall rise again. This was ambiguous. For He said not, Even now I will raise your brother; but, Your brother shall rise again. Martha says unto Him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection, at the last day. Of that resurrection I am sure, but uncertain about this. Jesus says unto her, I am the resurrection. You say, My brother shall rise again at the last day: true; but by Him, through whom he shall rise then, can he rise even now, for I, He says, am the resurrection and the life. Give ear, brethren, give ear to what He says. Certainly the universal expectation of the bystanders was that Lazarus, one who had been dead four days, would live again; let us hear, and rise again. How many are there in this audience who are crushed down under the weighty mass of some sinful habit! Perhaps some are hearing me to whom it may be said, Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; Ephesians 5:18 and they say, We cannot. Some others, it may be, are hearing me, who are unclean, and stained with lusts and crimes, and to whom it is said, Refrain from such conduct, that you perish not; and they reply, We cannot give up our habits. O Lord, raise them again. I am, He says, the resurrection and the life. The resurrection because the life.
  15. He that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die. What means this? He that believes in me, though he were dead, just as Lazarus is dead, yet shall he live; for He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Such was the answer He gave the Jews concerning their fathers, long ago dead, that is, concerning Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob: I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob: He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for all live unto Him. Believe then, and though thou were dead, yet shall you live: but if you believe not, even while you live you are dead. Let us prove this likewise, that if you believe not, though you live you are dead. To one who was delaying to follow Him, and saying, Let me first go and bury my father, the Lord said, Let the dead bury their dead; but come thou and follow me.Matthew 8:21-22 There was there a dead man requiring to be buried, there were there also dead men to bury the dead: the one was dead in the flesh, the others in soul. And how comes death on the soul? When faith is wanting. How comes death on the body? When the soul is wanting. Therefore your soul’s soul is faith. He that believes in me, says Christ, though he were dead in the flesh, yet shall he live in the spirit; till the flesh also rise again, never more to die. This is he that believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. And whosoever lives in the flesh, and believes in me, though he shall die in time on account of the death of the flesh, shall never die, because of the life of the spirit, and the immortality of the resurrection. Such is the meaning of the words, And whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She says unto Him, Yea, Lord, I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who hast come into the world. When I believed this, I believed that You are the resurrection, that You are the life: I believed that he that believes in You, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever lives and believes in You, shall never die.
  16. And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister silently, saying, The Master has come, and calls for you. It is worthy of notice the way in which the whispering of her voice was denominated silence. For how could she be silent, when she said, The Master has come, and calls for you? It is also to be noticed why it is that the evangelist has not said where, or when, or how the Lord called for Mary; namely, that in order to preserve the brevity of the narrative, it may rather be understood from the words of Martha.
  17. As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto Him. For Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was still in that place where Martha met Him. The Jews, then, who were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily, and went out, followed her, saying, She goes unto the grave, to weep there. What cause had the evangelist to tell us this? To show us what it was that occasioned the numerous concourse of people to be there when Lazarus was raised to life. For the Jews, thinking that her reason for hastening away was to seek in weeping the solace of her grief, followed her; that the great miracle of one rising again who had been four days dead, might have the presence of many witnesses.
  18. Then when Mary had come where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying unto Him, Lord, if You had been here, my brother had not died. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping, who were with her, He groaned in the spirit, and troubled Himself, and said, Where have ye laid him? Something there is, did we but know it, that He has suggested to us by groaning in the spirit, and troubling Himself. For who could trouble Him ,save He Himself? Therefore, my brethren, first give heed here to the power that did so, and then look for the meaning. You are troubled against your will; Christ was troubled because He willed. Jesus hungered, it is true, but because He willed; Jesus slept, it is true, but because He willed; He was sorrowful, it is true, but because He willed; He died, it is true, but because He willed: in His own power it lay to be thus and thus affected or not. For the Word assumed soul and flesh, fitting on Himself our whole human nature in the oneness of His person. For the soul of the apostle was illuminated by the Word; so was the soul of Peter, the soul of Paul, of the other apostles, and the holy prophets—the souls of all were illuminated by the Word; but of none was it said, The Word was made flesh; of none was it said, I and the Father are one. The soul and flesh of Christ is one person with the Word of God, one Christ. And by this [Word] wherein resided the supreme power, was infirmity made use of at the beck of His will; and in this way He troubled Himself.
  19. I have spoken of the power: look now to the meaning. It is a great criminal that is signified by that four days’ death and burial. Why is it, then, that Christ troubles Himself, but to intimate to you how you ought to be troubled, when weighed down and crushed by so great a mass of iniquity? For here you have been looking to yourself, been seeing your own guilt, been reckoning for yourself: I have done this, and God has spared me; I have committed this, and He has borne with me; I have heard the gospel, and despised it; I have been baptized, and returned again to the same course: what am I doing? Whither am I going? How shall I escape? When you speak thus, Christ is already groaning; for your faith is groaning. In the voice of one who groans thus, there comes to light the hope of his rising again. If such faith is within, there is Christ groaning; for if there is faith in us, Christ is in us. For what else says the apostle: That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. Ephesians 3:17 Therefore your faith in Christ isChrist Himself in your heart. This is why He slept in the ship; and why, when His disciples were in danger and already on the verge of shipwreck, they came to Him and awoke Him. Christ arose, laid His commands on the winds and waves, and there ensued a great calm. Matthew 8:24-26 So also with you; the winds enter your heart, that is, where you sail, where you pass along this life as a stormy and dangerous sea; the winds enter, the billows rise and toss your vessel. What are the winds? You have received some insult, and are angry: that insult is the wind; that anger, the waves. You are in danger, you prepare to reply, to render cursing for cursing, and your vessel is already near to shipwreck. Awake the Christ who is sleeping. For you are in commotion, and making ready to render evil for evil, because Christ is sleeping in your vessel. For the sleep of Christ in your heart is the forgetfulness of faith. But if you arouse Christ, that is, recallest your faith, what do you hear said to you by Christ, when now awake in your heart? I [He says] have heard it said to me, You have a devil, and I have prayed for them. The Lord hears and suffers; the servant hears and is angry! But you wish to be avenged. Why so? I am already avenged. When your faith so speaks to you, command is exercised, as it were, over the winds and waves, and there is a great calm. As, then, to awaken Christ in the vessel is just to awaken faith; so in the heart of one who is pressed down by a great mass and habit of sin, in the heart of the man who has been a transgressor even of the holy gospel and a despiser of eternal punishment, let Christ groan, let such a man betake himself to self-accusation. Hear still more: Christ wept; let man bemoan himself. For why did Christ weep, but to teach man to weep? Wherefore did He groan and trouble Himself, but to intimate that the faith of one who has just cause to be displeased with himself ought to be in a sense groaning over the accusation of wicked works, to the end that the habit of sinning may give way to the vehemence of penitential sorrow?
  20. And He said, Where have ye laid him? Thou knew that he was dead, and are You ignorant of the place of his burial? The meaning here is, that a man thus lost becomes, as it were, unknown to God. I have not ventured to say, Is unknown— for what is unknown to Him? But, As it were unknown. And how do we prove this? Listen to the Lord, who will yet say in the judgment, I know you not: depart from me. Matthew 7:23 What does that mean, I know you not? I see you not in that light of mine— in that righteousness which I know. So here, also, as if knowing nothing of such a sinner, He said, Where have ye laid him? Similar in character was God’s voice in Paradise after man had sinned: Adam, where are you? Genesis 3:9 They say unto Him, Lord, come and see. What means this see? Have pity. For the Lord sees when He pities. Hence it is said to Him, Look upon my humility [affliction] and my pain, and forgive all my sins.
  21. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how He loved him! Loved him, what does that mean? I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Matthew 9:13 But some of them said, Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not die? But He, who would do nought to hinder his dying, had something greater in view in raising him from the dead.
  22. Jesus therefore again groaning in Himself, comes to the tomb. May His groaning have you also for its object, if you would re-enter into life! Every man who lies in that dire moral condition has it said to him, He comes to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone had been laid upon it. Dead under that stone, guilty under the law. For you know that the law, which was given to the Jews, was inscribed on stone. Exodus 31:18 And all the guilty are under the law: the right-living are in harmony with the law. The law is not laid on a righteous man. 1 Timothy 1:9What mean then the words, Take ye away the stone? Preach grace. For the Apostle Paul calls himself a minister of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter, he says, kills, but the spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:6 The letter that kills is like the stone that crushes. Take ye away, He says, the stone. Take away the weight of the law; preach grace .For if there had been a law given, which could have given life, verily righteousness should be by the law. But the Scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christmight be given to them that believe. Galatians 3:21-22 Therefore take ye away the stone.
  23. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, says unto Him, Lord, by this time he stinks: for he has been [dead] four days. Jesus says unto her, Have I not said unto you, that, if you believe, you shall see the glory of God? What does He mean by this, you shall see the glory of God? That He can raise to life even one who is putrid and has been four days [dead]. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Romans 3:23 and, Where sin abounded, grace also did super abound. Romans 5:20
  24. Then they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up His eyes, and said, Father, I thank You, that You have heard me. And I knew that You hear me always: but because of the people that stand by I said it, that they may believe that You have sent me. And when He had thus spoken, He cried with a loud voice. He groaned, He wept, He cried with a loud voice. With what difficulty does one rise who lies crushed under the heavy burden of a habit of sinning! And yet he does rise: he is quickened by hidden grace within; and after that loud voice he rises. For what followed? He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And immediately he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with bandages; and his face was bound about with a napkin. Do you wonder how he came forth with his feet bound, and wonderest not at this, that after four days’ interment he rose from the dead? In both events it was the power of the Lord that operated, and not the strength of the dead. He came forth, and yet still was bound. Still in his burial shroud, he has already come outside the tomb. What does it mean? While you despise [Christ], you lie in the arms of death; and if your contempt reaches the lengths I have mentioned, you are buried as well: but when you make confession, you come forth. For what is this coming forth, but the open acknowledgment you make of your state, in quitting, as it were, the old refuges of darkness? But the confession you make is effected by God, when He cries with a loud voice, or in other words, calls you in abounding grace. Accordingly, when the dead man had come forth, still bound; confessing, yet guilty still; that his sins also might be taken away, the Lord said to His servants: Loose him, and let him go. What does He mean by such words? What so ever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:19
  25. Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done. All of the Jews who had come to Mary did not believe, but many of them did. But some of them, whether of the Jews who had come, or of those who had believed, went away to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done: whether in the way of conveying intelligence, in order that they also might believe, or rather in the spirit of treachery, to arouse their anger. But whoever were the parties, and whatever their motive, intelligence of these events was carried to the Pharisees.
  26. Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? But they did not say, Let us believe. For these abandoned men were more occupied in considering what evil they could do to effect His ruin, than in consulting for their own preservation: and yet they were afraid, and took counsel of a kind together. For they said, What do we? For this man does many miracles: if we let him thus alone, all men will believe in him; and the Romans shall come, and take away both our place and nation. They were afraid of losing their temporal possessions, and thought not of life eternal; and so they lost both. For the Romans, after our Lord’s passion and entrance into glory, took from them both their place and nation, when they took the one by storm and transported the other: and now that also pursues them, which is said elsewhere, But the children of the kingdom shall go into outer darkness. Matthew 8:12 But this was what they feared, that if all believed on Christ, there would be none remaining to defend the city of God and the temple against the Romans; just because they had a feeling that Christ’s teaching was directed against the temple itself and their own paternal laws.
  27. And one of them, [named] Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, You know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spoke he not of himself; but being high priest that year, he prophesied. We are here taught that the Spirit of prophecy used the agency even of wicked men to foretell what was future; which, however, the evangelistattributes to the divine sacramental fact that he was pontiff, which is to say, the high priest. It may, however, be a question in what way he is called the high priest of that year, seeing that God appointed one person to be high priest, who was to be succeeded only at his death by another. But we are to understand that ambitious schemes and contentions among the Jews led to the appointment afterwards of more than one, and to their annual turn of service. For it is said also of Zacharias: And it came to pass that, while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. Luke 1:8-9 From which it is evident that there were more than one, and that each had his turn: for it was lawful for the high priest alone to place the incense on the altar. Exodus 30:7 And perhaps also there were several in actual service in the same year, who were succeeded next year by several others, and that it fell by lot to one of them to burn incense. What was it, then, that Caiaphas prophesied? That Jesus should die for the nation; and not for the nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. This is added by the evangelist; for Caiaphas prophesied only of the Jewish nation, in which there were sheep of whom the Lord Himself had said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Matthew 15:24 But the evangelist knew that there were other sheep, which were not of this fold, but which had also to be brought, that there might be one fold and one shepherd. But this was said in the way of predestination; for those who were still unbelieving were as yet neither His sheep nor the children of God.
  28. Then, from that day forth, they took counsel together for to put Him to death. Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with His disciples. Not that there was any failure in His power, by which, had He only wished, He might have continued His intercourse with the Jews, and received no injury at their hands; but in His human weakness He furnished His disciples with an example of living, by which He might make it manifest that it was no sin in His believing ones, who are His members, to withdraw from the presence of their persecutors, and escape the fury of the wicked by concealment, rather than inflame it by showing themselves openly.


[1] The name Lazarus comes from the Hebrew ‘El’asar = God has helped, one who is assisted by God.

[2] Bethany: this name derives from the Hebrew and is composed of two words of which the first is Beth (which is also the name of the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet).

“Beth» means house (or place) and expresses the idea of ​​something that contains. Is the archetype of all houses, the house of God and man, the sanctuary. It means a place of holiness on earth.

The second Hebrew term «ania» should come from a Hebrew word meaning either palm, poverty or poor, mercy, grace or blessings. Christ goes to his friend Lazarus in Bethany and, a few days later, leaves Bethany and goes to Jerusalem (between the two places there are about 3 kilometers) on a donkey, accompanied by the crowd who greets him with branches of palm trees. This data confirms the presence of palm trees in this place and confirms the etymology of the name. Symbolically the palm tree is a sign of fertility and food (dates), but it is also the symbol of justice, justice of reparation for the bitter taste that is suggested by its Hebrew name «tamar». «Ania» can also come from «Ananias» = Yahweh was mercifu, or Hannah, grace, blessing. Therefore «Bethany» can be interpreted as the house of mercy, grace and blessing.


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Jim Fair

Jim Fair is a husband, father, grandfather, writer, and communications consultant. He also likes playing the piano and fishing. He writes from the Chicago area.

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