LAZARUS, FRIEND OF JESUS (Fr. Varghese Paul, S.J.)

The name Lazarus means God has helped. We come across two Lazarus in the Gospels. The first Lazarus is mentioned only in Lukes Gospels. He is the beggar in the parable of the rich man. The second Lazarus is mentioned only in Johns Gospel as the brother of the two sisters, Martha and Mary. This character sketch is about this second Lazarus who is a friend of Jesus.

We read about Lazarus in chapters 11 and 12 in Johns Gospel. Lazarus is the brother of Martha and Mary. John mentions specially that Jesus was the friend of the two sisters and their brother Lazarus. John says, Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus (John 11, 5).

The intimate friendship between Martha, Mary, Lazarus and Jesus is seen in the simple but very telling message the two sisters send to Jesus when Lazarus, their brother, fell sick. The sisters sent Jesus a message: Lord, your dear friend is ill (Jn 11, 3).

When Jesus got the message, he did not rush to his friends house but he said mysteriously to his disciples: The final result of this illness will not be the death of Lazarus; this has happened in order to bring glory to God, and it will be the means by which the Son of God will receive glory. (Jn 11, 4)

After two day Jesus invited his disciples to go to Bethany in Judea. But the disciples objected. Teacher, the disciples answered, Just a short time ago the people there wanted to stone you; and are you planning to go back? (Jn 11, 8).

Against the objections of his disciples Jesus persuaded them. Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I will go and wake him up (Jn 11, 11).

But the disciples were not convinced. So Jesus told them, plainly, Lazarus is dead, but for your sake I am glad that I was not with him, so that you will believe. Let us go to him (Jn 11, 14-15).

When Jesus reached Bethany Lazarus has been buried four days before. But the conversation between Jesus and the two sisters Martha and Mary reveal that Jesus was clear in his mind what he wanted to do. So he asked them to take him to the place where Lazarus was buried.

At the tomb of Lazarus Jesus wept expressing unabashedly his deep love and affection for his friend Lazarus.

John has described very graphically the scene at Lazarus tomb. Deeply moved once more, Jesus went to the tomb, which was a cave with a stone placed at the entrance. Take the stone away! Jesus ordered.

Martha, the dead mans sister, answered, there will be a bad smell, Lord. He has been buried four days!

Jesus said to her, Didnt I tell you that you would see Gods glory if you believed? They took the stone away. Jesus looked up and said, I thank you, Father, that you listen to me. I know that you always listen to me, but I say this for the sake of the people here, so that they will believe that you sent me. After he had said this, he called out in a loud voice, Lazarus, come out! He came out, his hands and feet wrapped in grave clothes, and with a cloth round his face. Untie him, Jesus told them, and let him go (Jn 11, 38-44).

The miracle of raising Lazarus after four days of his death brought two types of responses from the people. Many of the Jews present in the scene believed in Jesus but some others went away from there and reported the miracle to Pharisees and chief priests.

So the enemies of Jesus plotted to kill not only Jesus but also Lazarus whom Jesus had raised to life from the dead. Jesus knew about the plot. So he did not travel openly in Judea for some time.

But Jesus is not the one to be cowed down by anyone. So John says, Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, the man he had raised from death. They prepared a dinner for him there, which Martha helped to serve; Lazarus was one of those who were sitting at the table with Jesus (Jn 12: 1-2).

People came to know about Jesus visit to his friends house and they flocked there not only to see Jesus but also Lazarus. Large crowd going to see Jesus and Lazarus alarmed the chief priests and the Pharisees. John notes, So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus too, because on his account many Jews were rejecting them and believing in Jesus (Jn 12: 10-11).

Later, when Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem, large crowd came to welcome him specially because many people had heard about Jesus miracle that Jesus had called Lazarus out of the grave.

We do not hear anything more about Lazarus. But according to an Eastern tradition Lazarus and his two sisters went to Cyprus where Lazarus became the bishop of Kitium. Though there is nothing said about Lazarus in the early faith history in the Acts, the message of his being raised to life is clear as Jesus said to Martha, I am the resurrection and the life (Jn 11, 25).

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