Today is the 5th Sunday of Lent. This Sunday gives the third and the last of the instructions from John’s Gospel to the Catechumens (those undergoing instructions and preparation for the reception of Baptism as adults). Two Sundays ago, the instruction used the symbolism of water (John 4), last Sunday, it was the symbolism of light (John 9), and today the instruction is on life. These three (water, light, and life), will come together at the liturgy of Easter Vigil. On that night, we shall meet Christ in the water of Baptism, we shall meet Christ our Light in the Easter Light, and we shall meet the risen Christ who is our life.

Today, the theme of life is in the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. One question that comes to mind from this passage is this: Why did Jesus have to wait for Lazarus to die before his intervention? According to the wise, “A stitch in time saves nine.” Others advise that when you find something going wrong, “Nip it in the bud,” so it does not become worse. But in this case, Jesus waited until it got out of hand.

Remember how it all started. Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus in Bethany was sick. His sisters, Mary and Martha, remembered how Jesus healed many sick people in the past. If he could help strangers, they were sure that he would use the best of his skills to make Lazarus his friend well again. The messengers delivered the message to Jesus about the condition of Lazarus. The expectation was for him to respond like a doctor on call or a chaplain on call: stop everything else and run to attend to the sick. But no! That was not the response of Jesus. He took his time like nothing was at stake. A new set of messengers came to tell him to save his gas, to save his time, to save his energy. No need to travel the long distance anymore, the deed was already done, “Lazarus is dead!” Contrary to their expectation, Jesus began to hasten up to attend to Lazarus. They must have thought to themselves, “What is he up to? Is he going to flog a dead horse?”

It took Jesus and his entourage four days to arrive. Before this time, Jesus had raised two others from the dead, namely the daughter of Jairus, and the son of the widow of Nain. Jairus’ daughter had just died, while the son of the widow of Nain had just been put in the coffin. But in the case of Lazarus, he was in the tomb for four days. In his case, all hope seemed to be lost. At that time, there were people who believed that the spirit of the dead hovered around the body of the dead person for three days. The spirit left finally on the fourth day since the face would have decayed beyond recognition. That was the situation of Lazarus when Jesus Christ came before his tomb and shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”

Why did Jesus have to wait this long before his intervention? He answered that question himself in the Gospel passage. He said, “[it] is for the glory of God.” Jesus revealed in this story that with God, hope can never be lost even in the grave.

The name Lazarus means “God helps,” and the name Bethany means “the house of the afflicted.” This story therefore is not just about that man named Lazarus; it is about how God comes to help all those who are afflicted. This is a story of how God comes to help us in all our afflictions. Many times, we plan our lives, we notice an obstacle, we pray to God to take it away, but he seems to be on vacation. Other times we have a goal, we plan on how to reach that goal, we begin the journey, but the road is blocked. We call on God to clear the way, but his phone seems to be outside of network coverage. We find ourselves in the early stage of a challenge, we pray to God for solution, but it seems the more we pray, the worse it becomes. The truth is that God sometimes delays. He seems to delay more when it concerns his friends. But the good news is that, even though Jesus delayed for four days, he was still on time to bring Lazarus back to life.

My dearly beloved in Christ, I have no idea what has been keeping you on your knees. I do not know how many of your mates have left you behind. No matter what you have been asking from God, just keep your door open, Jesus is coming to you. He may delay for four days, but he will still be on time to reveal the glory of God in your life. May our trust in him never put us to shame until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ochigbo

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  • I so much like the analytical connection you made using the names (Lazarus and Bethany)–God helping the afflicted. He did it n the days of old; He is still doing it in our days; and He will never see to do it. Indeed, God is life, and in Him, lies all my hope for life.
    Thanks so much, Fr. Emma for this powerful reflection.