In this Lenten season, Sunday upon Sunday, we observed the struggle between the sinful thoughts inspired by temptation and the radiant ones emanating from the Holy Spirit. On the fifth and last Sunday of Lent, this struggle touches the roots of the conflict: Christ, standing on the threshold of the man’s sealed grave (for Lazarus is every man, whom Christ would like to befriend), faces the frozen source of all malevolent and disheartening thoughts, stemming from the fear of death.
Death, the only true and great force at work in the natural world, bringing closure to all that is – everything from the individual living being to the entire universe destined for entropy – in man, the sole creature conscious of his own demise, is primarily expressed as athematic anguish, a frantic yearning for life, uncertainty as to the possibility of being saved. Adam sought the origin within himself and withdrew from God, but all he found therein was the fleeting bios, revealed nakedness, the need unfulfilled… a henceforth empty vessel that would never have experienced that emptiness had he dwelled in the relationship.
Having renounced his destiny (glory), man is left to face his fate alone, to become subject to biodegradation, just like everything else: “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.” (Jn 11:39).
That is why the Epistle to the Hebrews states that the devil has power over death (cf. Heb 2:14), for all temptations originate in fear of death, inherent in man wanting to outlive his own emptiness. In fact, “the tempter” first persuaded man to go out in the void, mistrusting God’s gaze upon him, and then suggested that he should evade the emptiness that terrified him by anaesthetising himself with pleasures, with reassurances from others, by consolidating his position with power and control – with the result that that emptiness increased further, as his satisfaction was never enough, and however much he eats or copulates, death is not conquered but rather proliferates (what you eat will perish, and those you generate will perish just like you), while approval is always insufficient as doubts gnaw and remain, and ultimately everything withers and is cast aside, and exercising control is never enough as we cannot control our own journey towards death, nor can we control the whitening of our hair.
Man, as he frets and rebels, ends up in the grave, whence he had tried to escape from his whole life.
And God is there, before the man’s tomb. He weeps (cf. Jn 11:35).
Jesus weeping for Lazarus is God weeping for man, for his man, for his bitter end. “How did you end up there?” God seems to ask, grieved and astonished. “I created you unto life and unto glory…why did you crawl into that hole? Why did you believe those who told you that there was no other home for you but that grave?”
The enemy’s mocking victorious laughter resounds, as he mocks God from that same sepulchral darkness, displaying His masterpiece that has decayed into a rotten shell… but God will not allow it, and brings man back from the dead.
What is it exactly that raises man from the dead? The Son’s trust.
It is not Jesus who resurrects Lazarus: it is the Father. Jesus ratifies the works of the Father by raising Lazarus from the dead, for life is incomplete without relationship. But the Father had already resurrected him when Jesus appeared before the tomb: “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11: 41-42).
This is not the ‘mere’ account of yet another corpse resuscitation, as others narrated in the Gospels. It is not one miracle among others. What makes the account so special and important is the fact that the Son decides how to face his near future, just as he decides to face the uncertainties of his imminent Passion, caught between trust in his Father’s promise, and the fear that makes his flesh quiver, inherited from his Mother.
Standing in front of the tomb, as then on the Cross, Jesus reposes his trust, as Abraham did, and in fact he received Isaac back “as a sign” of what would happen to the Son of God (cf. Heb 11:19), referring to a specific Jewish interpretation of the passage in Genesis 22, according to which Isaac would be returned to Abraham after the latter had sacrificed him, and would thus be resurrected.
Jesus trusts God, and he knows that what happened to his friend is God’s sign to him of what would happen to him soon after, namely that the Father would not desert him into nothingness.
Jesus reposes trust in love, the only disposition that can genuinely challenge fear, the thoughts arising from it and those constantly plaguing us.
Reposing trust in love can be difficult for us, for we have become far too familiar with death and sorrow, and so love appears unfathomable and alien to us, or we tend to equate it, like the Samaritan woman, with what our pettiness understands as love, and which is ultimately a different form of fear.
And yet it is the true challenge of everyday life, the struggle we are called to confront every time we are faced with emptiness, namely, whether to trust or to flee, to welcome or seize, to await or to hurry. As we prepare for Holy Week, we will see these two options unfold: it will be up to us to decide which of them speaks to our hearts and offers us brighter prospects.