In the Gospel this weekend, we hear of the Lazarus being raised from the dead. He was in the tomb 4 days. There are many things we can learn from this amazing experience. Jesus demonstrates by His mastery over even death that He is indeed ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life’ as well as the ‘Resurrection and the Life’. He is the one who will not only raise from the dead on the 3rd day, but intends for all who have Faith in Him, surrender their life to Him, and live for Him will likewise experience new and eternal life.
St Paul tells us that the ‘wages of sin is death’ (Rom 6:23). In the death of Lazarus, we see those wages collected & come due. Lazarus, even as a follower & supporter of Jesus was a sinner. In hearing Jesus preach & teach, he was likely, only too aware of his sinfulness. Perhaps, he even saw in his sickness the consequence of his sinfulness come to bear – a not uncommon thought of the Jews in those days, a thought Jesus corrects. God the Father is not so petty as to smite a sinner with sickness, but God may permit the sinner to experience sickness if it would serve a greater good for the sinner or the world. In this case, Lazarus’ death will be one of Jesus’ greatest & final signs of witness prior to His own suffering, death, & resurrection. Lazarus will die, but Christ bestows life. New life is always aided by Christ’s presence, even and especially when we’ve somehow welcomed death by our sinfulness.
These past few weekends of Lent, I’ve drawn attention to some of the Deadly Sins and their contrasting Lively Virtue: Pride v. Humility, Sloth v. Zeal, Lust v. Chastity, Gluttony v. Asceticism. I think this account of the Raising of Lazarus to New Life is a wonderful allegory for the pair of Anger v. Forgiveness.
When we engage in anger we experience a kind of death. It sees, and seeks after, blood. Anger stirs up an unreasonable desire for vengeance, which is the Lord’s (Rom 12:19). When we are angry, we are often closed off – as if a stone lay across entry – to new ideas, to hearing the full story, to see the other as a person innately worthy of dignity & respect. We see only our rage – or at least, only through the lens of our anger. And it impairs, cripples, even kills our inner goodness. We are dead to the prospect of right relationship. We are bound up in our self. There is a visible & emotional ‘stench’ to anger, and people rightly want to steer clear of it, keep it bottled up, set aside, distant. There can be fear in others in the presence of anger – “Do not roll aside the stone, it will stink”; it will be unpleasant & gross. And the longer the anger hides in that inner place, the worse it often is.
Anger is one of the seven Deadly Sins because it kills God’s grace in us (i.e, mortal sin). And it does this by killing God’s grace in us which should rightly be directed towards our neighbor (and even enemy) by God’s command. St Augustine quipped that, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” So too is anger. And while Lazarus did not die specifically from anger, he does die from the effect of sin in the world and in his life. And left alone in it, there would be nothing other than this death.
Into this sad and terrible situation comes Jesus. He comes, not just because Lazarus is His friend, but because He desires for all of us to be His friend. And for all of us to be friends – with one another. Forgiveness – the active engagement to interrupt anger while counteracting & mending its effects – is needed to restore relationship and maintain friendship. Into the sad reality of Lazarus’ death, Jesus speaks new life. Jesus calls him forth by Mercy. Remove the stone and let in the light. Loose the bindings that tie him up, which anger provides. Set him free of what fixes him. Counteract the effect of sin. When we are dead in the sin of anger, forgiveness does all these things – walking in the Light of Christ, free & unhindered from vengeance or hatred or wasted energy. Forgiveness restores life.
The Responsorial Psalm for this weekend speaks true: With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption (Psalm 130:4). Not just that God is merciful and provides redemption – yes, but that as you and I stay near to God, there is the possibly for us to be merciful and extend redemption to others – with the Lord this becomes possible. This is God’s grace activated in us as we actively engage to interrupt anger, hurt, resentment, and regret and to restore life. And this is the lively virtue of forgiveness. This is the “Spirit of God dwelling in you” as Paul tells us in the Romans 8:9. It is rarely easy, but with the Lord through the Spirit, it is possible. That is Good News. And thus forgiveness is better than anger and perfectly suited for this holy season of Lent when we forgive the “Who’s of Lent” in our life.
Nothing Less than saints for the Holy Family of God.
Holy Family, Source of Reconciliation, Pray for us.
~ Fr Jeremy M. Gries