Just as the healing of the man born blind was a ‘work of God’, inviting faith, similarly the raising of Lazarus in this week’s reading shows the ‘glory of God’ and strengthens faith. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
17 On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days already. 18 Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, 22 but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’ 23 ‘Your brother,’ said Jesus to her, ‘will rise again.’ 24 Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ 25 Jesus said: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ 27 ‘Yes, Lord,’ she said, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’
Other readings: Ezekiel 37:12-14 Psalm 129 (130) Romans 8:8-11
This Sunday’s extended passage from the Gospel of John is the story of the raising of Lazarus. Only the central verses are given here. You may wish to complete the whole story by reading verses 1-16 and verses 28-45 from chapter 11 of John in your own Bible. The words of Jesus to Martha in verse 25 give us the theme: Jesus is the resurrection and the life. No wonder he goes on later in the chapter to restore earthly life to Lazarus as a sign of the life to come.
Just as the healing of the man born blind was a ‘work of God’, inviting faith, similarly the raising of Lazarus shows the ‘glory of God’ (verse 40) and strengthens faith. All the so-called ‘signs’ in the Gospel of John do this (See John 2:11). The raising of Lazarus is the last and greatest of the signs. Both Martha and Mary are ready to witness that Jesus is ‘the resurrection and the life’.
The story concludes with the statement that ‘many believed in him’ (verse 45). But this sign also provokes strong opposition from the religious leaders who plot to destroy Jesus. The one who gives life will have life torn from him in return.
In the other readings too there are clear pointers to the Resurrection to come. The prophet Ezekiel relays God’s promise to give the people a new spirit and raise them from their graves. St Paul teaches the Romans about the life-giving Spirit of Christ, the Easter gift of the risen Jesus. The Psalmist cries ‘out of the depths’ to the Lord with whom there is ‘mercy and fulness of redemption’. The prayer is heard by the God of life.
How does this story prepare us for the celebration of the Easter mystery?
In what sense is this the greatest of the signs worked by Jesus?
We pray that we may understand and truly believe that God is the God of life.
We ask for the grace to live the time of Christ’s passion and death to the full.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy