Why do bad things happen to us? Why sickness? Why death? Often we grapple with these very real human problems. We want to have an answer. Often our answer is one like the apostles who thought that the man born blind must be being punished by God for his sins or his parent’s sins, or it is like the implication that if Jesus really loved Lazarus then he would have done something to save him from death. Thus, either we are being punished by God or God doesn’t really like us that much. However, Jesus gives us a very different answer in our gospel today. These things are happening so that God may manifest his glory in Jesus and Jesus may be glorified in performing the work of healing that will be accomplished.
In the gospel of the raising of Lazarus, three different times people question why Jesus would allow his friend and beloved disciple to suffer and die. Couldn’t he have done something to have prevented this whole mess? Why isn’t God more proactive in bringing about our salvation? Certainly it cannot be a matter of power or ability. Jesus has already demonstrated that he has the power of life over death. Was it therefore neglect? Was Jesus just too busy to consider the plight of his friend and close companion? We have a tendency to seek our answers in a negative context and therefore to be angry with God for not doing what we asked him to do for us. However, Jesus seems to imply that God has planned something more wonderful for us. God is not punishing our sin or bringing about our death but rather he is working through this painful situation with courage to lead us to his glory. “This sickness will not end in death…” Jesus assures us. Death is not the end. Death is a road that we all must walk, even Jesus himself, but it will not be the end, it will be an opportunity for us to see the glory of God revealed. If we believe then we will see the glory of God. Jesus isn’t about preventing death but rather he is about bringing us to new life.
The man born blind not only received new sight but he received new eyes and a new life of faith. Lazarus is not just prevented from dying but he is given a new life. If the grain of wheat does not die then it remains just a grain of wheat but if it dies then it is able to bear fruit. Jesus wants us to bear fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of new life, the fruit of glory. When it comes to suffering and death, Jesus wants us to see beyond the human tragedy of life corrupted by sin and wants us to see our new life freed from sin and death. Jesus is the light of the world that shines beyond the darkness of death and helps us to see the glory of God revealed. Jesus is the resurrection and the life that helps us to live beyond the limitations of the flesh and to embrace a new life in the Spirit. Our true life is a life in the Spirit, a life that is a share in the divine life, a life that is full of the glory of God.
St. Iranaeus said that the glory of God is man fully alive. Jesus comes to us that we might have this full and abundant life. We will not have this full and abundant life of glory by continuing to live in this world under the corruption of sin. We must live a new life of faith in God. All who live and believe in Jesus will never die. We must live our lives in a new day of joy and hope free from the bonds of sin and death.
Many of us have been too long in the tomb of sin and death and there is a stench to our lives. Jesus is calling us to come out of sin and death and to begin to live a new life of grace and glory, with a sweet odor of sanctity about us. As long as we continue to hang on to the past and to the life that we have fashioned for ourselves, and that we are comfortable in, we will be slaves to death. If we can die to ourselves and our selfish ideas of what life should be then we can begin to live for God. We need to stop thinking about what God should do for us and start thinking about what God is doing in our lives through grace and about the glory that will be revealed in our lives if we live a life of faith, trusting in God’s love. God has planned for us in Christ something so much greater than our foolish hearts can possibly imagine.