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5th Sunday of Lent
Gospel of John 11:1-45
Jesus is reliable, but He’s not predictable. C.S. Lewis, in his fiction novel The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, illustrated this through his description of Aslan the lion (the Christ figure in his Narnia series). When asked if Aslan is a safe lion, Mr. Beaver responds, “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” Jesus isn’t safe either. If you choose to follow Him, He will lead you down uncomfortable and even scary roads at times, He will purify sinful habits by detaching you from them, and He will transform you into the best version of yourself but one you couldn’t even have imagined. So, He’s not safe but His goodness means He can always be trusted. Much like Psalm 23 assures,
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.”
Or as I say, “I would rather walk in darkness holding God’s hand, than in broad daylight by myself.”
A paradox presents itself regularly in discipleship. On the one hand, Jesus approaches us in the humblest and human of ways. Like the apostles and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, He develops a true friendship with us, one of mutual love and abiding connection. In His nearness however, we can forget His Divine Lordship. As Lewis described, we might try to “domesticate” Him, expecting Christ to fit neatly into the limits of our reason. However, Christ is also God, and came to reveal that which includes, but also surpasses, natural reason. Moreover, some of Christ’s knowledge and power exceed even divine revelation and are known to God alone. In consequence, sometimes Jesus makes perfect sense, like the comfort of visiting your home. Other times He speaks and acts in utterly surprising ways, like a person setting off to a foreign land.
Christ truly offers friendship, but it’s not a friendship of equals. Similarly, Lewis writes of Aslan,
“He’ll be coming and going” [Mr. Beaver] had said. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down–and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”
How should we respond if we can’t really predict what Christ will do? When the path Christ takes seems imprudent, we can begin by saying it to Him in prayer, like the disciples who questioned going to Jerusalem since the Jews had just tried to kill Him. We can also bring it to a spiritual director or a spiritually wise friend. Sometimes God speaks to us through natural prudence, and other times He needs us to trust His supernatural prudence – which takes into account God’s will and God’s power. Like Thomas, we can press forward zealously, thinking if Christ wants to die I guess I’ll just die with Him. We can surrender to Christ’s wisdom, trusting Who Christ is above our own understanding like Martha did. We can come to Jesus with our tears like Mary. She trusted Jesus and didn’t resent Him not being there, nevertheless, the situation was still sad and she poured her feelings out to Him. Whichever person you relate to more, the important thing is to turn toward Christ and not against Christ. He’s not “tame” but He is good. If we allow Christ the freedom to be Himself, like a good friend ought to do, then we also allow within our own experience the possibility of being astounded beyond all expectations. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead! This had NEVER been done before. No one could have expected it, and it became the event that solidified many followers and provoked His enemies to move forward with their plot to kill Him.
Of course, Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus from the dead back to natural life, pointed to the resurrection of the dead to eternal life. In Jesus we are made NEW. Not refurbished but transformed. Grace builds on nature, a nature given by God and, through Christ, elevated by Him. Marveling at God’s superabundant grace which places us in an even higher state of being, Pope St. John Paul II copied this prayer in His journal (from the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost):
Almighty ever-living God, who in the abundance of your kindness surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat you, pour out your mercy upon us to pardon what conscience dreads and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.
God wants to give more than we can even “dare to ask.” Knowing our sins we feel ashamed to think that we could be sons and daughters of a God so perfect and loving. Nevertheless, God wills it and Christ has made it possible.
Baptism changes us interiorly, putting us in relationship with God and orienting us toward Him. The Spirit sanctifies us through a daily working of grace in the circumstances of our lives. These transformations are nothing short of miraculous and the lives of the saints all witness to heroic virtue made possible by grace in the everyday lives of His followers.
The resurrection to new life after death will exceed our experience on earth beyond comparison. God made the human person with both a body and a soul. In consequence the resurrected human person will retain their soul and their body. However, just as the Spirit has transformed and elevated the soul, the Spirit will also transform and elevate the body. St. Augustine, in The City of God, explained it this way:
For the [resurrected] body will not only be better than it was here even when in perfect health; it will also be better than those bodies which the first human beings had before they sinned… the first human beings were created in such a way that, if they had not sinned, they would not have been sundered from their bodies by death. Rather, they would have been granted the reward of immortality for maintaining their obedience, and would have lived eternally with their bodies. Further, the saints will at the resurrection possess those very bodies in which they have here labored; but their condition will then be such that no corruption or distress will befall their flesh, nor will their blessedness be marred by any sorrow or unhappiness.
Consider Jesus’ resurrected body. He kept the scars of His crucifixion, but not the various scars He may have accrued as an active little boy. Moreover, the scars caused Him no pain; they served to show the glory of His sacrificial love. Similarly, our resurrected bodies will be in perfect form, but they will still be our bodies, the ones we labored in sacrificial love for the Lord. For example, I really don’t need the scar from the apple core remover I fumbled as a child, but I would like to retain the scars from all the IV’s I endured during my pregnancies.
Another key difference described by both St. Paul and St. Augustine, is that the resurrected body will be maintained by the power of the Spirit. Adam and Eve had to eat for nourishment and relied on fruit from the tree of life to stave off decay and death. Resurrected bodies will have the power to eat but will not have the necessity of eating, nor will they require fruit from the tree of life to live forever, since the Spirit will maintain their health. Earthly bodies require food, water, rest, etc. Our heavenly bodies will be maintained by the power of the Spirit, so it no longer has a necessity, only enjoyment. Think about it, God holds our bodies in existence even now, couldn’t He do that in heaven too? The same God who created ex nihilo (out of nothing), can re-create from our earthly bodies, a heavenly one. St. Augustine explains it in this way:
Man will then not be earthly, but heavenly: not because his body, which was made of earth, will no longer be itself, but because, by heaven’s gift, it will have been made fit to dwell in heaven: not by losing its nature, but by changing its quality.
Authentic discipleship is full of risk, change, and surprise, but if we persevere in trusting our Lord, we can count on His goodness to surpass any expectations we had safely and comfortably made for ourselves. Committing to your vocation (whether marriage or religious vows, priestly ordination, or consecrated single life), saying yes to a change of job or ministry, accepting children, accepting a call to move, losing a friend or career or health, all can be used by Christ for our sanctification and be worked for good for the glory of God (cf Romans 8:28 and 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ) as Jesus did with the death (and resurrection) of Lazarus.
We can’t control Jesus, but we can trust Him. We can’t fully understand all that He does, but He makes Himself near and present. We can’t hold Christ back, but we can hold on to Him in friendship. His determination inspires us like Thomas, deepens our theological understanding like Martha, moves us to tears like Mary, resurrects us like Lazarus, and more.
- Imagine the sorrow Mary and Martha felt at Lazarus’ passing, especially when Christ didn’t get there in time. Have you ever felt like Jesus was taking too long to answer your prayer?
- Jesus wept. Consider how He feels your pain and has compassion on your suffering.
- Imagine their surprise when Jesus said “Lazarus, come out,” and Lazarus did. Has Christ ever answered your prayer in a way you didn’t expect? Has He ever taken a situation that seemed like a loss and made it into something amazing?
- Do you struggle with doubt or with trying to control Jesus by demanding things be a certain way? Consider C.S. Lewis’ description of Aslan as not a tame lion, and as not safe but good.
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Read a brief bio on the life of a saint each day. You can find them easily online or as an app. Reading about a saint each day can inspire you with accounts of how Christ worked all things for good to a surprising end for them and can for you
- Reach out to other Christians in your walk of life. Schedule a get together – whether coffee with a friend, a double date with your spouse and another Christian couple, host a gathering in your home, or join a group that’s already
~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019
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I just finished reading this book and loved it! I found it inspiring for my own discipleship in addition to a greater appreciation for the priesthood.
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- The C. S. Lewis Signature Classics: An Anthology of 8 C. S. Lewis Titles: Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, Miracles, The Great Divorce, The … The Abolition of Man, and The Four Loves
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