5th Sunday of Lent
At the press conference after a sporting contest, the question is often asked: what do you think was the turning point in the match? Or as two friends are sitting down sharing a drink and they talk about a recent relationship breakdown. The one listening might ask: what was the turning point? When did you sense something was wrong?
Our gospel reading in these weeks of Lent comes from St. John. He tells the story of the life and ministry of Jesus. He writes to encourage the faith of believers and to inspire faith in unbelievers. John’s plot is the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus with a long introduction. This final week in the life of Jesus is the guiding plot device of the entire story. The gospel foreshadows and explains the Passion of Christ, and the turning point, the crucial moment, the beginning of the end in the gospel of St. John is the raising of Lazarus.
And there are a couple of reasons for this:
One is that after this miracle, the popularity of Jesus reached a critical level, and so the level of threat to the status quo was overwhelming. People sometimes do bad things to protect their privileged position of power. Normally good people, who hold responsible positions in a community, can be reduced to unspeakable acts of cruelty or deception if they feel that their position of power is threatened. We should be slow to judge the religious and political leaders of Jesus time in their desire to hang on to power. If we had been sitting in judgement of Jesus in that court, would we have spoken up against the momentum of fear and threat that brought the decision to sacrifice Jesus? Our natural instinct when our income is threatened or our place in the social order is threatened is to hang on for dear life and do what we can to keep our position.
There is no doubt that Jesus was a threat. He was popular for His teaching, and for the signs He had already given. People were clamoring for Him. More and more of them were starting to think that Jesus teaching was more authentic and authoritative than that of the Pharisees and Saducees.
With the raising of Lazarus from the dead, Jesus fate was sealed. After that miracle, His popularity soared through the roof. So something had to be done and it had to be done now. Since this was the defining moment in the decision to kill Jesus, and since Jesus knew of their plans, He knew that bring Lazarus out of the tomb was tantamount to Himself entering the tomb. Jesus understood the ripple effect this miracle would mean for Him. And St. John gives us some clues.
The Jews who witnessed Jesus tears interpreted this as grief for a friend’s death. But in St. John, the Jews often inaccurately interpreted the actions and motivation of Jesus. His tears were for Lazarus, but they were also for Himself. John doesn’t tell us the story of the agony in the garden, he just reports the arrest. The agony of Jesus for St. John is told here, in the grief of Jesus before the tomb of Lazarus.
In the details John gives, how can we miss the parallels. It’s a new tomb, with a stone to close the opening. The corpse inside was wrapped in strips of linen cloth. The verse: “Jesus wept” is one of the most profound in the whole of the New Testament. Even in the joy of raising His friend Lazarus to life, Jesus could see the gathering storm clouds on the horizon. In the private agony of His own spirit, He knew that the next time He saw a tomb it would be from the inside, after that horrific death. He knew, though no one else did, at the time, that this was the crucial moment of His life. It was the beginning of the end.
It was the turning point.
As He stood before the tomb, He called Lazarus out, so that He could go in.