Friendship of Jesus and Lazarus, Friendship of God with Us

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Lent-5, 02 April 2017
Ezekiel 37:12-14//Romans 8:8-11//John 11:1-45
We have now reached the last Sunday of Lent. Remember that at the start of the season we have said that each of the five Sundays of Lent is a door leading into the inner room of the Father’s house because Lent is a journey back to the Father, our very first love. In this lovely story of the raising of Lazarus found only in the Gospel according to John, we find a beautiful reminder of that great friendship by God with us in Jesus Christ. Just two things I wish to reflect with you in this long story that I hope could renew and refresh our friendship and love with others in Christ Jesus.
The sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus, saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”(Jn.11:3-7,17,20-21)
In friendship, there is always the mystery of absence being a presence too. When Chang was about to leave Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, he said “Friendship should depend on nothing like time and space. Remove time, and we have now; remove space, we have here. Don’t you think between NOW and HERE we could meet once or twice?” Due to a deep love, physical separation does not really matter much with friends because that love keeps both present with the other. We continue to experience this truth especially with our departed dear ones that sometimes in their very absence we have truly become more present with each other.
Jesus had been told of the illness of Lazarus but did not rush to visit him until two days later. It was not because Jesus did not care at all for Lazarus but in fact love him so much that upon hearing the news of his illness, the Lord boldly declared that “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” See how Jesus cares and loves us so much that sometimes even before our problems happen, He had long advanced to us His solution through the people or situation He sends us! Last Tuesday I saw a very beautiful and timely original quotation by our former editor at UST’s Varsitarian, Dr. Benjie Go Co who wrote on his FB wall, “When you are going through something hard and wonder where God is, remember the teacher is quiet when there is a test.” So true! Fact is, the more we feel Jesus is absent, the more He is actually present with us. We could not find Him in trying times because that is when Jesus hugs us too closely to Himself that we could not see anything at all. Or, that is when He carries us in His arms that we think we are alone as we can only see one set of footprints on the sand which is actually His.
In the same manner, we also express our deep love to Jesus and to our friends when sometimes we speak like the sisters Martha and Mary who both told Jesus upon His arrival, “Lord, if you have been here, my brother would not have died.” The sisters are not complaining nor casting moral aspersions on Jesus Christ’s absence during their brother’s illness but in fact expressing to Him their deep faith and confidence in His power and might in His absence. When we make such “if-you-have-been-here” wishful thinking, we are simply pouring out to our dear friends our deep faith in them, that they do make a difference in our lives. That they have so much impact on us that even if they were physically absent during our trying times, their presence was strongly felt, especially in their prayers. Like with Jesus and Lazarus, God’s friendship with us is bonded with great love and confidence in our faith with Him to hurdle every difficulty in life.
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” 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?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”(Jn.11:23-27,38-40)
Here is an important reality among true friends: friendship is beyond simply knowing but more about believing. Though knowing and believing indicate a relationship, the latter is a more matured and higher level than the former. We come to “know” our friends over a long period of time in both good times and bad times we have been together. However, we come to believe our friends when they prove their love for us by offering us their very lives. This is why during His Last Supper, Jesus declared to His disciples that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”(Jn.15:13) It is always easier to “know” someone, his/her personality, job or background, even likes and dislikes but to “believe” in a friend happens only when there is the gift of self-giving.
Observe their conversation: Jesus tells Martha Lazarus will rise, then Martha says she “knows” Lazarus will rise on the last day. She was speaking on the cerebral level with tinge of faith perhaps culled from the saying of the Lord. Her test would come when Jesus asks the stone on the tomb of Lazarus removed. That was when Martha tried to stop or at least cautioned Jesus that Lazarus had been dead for four days, that by now there would be a stench. Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”
There are times we are more on the “knowing” stage than “believing” not only with God but even with our friends and family like Martha. The sad part with Martha like with the rest of the Lord’s disciples including us today, she had failed to recognize the great dangers Jesus had to go through just to be with them. Jews were plotting to arrest and kill Jesus at that time that His disciples warned Him about going to Judea. But because of His love for Lazarus and his sisters, Jesus disregarded the dangers and went to visit them. That is why only the Beloved disciple along with the Blessed Virgin Mary and other women remained at the foot of the Cross because they were the only ones who have realized the great love Jesus have given by offering His life for us. It would be after the Pentecost when the rest of the disciples would fully experience that self-giving of Christ that they would eventually offer their lives too for the Gospel.
Don’t you feel so sad lately when looking at your Facebook and the news, at how we Filipinos are getting more divided with our political inclinations and colors? That we would sometimes forego of our friendships and family ties just because of politics, forgetting all those sacrifices our family and friends had for us? Just to insist on a point that lately has become so pointless at all, we would sanctimoniously spew out all the harshest words against anybody, unmindful of the others sacrifices and love for others and country? Today the story of the friendship of Jesus and Lazarus is inviting us to bring back life into our relationships marred by so many “deaths” due to a variety of sins. Jesus is calling us to “come out” from these deaths and darkness to meet anew our family and friends who truly love us and care for us, giving up so many for us long before the arrival of some false messiahs. God bless everyone!
Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista
Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan

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