2 Apr 2017
5th Sunday of Lent, Year A
Jesus wept. He was deeply troubled, and wept for the dead. Even the Jews who had come noticed and had pity. “Look,” they said, “see how he loved Lazarus.” And Jesus wept all the more for hearing that, because he wasn’t mourning for Lazarus at all; he was weeping for the dead—for Martha and Mary, and the Jews.
In the Gospel of John, there are miracles and signs—the raising of Lazarus being one of them. And there are also the monologues, or speeches, of Jesus. And these two things go together. For each of the seven signs Jesus does, there’s an accompanying monologue. And the monologue that goes with the raising of Lazarus is when Jesus talks about being the Good Shepherd.
He says, “I am the good shepherd, and I know [my sheep] and mine know me. They will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers. All who came [before me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd, and I know [my sheep] and mine know me.”
In other words, those who actually hear the voice of Jesus and trust him have life—life in abundance. Those who don’t listen to him, don’t have life in them (or not as much as they could have). Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, and I know [my sheep] and [they] know me.” The trouble is that some of Jesus’ closest friends didn’t really know him.
Martha didn’t respond to the voice of the Good Shepherd. Instead, she came running out to him before he ever called her. And she was too convinced of her own understanding of things to really hear Jesus say, “I am the resurrection—I am.” She only knew Jesus as a miracle-worker, as the Christ, as the anointed One of God. But she didn’t know Jesus as God himself. She didn’t know him as the Good Shepherd. She was too busy running the show to have any room left in her for listening to Jesus. And Jesus wept for her.
Now, Mary was a little different. She came to Jesus only after she heard that he was calling for her. She responded to the voice of the Good Shepherd and followed him. The trouble was that she was influenced too much by the sympathy the Jews were showing her. The “voice of strangers” won her over, and she stepped away from following Jesus. And Jesus wept for her.
And, lastly, there was Lazarus, the dead man. But Jesus says he’s only “asleep;” he’s only resting. And, in fact, when Jesus says to him, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus comes out. Lazarus—the apparently dead man—is the only one who’s actually listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd; he’s the only one at peace. He’s the one enjoying the green pastures and the still waters of the Good Shepherd. He’s the one not living in fear, because the Good Shepherd is with him, and he is with the Good Shepherd.
Jesus wept—but not for Lazarus. He wept because his dear friends were “walking through the dark valley and the shadow of death,” and letting that experience distract them to the point that they were spiritually dead.
Jesus wept, but he was also perturbed by this. In the ancient Greek, the word “enebree-máysato” means “to snort like an angry horse.” When he saw Mary weeping along with the Jews who were weeping, it was like a punch in the stomach; he was deeply upset and angry—not out of a lack of compassion, but because he saw his friends being led astray—being led away from him and life, and going down the path of despair and death.
In the Church, we oftentimes hear from grandparents and parents how “the kids don’t go to church anymore. They say they don’t believe in God, or the Church, or anything else like that.” And the people who say that are torn inside; they’re upset and even angry about that. But mostly they’re brokenhearted, because they love their children and their grandchildren. And they, too, like Jesus, weep.
Many people—young and old—are searching for something else. They’re looking for happiness and vigorous living; they’re looking to feel good about themselves and about belonging to a community; they want excitement in their worship; they want the experience of being a Christian to be an endlessly joyful event. And that’s an excellent and worthy kind of life to desire—it’s the life Jesus desires for us, after all.
But that kind of life—from a Christian perspective—doesn’t happen outside of Christ. It doesn’t happen by following some other shepherd (and the world is full of shepherds who entice us to go along with them, and to wander away from Jesus). Again, as Jesus says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” And the “pasture” is that place of happiness and vigorous living.
But, to some—to many, the pasture of the Good Shepherd looks a lot like Lazarus: bound and dead in his tomb. But appearances can be deceiving. Jesus said he’s only asleep, he’s only resting; he’s very much alive, listening to (and enjoying) the voice of the One who loves him. Lazarus is very much alive in Christ, as are the faithful. The faithful are alive in Christ. Those who believe in Jesus—who actively listen to him whisper in their heart, in their mind, in their conscience; those who trust Jesus in both good times and bad are alive.
And being faithful isn’t related to the condition of our body—whether it’s alive or dead. Being faithful is a matter of the soul, of the spirit. And so, those who are apparently dead can certainly be alive; and those who are apparently living can certainly be dead on the inside.
Jesus challenges us to be faithful: to stop being so busy and get to know him as he is; to not let ourselves be enticed away by other shepherds and other voices. Jesus challenges us to be faithful—like Lazarus; to live with our soul always ready to hear and respond to his voice.
Jesus didn’t weep for Lazarus; he was overjoyed at Lazarus. May he be joyful in us, as well; good and faithful friends of the Good Shepherd.