BY LAUREL SANTOS
A few years ago, I watched 13 Reasons Why, a controversial Netflix series (based on the New York Times best-selling book) about why a young girl decided to end her life. Upon finishing the last episode, I was filled with so much sorrow about what children face today, and how programs like this can sensationalize scandal and suicide.
This Lent, instead of focusing on the darkness, I wanted to spend some time dwelling on the Light. I hereby present 7 Reasons Why the Lazarus Story Gives Me Life.
1. Jesus teaches us not to fear
The story of Lazarus is one I am very familiar with, having watched several Senakulos as a child during the Lenten season. A Senakulo, a Filipino Lenten tradition, is a theatrical depiction of the Passion of Jesus Christ. The version I used to watch year after year was highly dramatized, complete with costumes and passionate performances. Every miracle Jesus performed was followed by a heavily synthesized, instrumental version of Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” Whenever it came to the part where Lazarus rises from dead, I would quickly cover my eyes because seeing a mummified body leap out frightened 8-year old me.
Every year, knowing full well what to expect, I reluctantly joined my family to watch when the Senakulo came back to town. I still covered my eyes at the same parts, but the more I watched, I was able to hear past the loud instrumentals, see beyond the bright lights and mediocre acting. (It was, after all, just an actor enclosed in burlap hopping around on stage, basking in his two seconds of fame. )
Stripped down to its core, all the fear slipped away once I appreciated the play for what it was — a reminder that in the face of death and darkness, Jesus’ Light always overcomes.
In a slight parallel, Jesus ventures to Jerusalem for a number occasions, as written by our Gospel writers. In verse 8, the disciples voice concern about Jesus returning to Judea due to the risk of persecution: “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?”
Knowing full well what to expect there, Jesus sets out to see his loved ones and responds to the disciples with a significant phrase, which leads me to my second reason.
2. Jesus lights our path and gently guides us to it
Jesus answers his disciples, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him (vv. 9-10).
I cannot think of any other bible passage in which time was discussed so specifically in this manner. Science tells us that ancient Egyptians first developed 24-hour days, with 12-hour nights based on the star positions. Was Jesus was aware of this development and adapted it to his teaching? Some might find this controversial, but to me it makes perfect sense.
Most of us work, go to school and go about our daily activities in the daytime. There is a sense of security in the light.
In making this comment to his disciples, it is as if Jesus is saying that for as long as He is with them, His light will guide them to their destination. If they decide to hide in the dark or not follow Him, they may not find their way. It is as if Jesus is preparing each of them to navigate the lands long after he is gone, by realizing the light that once walked alongside them would remain in them.
The disciples, however, are still slow to understand:
So the disciples said to him, “Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.” But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep.
So then Jesus said to them clearly, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.”
– John 11:12-15
At this point, Jesus makes it clear to his disciples that he will not be literally waking a sleeping Lazarus, but actually raising him from the dead. Heavily foreshadowing His own resurrection, post-persecution, right? So with that, the disciples go with the flow and follow Jesus despite initial hesitations. Jesus intends to bring His light back to Lazarus.
In our own lives, Jesus gently guides us in the form of prayers answered/unanswered, in serendipitous moments, or even when we least expect it.
There have been days when I’ve felt spiritually barren or running on autopilot until an unexpected life event snaps me out of it. Like the disciples, I would initially worry about the outcome of disruptions on my daily routines, but then “wake up” and infuse change to get myself out of a funk.
Sometimes it is a call to more family prayer time (e.g., my son’s comment “we haven’t prayed the rosary in a while, huh?”) or even more family time.
Sometimes it takes accidentally leaving my phone at work to have a cell-free board game night with the family and a sound night’s sleep sans mindless web-browsing.
The phrase “things happen for a reason” resonates with me as I journey with the disciples in this passage. I don’t need Jesus to prove himself; I need to develop my trust that he will guide us to salvation.
3. How sweet it is to be loved by Jesus
Mary, Martha and Lazarus have a special bond with Jesus, and he reciprocates his love for them by answering their call. Mary once expressed her love for Jesus by cleansing his feet with oil, and Jesus blessed her. But even when he arrives, the sisters lament that Lazarus could have been saved had Jesus been with them sooner.
Jesus still reassures them that Lazarus will rise again.
Trusting in Him is not always perfect, but Jesus makes his love and intention known until our hearts can fully accept Him.
4. It’s a reminder us that our “time in the sun” is limited, but not the end of all things
Back to the time and light imagery. Jesus reminds us of the life and death continuum: the sunrise and sunsets of our lives. For plants, flowering occurs only during seasons heavy with the sunlight; and they remain dormant for the other seasons until the light shines again.
Catholics believe that life begins from conception to natural death, but our souls will travel on to heaven, purgatory or hell. Thus, what we make of our “time in the sun” is what will determine what becomes of our souls.
I pray that I leave a positive mark upon my departure from earth, so that the generations to come can live and love to the fullest. By sharing the message of God’s love, my hope is that we can leave the world better than when we were born into it.
5. Jesus shows us that haters should not be our motivators
“When Jesus saw her (Mary) weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled” (v. 33).
In this passage, the Jews seem to be adopting a herd mentality. They weep with the guise to console the bereaved but were actually were trying to provoke Jesus. “What will Jesus do now? His arrival came two days too late. Surely he can no longer save him,” were surely the crowd’s thoughts.
But Jesus intended all along to save Lazarus from death. Jesus knew he could not change every heart present. But He could raise Lazarus from the dead.
6. Because Jesus has feelings too
“And Jesus wept” (v. 35).
Shedding tears is very cathartic and cleansing, which I regularly experience at the end of sad movies, long tiresome days or moments of frustration. I feel so connected reading this line because I didn’t always see crying as a source of strength, especially coming from Jesus. In fact, I grew up being berated and believing crying was a sign of weakness, told to stop shedding tears and to toughen up. I developed anxiety and dealt with a brief period of depression during my professional life.
But as I grew wiser with a more prayerful life, I realized the error in my thinking and that it was not shameful to cry; that it was a natural process of emotions. To love someone or something so deeply makes life beautiful; through the joys and heartbreaks it is a reminder of how blessed we are to be alive.
And Jesus’ love for Lazarus also runs deep, so much that he looks to his Father to help him in the crisis. Jesus shares His love to those who love Him; therefore reciprocates the faith and love of Lazarus’ family by working miracles.
After all, Jesus was human, too.
7. Because Jesus works miracles, not magic…all in His time
“But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” (v. 37).
In our downstairs bathroom, we have a frame that reads “Be patient, our prayers are always answered, but not always on the day we want it to be”. There are a handful of times in this passage alone in which others have inferred that had Jesus arrived sooner, Lazarus would not be dead. In fact, it was written that Jesus remained where he was for two days before making the trip to Judea to see Lazarus (John 11:6).
Why no sense of urgency? Was Jesus waiting for a response from His Father?
There is a deeper lesson to be learned, and it is regarding the resurrection parallel with his own death and resurrection. Only in Lazarus’ death would Jesus’ disciples and onlookers realize the saving power of God. Bringing Lazarus up from the dead in God’s time is a reminder of God’s glory, and that Jesus is our resurrection in times of hopelessness and despair.
Jesus has the power to heal us, restore us, give us “new life” in numerous, beautifully mysterious ways. The story of Lazarus is so powerful that it drew attention of all ends of the spectrum: from the faithful, to the curious and to the skeptics.
In one quick swoop, raising Lazarus from the dead made many believers from doubters, probably much more than Jesus would have gained by healing him whilst sick. I am awestruck by Jesus’ phenomenal power to change hearts by this passage alone, and instill a beam of hope for salvation.
We pray today for those of us who are in desperate need of Resurrection. May the saving grace of Jesus Christ remind us that death does not have the final word, that Jesus, the Light of the World, “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5). Amen.
Laurel Santos is a Xennial warrior princess, working mom of two, and a lover of witty wordplay. She resides in Northern California, is a self-professed Abba and boyband superfan (to her husband’s dismay) and is known to hum tunes while working or writing blog pieces. Laurel currently works for smiles and balances weekly activities ranging from apostolic works to Zumbini classes.