Clergy Column March 28-29, 2020
“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.”
Our Gospel reading this weekend for the Fifth Sunday of Lent is the familiar story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus the dead. It is arguably Jesus’ greatest miracle. Most certainly it was his most dramatic, as Jesus arrives at the tomb in which Lazarus has been buried four days, orders the stone to be rolled away, calls Lazarus to come out, and he does so, still wrapped like a mummy in his burial cloths. It is a story of physical resuscitation, as Lazarus is given back his life, of spiritual comfort and healing, as his sisters Marth and Mary have their prayers answered with their brother given back to them, and of faith, as many of the Jews who saw what had been done began to believe in Jesus.
But the words of this story seem to take on new meaning for us in the midst of this pandemic in which we New Yorkers now find ourselves at the epicenter. As I read to myself the opening sentence in which the sisters of Lazarus send word to Jesus, “Master, the one you love is ill,” I could not help but think about the many families who are struggling with someone they love who is sick and has tested positive for the coronavirus, or at least fear that might potentially be the case. And Jesus’ response gives us reason to hope, that despite all the suffering, anxiety, and inconveniences this evil situation has brought upon us, God can and will find a way to somehow bring out of it a greater good. Jesus 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.”
In a recent opinion article for the New York Times titled Where is God in a Pandemic, Jesuit priest and author Father James Martin wrote, “In the end, the most honest answer to the question of why the Covid-19 virus is killing thousands of people, why infectious diseases ravage humanity and why there is suffering at all is: We don’t know. For me, this is the most honest and accurate answer… But if the mystery of suffering is unanswerable, where can the believer go in times like this? For the Christian and perhaps even for others the answer is Jesus… In his public ministry, Jesus continually sought out those who were sick. Most of his miracles were healings from illnesses and disabilities: debilitating skin conditions (under the rubric of “leprosy”), epilepsy, a woman’s “flow of blood,” a withered hand, “dropsy,” blindness, deafness, paralysis. In these frightening times, Christians may find comfort in knowing that when they pray to Jesus, they are praying to someone who understands them not only because he is divine and knows all things, but because he is human and experienced all things.”
This story of Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead is also very much a story of love. St. John goes out of his way to tell us, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” And when Jesus arrives at the tomb and weeps, the Jews remark, “See how he loved him.” It is in trying times such as these that God is even closer to us and suffers with us. And He can use this evil to bring about a greater good. On a macro level, former editor of Time magazine and bestselling biographer Walter Isaacson suggests that this pandemic might bring about the next great technological revolution, this time in biotechnology. But God can also bring about a greater good on a more micro level in each of our lives. Perhaps it’s spending more time together as a family, eating together and praying together and truly being a domestic church with and for one another. Perhaps it’s having more time to read that book we have always wanted to get to or complete that project we have been putting off. In our Gospel Jesus asks, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” May we respond like Martha and reply, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
Be safe and be well. – Fr. Bob