Last Sunday, Jesus revealed himself as the Light of the World who overcame the darkness of the man blind from birth. Today, Jesus reveals himself as the Resurrection and the Life who overcomes the death of his friend Lazarus. The Lord has been continuously revealing to us who he is, in and through our life situations, no matter how dark and desperate they may be. As our Lenten journey leads us to the greatest revelation of Christ in our liturgical calendar – that is, in the Paschal Triduum – we hope that our prayer, sacrifice, and charity are making us more and more receptive to God’s revelation.

Today’s Gospel sets before us the siblings Martha, Mary, and Lazarus as models of receptivity to the Lord. Their house in Bethany, because of its proximity to Jerusalem, was a favorite stopover of the Lord Jesus, who was also their personal friend. When Lazarus fell ill, the sisters did not hesitate to inform the Lord. Upon receiving the news, Jesus makes his mysterious declaration: “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.” It looks to everyone like Lazarus’ illness did end in death. Only Jesus knows how God will be glorified through the events to come.

When he arrives in Bethany, days after receiving the message, Martha goes out to meet him. We can see in Martha’s actions one aspect of receptivity to the Lord: actively seeking him. Martha had been depicted in a previous Gospel story as someone who busies herself in providing hospitality (cf. Lk 10:38-42). In that story she was anxious, but in today’s Gospel, Martha is an example of faith. In the dialogue that ensues between her and Jesus, we see Martha’s faith deepening as she is guided by the Lord. Martha’s first words express her faith in what Jesus can do: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” She knows him as a miracle worker and a powerful intercessor.

The Lord offers her a hopeful response: “Your brother will rise.” When Martha welcomes this message, but then sets its fulfillment in the distant future, “in the resurrection on the last day,” Jesus invites her to take a further step of faith. He reveals that he himself is “the resurrection and the life.” Faith in him is life, such that one who believes “will never die.” Now Martha makes a profession of deep faith: “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the One who is coming into the world.” Though her brother is still lying dead in the tomb, she sees beyond death to life in Christ. This vision of faith becomes possible because she actively seeks the Lord.

Martha’s sister Mary learns that Jesus has come, and she promptly meets him and pleads with him. Her first words are the same as her sister’s, but her gestures are different. Mary “fell at his feet.” Prostrate before him, she also wept, and her companions wept with her. We can see in Mary’s actions another aspect of receptivity to the Lord: humility. We began our Lenten season with an act of humility: we received ashes on our forehead and were told that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. Lent reminds us of our nothingness before God, which makes us humble. Acknowledgement of our sin also humbles us and moves us to contrition. The whole self-emptying journey of Lent is meant to make space in our hearts for the abundant outpouring of God’s merciful love. We ponder and follow Mary’s attitude and actions. Humility and contrition deeply move our Lord; he becomes “perturbed and deeply troubled.”

In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul describes the path of self-emptying in terms of being “in the spirit,” as opposed to the pursuit of self-glorification which is being “in the flesh.” Our Lenten practices of fasting and abstinence train us to resist the demands of our flesh with all its cravings, to free us of disordered attachments. But we do not stop there. Our practice of almsgiving or charity completes our self-emptying for the benefit of others. This two-step process opens us up for the Spirit of God to dwell in us and work in our lives. As Jesus Christ will show us next week, his total self-emptying on the Cross for our benefit does not end in death but in a glorious Resurrection. St. Paul confidently encourages us to live this truth: “the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.” We cannot raise ourselves from death, but “out of the depths” we can cry to the Lord. A humble and contrite heart, a heart that attends to the needs of others, the Lord can fill with the grace of his Resurrection.

What of Lazarus? What does he teach us about welcoming the revelation of God? All we know of him is that he was sick, then dead, then buried. He seems beyond any hope or help. But nothing is impossible for God! No matter how hopeless our condition or how dead our nature may be – like the vast valley of dry bones that Ezekiel saw in his vision (cf. Ez 37) – we can receive new life. Ezekiel’s prophecy was that the Lord would open his people’s graves and have them rise from them. This prophecy is fulfilled in part with the dramatic raising of Lazarus. Lazarus testifies to the Lord’s saving power simply by being alive! But the prophecy comes to its more glorious completion with the Resurrection of the Lord. Our hope, today and tomorrow, now and forever, whether we are alive or dead, is in Jesus’ victorious power over death. This is where the Season of Lent is headed. We are following our Lord who is our Resurrection and our Life, with whom “there is mercy and fullness of redemption.”

How do I actively seek the Lord like Martha? In the dark and desperate situations in my life, how does the Lord reveal himself to me personally? As I continue my journey in Lent, how am I being reminded of my nothingness before God?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.