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When connections pay

Gospel Commentary Jn 11:1-45

Sometimes in the church people expect special treatment because they have a “connection.” Maybe their uncle is a monsignor or the pope or even president of the parish council — and they know they can, for example, get the wedding date they want (or whatever they might be seeking) because of this link. This Sunday’s long and rich Gospel passage begins with a very close link: Mary and Martha send word to Jesus, their personal friend, because their brother Lazarus, also Jesus’ friend, is very sick. “Master, the one you love is ill.” In the plea for His help and attention they give the reminder of how close their brother is to Jesus. Jesus, as we know and as we have come to expect, gives an unusual response. Read it again and think about it: 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.

The Evangelist, John, states plainly that Jesus loved these three people in a special way. We know that Jesus loves everyone so when it is pointed out that He loved them it means that He was particularly close to them. Because of this love one expects to read that Jesus rushed to their aid immediately. But He does not do so. Instead He lingers two more days where He is. What does it mean? Why does He give that response to their plea? We note that He also says that the illness will not end in death but will be a means by which He himself will be glorified.

It is this aspect of the situation that can be a key to help us understand a deeper meaning of the importance of the “connection” between Jesus and His close friends.

Knowing, as He does, of the depth of His friends’ confidence in Him and their love for Him, Jesus includes them in the special miracle He is about to work. We all try to avoid illness and suffering and, most certainly, death. Jesus, by not returning to heal his friend Lazarus, leaves Mary and Martha to suffer the loss of their brother. And, of course, He leaves Lazarus to suffer death.

The reality of all of this earthly loss was keenly felt by the three of them (and also by Jesus). For them, however, there was the underlying confusion caused by the Lord’s apparent decision to ignore their call for help. Did He not receive the message? Did He ignore it? These questions must seem familiar to all of us because we know the feeling of having God’s response to our prayers not match the response we wanted.

Everyone knows that Jesus raised His friend Lazarus from the dead. On the way to accomplish this dramatic work, He delayed and spent time explaining things to His disciples. His friends back in Bethany were paying the price for the lesson He taught the world by relying on their goodwill. Jesus calls Lazarus’ death “sleep” but then very plainly removes the confusion by saying, "Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him." Surely by this time the disciples with Jesus and His friends Mary and Martha were confused by His words and actions. When we meditate on what He does and says next we can recognize how the Savior Jesus was calling forth a deeper faith from these close followers. Martha displays for us the truly deep faith she had in Him through this trial, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." And even more impressively: "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."

We live today with a clear knowledge (made clearer by the gift of faith) of what Jesus did for us and what it means. When we accept a deeper friendship with Jesus, we find that He relies on us to take part in the ways He chooses to reach people. The struggles of life can be invitations to share in His plan to make Himself better known in this world. He is glad when His friends let Him rely on His “connections.”

Fr. Zuberbueler is pastor of St. Louis Church in Alexandria.



© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017