Spirituality of the Readings
Love and Death
The Gospel for Sunday declares that “Jesus loved Martha and Mary her sister and their brother Lazarus.”
This is a golden statement. It tells us so much about Jesus and his personal friendships. But it also emphasizes how very odd it was that, while Lazarus was sick unto death, Jesus camped out a fairly short distance away and did not go to heal his friend. Messages arrived calling for him. An easy journey. But no. His reason? “This illness is not going to end in death,” he says.
What? He is wrong! The illness of Lazarus led directly to death!
When Lazarus did die, and had been in the tomb for four days, Jesus finally decided to go down to Bethany. Martha ran to him there and she quietly went back for Mary, who was so grieved that she would not leave home! Each in her turn cried out, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!”
When Jesus saw Mary’s tears and those of the friends who had gathered, we behold a touching revelation. The famous words that came next are unlike any others in the Gospels:
And Jesus wept.
His tears make Mary and Martha’s question even more poignant. (I paraphrase): “You love us and you loved him; why did you not come and cure him before he died?” I think many of us ask God that very question when a loved one dies. “God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Pretend that you are asking this question directly to Jesus right now, about a sorrow of yours. Listen to whatever answer comes. Take your time. If what you hear is fruitful, please stay with it.
For my part, I hear Jesus saying this:
Friend, I know that life, love, and death are hard for you to comprehend. I have revealed them in my flesh, but of course any example can be ambiguous.
Not only life but even death and even sorrow are given within God’s gentle love. They are like flowers pushing up from the earth. The ground from which they push is God’s kind and deep care. Even life gets its being from God’s love. Even death gets its life from God’s love.
At this point you and I, startled, interrupt and say, Wait! How can death receive life? Death is the end of life. What are you talking about?
Jesus seems to reply that there are many beautiful plants and trees that come forth from God’s earth. Life is surely one of them, he says. But death is too, and suffering as well.
Let me show you, he says.
He calls out in a loud voice, calls into the soil of God-love where Lazarus’ soul is held tight. From this womb of love, death gestates into life. Out of the tomb he walks.
It is as if Jesus says to us,
you always think of love as what you have because you have life. But the opposite is true. Life is something you can have only because you are rooted in love. Death does not erase love, it brings you more deeply back into it, to the place you came from—the rich loam of love.
Pray about it, Jesus says, because that is the reason I delayed going to Bethany.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University