I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | Jesus turns the stench of human sin into His glory
The readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent have many levels of meaning, but ultimately they tell one thing: The glory of God is on the way for all those who choose Jesus as Lord and Savior.
In the first reading, God tells Ezekiel, "O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel." Here God isn't speaking literally about the resurrection but rather that He will bring them back from captivity, and also bring them alive in the culture of Judaism.
He promises more: "I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am Lord. I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord."
God tells them that someday He will place His spirit into them, and their eyes will open in a new way to their fellowship with God.
In the second reading, Paul alludes to this when he speaks about being alive in the Holy Spirit as a present experience. Yes, the followers of Jesus have experienced Pentecost, something of which the exiles returning from captivity couldn't have dreamed. Paul continues, "If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness." In other words, although our bodies lead us into sin, Christ's death and resurrection brings us to life in the Spirit. We now have the infinite power of God's Holy Spirit to help us overcome sin. Is there anything for which our spirits could hunger more?
The Gospel depicting the raising of Lazarus has layers of meaning and many applications to our lives. First, Origen tells us that the very name Lazarus is a shortened form of "Eleazar," meaning "God has helped." The name of Lazarus points to the intervention of God. God intervened to teach us that He intends to intervene in our lives also.
When God intervenes in our lives, He brings us out of death to life in Him. This is not only a reference to our resurrection, but also to our deliverance from sin, prior to our resurrection.
Throughout this event, Jesus suffers because of what is happening to Lazarus. He was saddened when He heard that Lazarus was dying, but He stayed on several days. He was simply being obedient to His Father who wanted to show His glory in raising Lazarus from the dead.
Jesus was deeply affected by the sorrow of Martha and Mary. "When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, He became perturbed and deeply troubled." Some translations simply state, "Jesus wept." As Son of the Father, the Word of God had spent eternity with His Father in glory, yet now in His humanity He enters fully into our human limitation, so that He can transform our human condition into glory.
No doubt, decomposition of Lazarus' body had taken place. When Jesus said, "Take away the stone," Martha said to Him, "Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days." It's almost as if Martha is saying, "Jesus, please spare us the stench!"
Jesus loves her remark, because it is a prelude for the glory of Jesus about to be revealed. They all had good nostrils. They knew what stench human decomposition brings about.
"Jesus said to her, 'Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?'" After the stone was removed Jesus "cried out in a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!'" When the dead man came out, Jesus said to them, "Untie him and let him go."
Obviously the raising of Lazarus, after his body was decomposing, foreshadows Christ's Resurrection, as well as our own. However, the deeper meaning here isn't just our bodies coming forth gloriously from the grave, but also our spirits brought forth from a death that would have been eternal, if Christ had not died on the cross to take away our sins.
You and I might be quite squeamish about letting Christ come close to the stench that sin causes in our lives. We might cry out to Jesus, "Don't let us experience the stench of our own sins!" Jesus would reply to us, "If you do not allow yourselves and me to experience the stench of your sins, then you will remain in the stench of sin and die forever."
Jesus loves to turn the stench of human sin into His glory. He might say, "Do not deny the sinful corruption you experience from your sins. I have come to turn your sinful nature into glory, but I cannot do that without your permission."
Let us not be afraid to stand at the tomb of Lazarus and smell the stench of corruption as we witness Jesus doing away with the stench and bringing forth His friend from the grave. After all, a few days after this event, He was invited to a banquet, which Lazarus attended. Might we call this banquet a "healing of memories?"
So too, when we witness the extreme poverty of our sinfulness, Christ wants to immerse us in His mercy. This also is a banquet of mercy that brings about a profound healing of memories. In that moment, we won't have to ask Lazarus, "How did it feel to come forth from that stench?" We will know the joy in our hearts.
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