The Gospel from Monday of Holy Week presented an interesting a challenging picture for those of us who wish to be disciples of the Lord. For a brief moment the focus shifts to Lazarus. Lets consider the text and ask some questions of our selves:
Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead….The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came, not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too, because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him. (Jn 12:1, 10-11)
Now here are some the questions that come to mind for us, especially in the Holy Week, wherein we are summoned to walk with our Lord to the Cross and unto the resurrection. Let’s consider the questions in a kind of reverse order from the text on Lazarus.
- The text says of Lazarus, many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him. Is anyone you know turning away from the world and believing because of you?
- The text says of Lazarus, And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too. Is any one plotting to kill you, or is anyone persecuting you? I suppose the answer to that question would be based on the answer to the first. For if we are effectively witnessing to Christ and the teachings of his Gospel, we will experience some degree of hatred. But if we are watering down the Scripture, hiding its controversial moral demands, or striving to please this world, we will likely be loved by one and all. Jesus said, Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets (Lk 6:26). And again Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. (Jn 15:18-21) So again the question: are you persecuted at all? Are you hated at all? Is anyone plotting your downfall? That will likely depend on whether you strive to fit in with this world, or to be a sign that will be contradicted (as was Christ and Lazarus). We are not looking for a fight, but if we are authentic to the Gospel, dislike and hatred will find us.
- The text says of Lazarus that Jesus had raised him from the dead. Has Christ raised you from the dead? What made Lazarus a threat was that he was alive. Are you alive? And here is a critical point: Many were coming to Jesus by way of Lazarus because Lazarus WAS ALIVE. So again the question, Are you alive in Christ Jesus? Would anyone look to you and see and understand what it means to be alive in Christ? Can you testify, like Lazarus, “I was dead, but Christ has given me life, He has put sin to death in me and raised me to new and more abundant life!”
So to stitch the questions together: Has Christ given you life and joy, and thus made you an effective witness, that turns many from the sinful and confused world to Christ? And has this witness been so effective that some hate you for it? Has your witness been so effective and joyful, but also clear and contradicting of the world’s agenda (power, sex, pleasure, vengeance, possessions, popularity etc) that many also hate you for your contrary witness and would like to undermine it and you?
Jesus did not die because he was a conformist who worked at fitting in and pleasing everyone. He is God and Lord who demanded repentance and summoned us to a faith that believed in the good news of deliverance from the sin we repented of. To a faithless generation he summons us to faith and offers it. To and unchaste and sexually confused world he summons us to chastity and offers it. To a greedy world he summons us to generosity and offers it. To an unforgiving and vengeful world he summons us to forgiveness and love of enemy and offers the grace and gift to do it.
And we killed him for it. He just didn’t fit it to this world’s agenda. Frankly, he irked just about everyone: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, and the Zealots, even the Romans. These political and worldly groups all hated each other but they all agreed on this: Jesus must go.
Outside the Gate: Scripture says, Jesus, in order to sanctify the people by his own blood, suffered outside the city gate. Therefore go to him outside the camp and endure the insults he endured (Heb 13:12-13). Yes, outside the city gate. No city, no “polis” no “city-state” no political organization could contain him or tame him. So he died outside the gate, rejected by all. And only a very few had the courage to join him at the foot of that cross.
And so here is a question for Holy Week. Are you and I willing to suffer with Christ, and if necessary die with him, outside the gate? The world is becoming increasingly hostile to Biblical faith. Many of the ancient truths contained right in our Catechism are called bigotry, hatred, intolerance, foolishness and superstition by the world, and those indoctrinated in and enamored of the world’s ways. Are you and I willing to be humiliated, excoriated and hated for the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Are we willing to have even our heartfelt and joyful defenses of the faith be laughed at, misrepresented and called hateful? Are we willing to be hated by most?
The Gospel is increasingly “out of season” and we are sure to have greater challenges in the years ahead. Here too the Book of Hebrews calls us to courage:
Recall the days gone by when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a great contest of suffering. At times you were publicly exposed to insult and trial; at other times you associated yourselves with those who were being so dealt with. You even joined in the sufferings of those who were in prison and joyfully assented to the confiscation of your goods, knowing that you had better and more permanent possessions. Do not, then, surrender your confidence; it will have great reward. You need patience to do God’s will and receive what he has promised. For just a brief moment, and he who is to come will come; he will not delay. My just man will live by faith, and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him. [But] We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and live (Heb 10:35-39).
Yes, are you and I willing to die with Christ? Holy Week is not just a distant memory. It is now. And if we walk with Christ on the way of the Cross, walk with him outside the city gate, we too will rise with him victorious over this world.
But for now the Cross seems clearer every day, but so does the crown that waits:
In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be courageous; I have overcome the world (Jn 16:33).
“The world is becoming increasingly hostile to Biblical faith. Many of the ancient truths contained right in our Catechism are called bigotry, hatred, intolerance, foolishness and superstition by the world….”
It is certainly true that the world is hostile to our faith; or else it treats that faith as simply irrelevant.
Whether it is hostile or indifferent, though, the world may be following a path toward a society that is in the end without any faith at all. We know what has become of such societies in the past, especially at the moment when they seemed most unshakable, secure, and unchangeable.
We should pray that our society will somehow escape that fate.