In my 45 years of ministerial priesthood, I have found myself confronted by situations that elicited in me spontaneous, irrepressible pity. As a priest, of course, I know and I preach about the value of suffering in union with Christ. I maintain that euthanasia is a direct interference with God’s plan for the dying person. But, in hopeless cases, marked by palpable, futile struggles, the prayer that, time and again, rose from my heart and flooded my mind was a variation of this: “Please Lord, call her to yourself without delay; please, merciful God, lead him into your Kingdom of light on this very day.” Other times it might be the person facing the inevitable and, whose organs are shutting down one by one, who would utter forcefully the shocking phrase: “I wish the Lord would take me soon.”
If this earthly life were all that there is for people created in the image and likeness of the God of life, it would make sense to try everything within one’s means to prolong it as much as possible or resort to cryonic preservation of the body in view of a future cure. However, the resuscitation of Lazarus by Jesus is meant to help us believers focus on what is of everlasting value and channel our limited energies to make the most of this life so that we may be found worthy of claiming our heavenly citizenship. For as the Letter to the Philippians (3:20) notes: “…but our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Jesus grants a continuation of a few more years of life on earth to a dead person (Lazarus) who had been rotting in his tomb for four days. This is one of those things that are impossible to us mortals but are consistent with God’s very life-giving nature. Its significance is intensified by the Incarnation. The same flesh, that is destined to decay, enables Jesus to experience the whole spectrum of our human emotions, from elation to distress, from laughter to weeping, from intimacy to loss. There is no difference between the emotions displayed by Jesus from those that we display in comparable situations, including those of temporary forced separation from our loved ones in physical death. This humble yet mind-blowing fact of becoming like us through the Incarnation creates an unbreakable bond of love.
We are all saddened by the unavoidable prospect of our own physical demise and we grieve the loss of people close to us. In the Gospel of John (11:1-45), we are provided with these words to ponder:
“Master, the one you love is ill.”
“And Jesus wept.”
“See how he loved him.”
“So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.”
However, if we are able to encompass and, then, to own the full significance of Jesus’ manifestation as “Resurrection and Life” it would become impossible for us to blame God for death and we would bring reassurance to those who are still unable to go past inconsolable grief.
On any day that is marred by pain, grief, loss and even, perhaps, a touch of despair, we should take up the challenge that Jesus threw to Martha: “Do you believe this?” Do we believe that it is precisely through a share in our human flesh that we have access to the life-giving Spirit of Jesus? Do we believe that what was prayed with not yet fully realized expectation in the Old Testament by the psalmist (56:9) has become an undeniable fact in the flesh of Jesus? “My wanderings you have noted; are my tears not stored in your vial, recorded in your book?”
Jesus is constantly and fully aware of all our pain, apprehension, grief and tears; but his awareness is way beyond even refined human empathy. In an unbreakable bond of love, he is close to us as “Resurrection and Life,” as Conqueror of sin and death in the power of the Spirit! As the Gospel of John (11:33-36) tells us:
When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.”
I submit to you that Jesus is also perturbed and deeply troubled by our resignation to flatness, uneventfulness and a lifestyle that has little inspiration, stunted creativity and weak resolve. The Lord Jesus must weep whenever we allow pettiness and vengefulness to dictate our choices. Jesus must be saddened, too, by our mediocrity because this is not the life that he had died and risen from the dead to give us.
My dear fellow mortals, this very day could be the day in which Jesus might clamor most forcefully: “Take away the stone!” Jesus, who is Resurrection and Life, cannot settle for the sight of us as walking dead or bound by burial bands of our making. He cannot bear the thought that we have accepted a defeat that we could have prevented if only we had capitalized on a rush of energy from his Spirit. He cannot stand the sight of us living a life with uninspiring ideals, rare dreams, weak hopes and scarce values.
If today we hear him shout our name and holler: “Come out!” We shall obey. Those around us who are already living in the power of his Spirit will have to untie us so that we can return to be operative and productive members of the Church. In the Church, the Holy Spirit will remove all fear and endow us with genuine freedom. The Holy Spirit will pour in our hearts joy, energy, motivation, courage, endurance, goodwill and creativity. In other words, the Holy Spirit will make us fully alive with firm faith in the Lord who is Resurrection and Life so that our physical demise will not scare us anymore because it will be seen as the gate to endless Life.