- Ezekiel 37:12-14
- Romans 8:8-11
- John 11:1-45
Reflection written by: Monica Stein, RCIA Catechist
The reading about the raising of Lazarus from the Gospel of John ranks among the most famous in the Christian bible. Without question, it is the most well-known and significant of the miracles Jesus performed during his ministry. In fact, according to John, it is this miracle in particular which infuriates his enemies to such an extent that they commit to killing Jesus. Jesus becomes too much of a threat to those in power, attracting too much positive attention and energy after this miracle. I guess that can happen when you bring someone back from the dead!
References to this miracle story abound in the area of art and literature. Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and van Gogh all painted this scene. In the world of literature, allusions to the Lazarus story are made in several notable works. Dostoevsky references it in a memorable chapter of Crime and Punishment. John Knowles references it in A Separate Piece. The poet Sylvia Plath wrote a poem entitled “Lady Lazarus.”
Clearly, the miracle of Jesus going to Bethany and raising from the dead his friend Lazarus has attracted a good deal of attention – both then and now. There are plenty of things to talk about with this story. However, I am not going to speak about any of these worthy topics. Instead, I would like to look at the story through the lens of metaphor. For me, a great deal can be found in the story by seeing Lazarus’ death as not literal but metaphorical; his tomb as not real but metaphor. In other words, for me the story is about how one human can raise up another – not literally from the dead, but rather from the “death in life” we all experience from time to time, maybe even now during the coronavirus pandemic.
Have you ever held yourself back from something out of fear? Have you, in your desire to be “accepted” by your peer group, not done some things because others might laugh at or make fun of you? Do you sometimes miss out on experiences because you are afraid to take the risk? Are you “all that you can be” as a person and child of God? Or, are you less than whole or complete (entombed if you will)? Think about it for a minute as I tell you about some times in my life when I was entombed not literally (thank goodness) but rather metaphorically.
The first example I will give came when I was 18 and a freshman in college. I was living in a dorm on campus and feeling very intimidated. I was regularly second guessing myself and intimidated by my fellow students. I had grown up in a Catholic family and was sheltered throughout my twelve years of Catholic education, and now I found myself on a big college campus in the middle of Los Angeles, CA. I had little need to step out of my comfort zone during the first eighteen years of my life. What happened over the course of four years changed my life, opened my eyes, and removed me from the tomb of self-doubt I had been living in. My college roommate, Maureen, had a lot to do with this. She was always there motivating me to get involved and step out of my comfort zone. I tried new things, joined campus organizations, was involved in student government, met new friends, even sang on stage at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. It was because of her friendship and encouragement that I was able to graduate with more than a degree; I had learned to live life. I was like Lazarus – dead, not literally but metaphorically, to the possibilities of fullness of life because I was steeped in self-doubt, intimidation, and unawareness. Living with Maureen those four years offered me a new way to see and experience the world. She raised me up.
Fast forward 15 years, and now I am married and a mother of four children. We had just moved from Portland to Seattle. I had been working as a director of religious education in Portland and when we moved to Seattle, I was not able to find a job in that field. I was beginning to get discouraged when I received a call from Carol Lamberger, the principal of Christ the King School, where my children attended, asking me if I would consider being an aide in the first grade classroom. I thought to myself, why not, so I took the part-time job. As the year progressed Carol kept encouraging me to go back to school and get my Washington teaching certificate. I had thought about doing so, but had buried the thoughts because I was nervous about my ability to fulfill my duties at home and do well in my classes at the same time. Money was another concern. I finally brought up the subject and my husband and I decided that the next school year was the year to do it because it would be the only year we would have all four children in the same school, the youngest in kindergarten and the oldest in eighth grade. So I applied and was accepted to a one year program. As the school year approached feelings of self-doubt (yes, they never totally went away) as well as my tendency towards perfectionism were adding to my anxiety. At that moment, I was entombed with negativity. One night I sat down in tears and expressed my fears to my husband, George. George heard me out, saying nothing in response until I had spilled all my fears and anxieties (and, if truth be told, lots of tears). Finally, I looked at George and said, “So, I want to quit before even starting, George.” He just looked at me and after a long pause said, “Nope – I’m not going to let you do it. He reminded me of all the encouragement I had received from Carol and said, “I know you can do it.” I looked at him and said, “Really.” And he said, “Yup, you can.” And so it was. Of course, things improved for me almost immediately, and going back to school was a great experience. With lots of help from George, my children also thrived that year. But at that moment, George had been my personal Jesus, raising me out of my dark tomb of self-doubt and negativity.
So, there are two moments in my life when I was metaphorically dead like Lazarus. Then a miracle of sorts happened and changed me for the better. I wonder if some of you aren’t experiencing something similar to my stories. Do you ever hold back because of fear, self-doubt, or feeling overwhelmed? Do you just “go through the motions” sometimes when you could be giving so much more? Do you become content and complacent because you don’t push your boundaries and try new things? If so, perhaps you are not as fully alive as you might be. If so, it might be important to look to others for help. Maybe they can provide you with a different way of seeing the world which will open up a whole new dimension for you. It might be a good idea to walk out of the dark tomb we all take up residence in from time to time. Maybe then we will walk out, like Lazarus, into the light of full life.
Questions for Reflection
- Are you “all that you can be” as a person and child of God? Or, are you less than whole or complete (entombed if you will)?
- In coming out of the tomb, Lazarus is emerging from darkness and death to light and life. How do you see yourself in the metaphor?
- What binds your heart and keeps you from coming forth into new life? What burial cloths do you need to be unbound from to experience the resurrection?