We are spiritually dead. Who can help?

by Ben Cheng
Fifth Sunday of Lent

Ezekiel 37:12-14

Romans 8:8-11

John 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33B-45

In this 5th Sunday of Lent, we continue our Lenten journey with a magnificent meditation from the Gospel of John, the story of raising Lazarus from the dead. The details of John's Gospel are meant to capture a deeper purpose. In this story, we hear about a man named Lazarus, which means "God helps". He has become ill in the town of Bethany (Jn 11.1), which means "The House of the afflicted". Upon a deeper reflection of this story, we will discover that we, too, are also afflicted in many ways; whether it is physical, mental, spiritual, or psychological, and we are meant to seek help from God. For the rest of the reflection, I would like to offer St. Augustine meditation on the story because it is very enriching.

Lazarus has been carried out of the house and placed in a tomb. By the time Jesus gets there, he has been four days in the tomb. In the ancient world, someone who has been dead and buried in a tomb for four days would be proven dead irretrievably. When Jesus instructs them to roll away the stone, Martha says, "Lord, by now there will be a stench" (Jn 11.39). How does St. Augustine interpret this? Lazarus being in the grave symbolizes power of evil and one's spiritual death; a death that does not only manifest itself from one's heart in actions, but also a spiritual dysfunction that has now established itself as a habitual part of our life: Anger, hatred, and violence inside ourselves have come out, and they become part of our daily activities. We begin to stink, and to affect people around us. In other words, Lazarus's death symbolizes the worst kind of sin.

What is the climax of the story? It is when Jesus comes to the grave of Lazarus, and He brings him back to life. Yes, Jesus goes even into this irrevocable, smelliest, most disgusting state of our death, and He invites us back to life! Friends, may be you are thinking of your spiritual death has become so "rotten" that you are beyond the reach of God. Nevertheless, this Gospel is telling us otherwise. Nobody, not even those who are in an evil state of mind, are beyond the reach of forgiving power of Christ. He goes even into those darkest places to seek us, and bring us out. "Where have you laid him" (Jn 11.34)? It is God's searching for His lost friend. He is looking for you and me because we wander away into our spiritual death.

As the story develops, what is God's command towards our death? "Take away the stone!" (Jn 11.39) Lazarus is in a cave, and they roll the stone across. The stone symbolizes a finality of death, and the spiritual death of our own. "I am stuck, and I am in a complete darkness. I am in the tomb, and there is a stone roll across me which nobody can help!" This is what Jesus's response to our deepest spiritual problem: Roll it away! His power is greater than any power of sin, and He says, "Lazarus, come out!" (Jn 11.43). The dead man comes out, precisely because Jesus' Word does not simply describe, but it affects and makes real, because it is the Divine Word. God's Word incarnated in Jesus Christ is more powerful than the final death!
Dear friends, at the end this Lenten season, perhaps you are still knee-deep into addictions, or you have made some irreversible mistakes for which you are so shameful that you feel they can never be brought to light. Maybe you are falling out of the relationship with whom you love most. Maybe you are terrified and in fear of death… Listen to the voice of Jesus, "Lazarus, come out", and have the Lord says, "Untie him and let him go" (Jn 11.44). The Lord Jesus is calling your name, even when you feel you are in the darkest corner, and says, "Come out!" He wants you to be fully alive, for this is His glory (St Irenaeus). These are the incredible and uplifting words that we were meant to listen in this great Gospel.

This is an excerpt from Bishop Robert Barron's homilies, including

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