Friday, April 8, 2011

Lazarus' resuscitation compared to Jesus' Resurrection, On the Gospel for the 5th Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent, John 11:1-45
I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
In order that his disciples might not despair at his death but instead might have hope in his Resurrection, our Savior manifested his divine power and authority in raising Lazarus with the simple words, Lazarus, come forth. Surely, he who not only healed the blind man and worked many other miracles, but who also raised Lazarus from the dead, surely he would also rise from the dead himself!
Historically, the raising of Lazarus from the dead marked a significant turning point in Jesus’ ministry and earthly sojourn. Coming up to Bethany, which is near Jerusalem, Christ exposed himself to the Jewish authorities who wished to put him to death. What is more, as these wicked men had already desired to murder the Christ, now their rage was transferred over to the disciples of Jesus as well – for this reason St. Thomas the Apostle said, Let us also go [to Bethany], that we may die with him. Finally, it is significant to note that it was this marvelous sign of the raising of Lazarus which led the Pharisees and the priests to take council together. Then, Caiaphas prophesied in the Spirit that Jesus should die for the nation. And not only for the nation, but to gather together in one the children of God, that were dispersed (John 11:51-52).
While Lazarus’ resuscitation was essential different from the Resurrection of the Christ, it was nevertheless given as a sign and witness of hope. Thus, a comparison of these two events – the raising of Lazarus and the Resurrection of Jesus – will help us to understand how this miracle gives witness to the greatest Miracle. Moreover, we will come to something of an understanding of certain aspects of the Resurrection itself.

Difference of time
We note the significant difference in the time of the resuscitation of Lazarus from Jesus' Resurrection. While Lazarus was raised on the fourth day after his death, the Savior rose on the third day. And this is fitting, if we consider the significance of the numbers three and four. Indeed, four signifies the things of earth and of men: There are said to be four corners to the earth, there are four cardinal virtues, and the number forty implies earthly perfection. Three, on the other hand, points to the things of heaven and of God: There are three Persons in the Most Holy Trinity and three theological virtues.
For this reason, Christ raised Lazarus on the fourth day, since it was a natural and earthly life to which the dead man was restored. This was not a resurrection, but a resuscitation: Since Lazarus would die again and did not yet enjoy the glorification of his body or soul. The Savior, however, rose on the third day, since it was to a supernatural and heavenly existence that he was restored. His rising from the dead is a true Resurrection to glory. Moreover, it should have given his disciples greater hope when they saw their Savior die – if Christ had raised Lazarus after four days, surely hope remained until the third day after his own death.
Difference of place
There is also a significant difference in place. Although both Lazarus and Christ rose from a tomb, the tomb from which Lazarus was raised was open at the moment of his resuscitation. Now it was a cave; and a stone was laid over it. Jesus saith: Take away the stone. […] They took therefore the stone away (John 11:39,41).
In the case of the Resurrection of the Lord, however, the tomb was closed when he rose from the dead. We have already discussed this point, which is not often recognized, in a previous article. Here, it will suffice simply to mention the Gospel accounts in brief. When the women came to the tomb on Eastern morning, they saw the tomb closed. But then an earthquake occurred and an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and coming, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it (Matthew 28:2). Looking within, the women saw that the Savior had already been raised. Hence, it is clear that the Lord was raised when the tomb was still closed. This, then, is the greatest proof of his Resurrection – since, if the tomb had already been open, it may have been thought that robbers took the body; but, if the tomb was closed at the time Christ rose and came forth (by walking through the wall of the tomb, as he walked through the walls of the upper-room), it was clear that the body had not been stolen, but that Jesus had indeed been raised and glorified.
Although both Lazarus and the Lord had been laid in tombs, Lazarus was resuscitated to an earthly existence and could not exit the tomb without having the bolder first rolled back. Christ, on the other hand, rose to glory and, through the power of his divinity working in and upon his glorified body, he miraculously exited the tomb by walking through the wall at some time during the night. And this brings us to another difference.
Difference of witnesses
Many witnessed the resuscitation of Lazarus: His sisters Martha and Mary, the Jews who had come, the Apostles and other disciples of Jesus, and of course Jesus himself. Of the Resurrection of the Christ, however, there was no witness. For this reason the Church sings in her Easter Exultet: O truly blessed night, which alone merited to know the time and the hour in which Christ rose from the dead!
Many saw Lazarus come forth from the tomb, resuscitated. None, however, were privileged to behold the Lord rise from the tomb, glorified. And this is fitting, since the resuscitation of Lazarus – while a great miracle – is not entirely beyond the powers of human comprehension. The Resurrection of the Savior, however, fully exceeds all human understanding – not that we cannot come to a true belief and knowledge of the fact of the Resurrection, but the mystery of the Resurrection itself is far above the reason of men and angels. As none beheld the eternal generation of the Son from the Father, so too none merited to see the raising of the Christ. This same God hath fulfilled to our children, raising up Jesus, as in the second psalm also is written: Thou are my Son, this day have I begotten thee (Acts of the Apostles 13:33).
There are, of course, many more differences besides these which we have mentioned: Lazarus’ body was decaying, while Christ’s was preserved from corruption; Lazarus rose by the power of another (Jesus), while the Lord rose by his own power as God; Lazarus remained bound in his burial garments (including the napkin upon his face), but Christ’s garments were freed from him and the napkin was folded and set aside; etc., etc. We, however, must now turn to an essential similarity – the similarity which allows us to make these comparisons.
The similarity of matter
All the many differences notwithstanding, there is an important point of similarity between the resuscitation of Lazarus and the Resurrection of the Savior: In both cases, the bodily substance which had been dead is the matter which was raised. The body of Lazarus which had been separated from his soul and was laid dead in the tomb, this very body was raised by Christ to a second earthly life. Likewise, the body of Jesus which had been separated from his soul in death and had rested in the tomb for three days, this very body was raised to glory. As there are not two bodies of Lazarus, neither are there two bodies of Christ.
This is a point which must be stressed, since today there is some tendency to think of Christ’s Resurrection in non-physical and non-material terms. Some people will speak and write as though the material body of Christ simply disappeared and ceased to exist, being replaced by a spiritual body. This cannot be the case, for we know that, even after the Resurrection, the Savior was able to eat and drink, and also that the disciples could touch and see him. We must necessarily hold as a matter of faith (expressed in the clearest of terms in the Sacred Scriptures) that the material body of the Lord was raised from the dead immortal, but not immaterial! Even now, after the Ascension, the body of our Lord is glorified and in heaven, but it is not immaterial. Indeed, if the “body” became “immaterial,” it would no longer be a “body” but would instead by a “soul.”
Lazarus’ resuscitation helps to illustrate this point most clearly. Although none witnessed the bodily Resurrection of Christ, many saw Lazarus’ flesh raised from the dead. All could see that his very same body was restored to him. None doubted that, after his resuscitation, Lazarus was still physical and material. In this respect, there is a great point of similarity between the resuscitation of Lazarus and the Resurrection of Christ.


Marco da Vinha said...

I would just like to point out something in the difference of time. If I'm not mistaken, according to Jewish belief, corruption set in on the fourth day: it was the "victory" of death. Jesus, on the other hand was only dead for three days, i.e., death was not victorious over Him. Since Jesus is the Holy One of God, the Lord did not allow Him " to see corruption" (cf. Ps. 16:10).

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that Jesus resurrected Lazarus in the same place where He ascended into Heaven. It's like some kind of connection or other between the Resurrection and the Ascension.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

That is a really interesting connection! Thanks. +

Yes, I have also heard this about the 4th day after death...

Dismas said...


I need your help with something that deeply troubles me regarding the resuscitation of Lazarus. This event clearly is all great and good for Martha and Mary, the disciples and Jesus' followers as a preconfiguration of Jesus' Resurrection, but what about poor Lazarus?

Why do I experience a certain sorrow and am troubled that Lazarus had to come back a second time. Not only did he have to come back in an un-glorified state but also had to face Jesus Crucifixion. I can't help view this as heroic and sorrowful.

I suspect this has something to do with my ignorance of what Jews at that time believed regarding death prior to Jesus' redemption, but why am I so struck with compassion and empathy for Lazarus having to come back a second time? What ignorant impiety do I suffer from by feeling sorry for Lazarus?

Any comfort you can provide is greatly appreciated.


Regine said...

Fr. Reginaldus, I have had this question in my mind for a long time now, but refrained from asking, about Jesus' bodily ascension. Quoting from your post, "Even now, after the Ascension, the body of our Lord is glorified and in heaven, but it is not immaterial."
Does it follow then that Jesus still retains his human attributes- i.e. physical body and needs, and human emotions, though glorified, in heaven? I have been baffled and earnestly curious about this. Thank you so much, Father.

Anonymous said...

Mark and Reginaldus,

What did Jesus do before the fourth day? Did He just wait or did He pray?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You ask a very interesting question...I'm sure it is something that many people have thought -- so I will do my best to give a good answer.

I am convinced that the response to this question -- "Wouldn't it be a curse rather than a blessing for Lazarus to be restored to earthly life?" -- may be found in the writings of St. Teresa of Avila.
She states that in the early mansions of the soul (I belief in 1-4) we are afraid of death, or at least we desire to continue in this life as long as we are able to enjoy it. Then, in the 5th and maybe even the 6th mansions we begin to burn with such a desire for heaven that we want to die soon and go to be with God. And this is a very great step and a holy desire.
However, St. Teresa tells us that, in the 7th and highest mansion, we are brought to perfection -- we do not desire to remain in life nor to die, but we simply desire that God's will be done.
Consider how St. Paul said that he desired heaven, but that he would remain on earth in order to complete the mission entrusted him by Christ!

I think that this must be how Lazarus would feel. Certainly, he would desire death as a means of coming into heavenly glory [of course, he would not have been able to enter heaven until after the Resurrection of Jesus], but he would rather remain on earth to complete the work of the Lord.
So, I do not think that Lazarus' was sad, rather his heart was expanded and he learned that he was being called to remain and to complete the task given him by Christ.

You are well on the way, Dismas, and you are asking great questions! Peace to you in these final days of Lent. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Regine, The state of Christ's body (both after the Resurrection and after the Ascension) is a most profitable topic for contemplation.

I will be writing on this a fair bit more after I ask your patience.

Simply, for now, I will just say: 1) Christ does not get hungry, nor does he need water or drink. 2) He does still have human emotions, but these are entirely regulated by his reason. 3) His glorified body is in heaven, but heaven is not to be considered a "containing space"...rather, the only sense in which heaven is a place is insofar as Mary and Jesus' bodies are there.

For a bit more info, you may find a couple earlier articles interesting:
Where was Mary assumed to?
How Christ came forth from the tomb.
The resurrection of the flesh -- the most commonly denied dogma.

In the next month, you will see articles specifically on the state of Christ's body after the Resurrection and before the Ascension. Then, at the end of Easter, I will write a few posts specifically on the state of Christ's body now (in heaven) and what this means for us (on earth).

Peace to you in our Savior.+

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

My bet is that -- during those two days when he waited before leaving to come to Bethany and in the four days from Lazarus' death to Jesus' arrival -- our Savior prayed especially for Martha and Mary, that they would not lose hope.
Also, I think he was praying for his Apostles, that they might be encouraged by this great miracle and be able to remain faithful to him through the Passion.

Certainly, he knew what he would -- but he also prayed for the grace to accomplish the resuscitation.

Peace. +

Regine said...

Thank you, Fr. I shall eagerly look forward to those posts you mentioned, and will read the others you have posted. I learned something new regarding the differences in Lazarus' resucscitation and Jesus' resurrection: the significance of the 3 and 4 days, and the rolled and unrolled stones, and a lot more. I also have appreciated Dismas' compassion for Lazarus, something that I have not thought of before. For some reason, this article has touched me deeply and will continue to reflect on it.

Tom said...

A question on the use of the word "resuscitate." If one were in fact dead, then resuscitation would not be possible. For example, a fire cannot be revived if there are no sparks (seen or unseen). So also, a person cannot be resuscitated (medically)if there is no life (soul) present. It seems that the assumption of resuscitation is that the soul has not left the body. But Lazarus was DEAD, meaning his soul had left his body.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You are correct insofar as the modern usage of the terms.
However, in itself, resuscitation does not imply that the person must still have some spark of life.

Resuscitation comes from "re" (again) + "suscitater" (to rouse, awaken).
[this seems particularly fitting for Lazarus, since Christ himself says that he is going to awaken him]

Resurrection is from the Latin "re" + "surgere" (rise, life).

It is worth noting that, in French, the word "ressusciter" is used to mean "to resurrect".

I think that, etymologically, there is little difference in meaning between "resurrection" and "resuscitation"...I chose to use the two words as an easy way of indicating that Lazarus had not yet experienced the resurrection to glory.

In any case, we can be sure of this: Lazarus was dead, his soul had left his body; but Christ called him back to (natural) life.

Dick L. said...

I have to agree with Tom regarding the use of the word resuscitation. In the public mind, I think the word has the connotation of what happens when someone who nearly drowns is revived. Such a person was not dead. The Lazarus passage clearly states that he is dead, but I think that when the average person in the pew hears the word "resuscitation," he gets the idea that Lazarus was not really dead, thus the impact of the miracle is lost. If understood correctly, in this passage, there is a clear presentation of Jesus' two natures: in His humanity he is "perturbed" and "weeps"; in His divinity He restores a dead man to life. I think this point is obscured by the word resuscitation even though it is technically correct.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Dick L. -- you say that "resuscitation" has the connotation of "being revived" ... but I must point out that, according to many on-line dictionaries and also the Marrian-Webster dictionary, "to revive" means "to bring back to life" or "to restore to life"... [this is, of course, also the etymological meaning of the word]... hence, the idea of "reviving" Lazarus need not imply that he did not really die, but can tend to imply that Lazarus was indeed dead and was brought back to life (re + vivere).

Yes, I agree, "resuscitate" could cause some confusion ... however, "resurrect" can also cause confusion.
Now I ask you, did anything in my article lead you to think that I was saying that Lazarus did not really die? Has my use of "resuscitate" in fact led to any real confusion?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Dick L.,
regarding your point about the two natures of Christ ... Yes! I think you have hit on a very important point here!

As the preface for the Mass states: "As a man like us, Jesus wept for Lazarus his friend. As the eternal God, he raised Lazarus from the dead."

The raising of Lazarus to natural life is a sign of the future resurrection.
It is not the true resurrection of the body (the resurrection to glory), but is a resurrection, restoration, and resuscitation to natural life.

Dick L. said...


Regarding the question in your earlier post, no, there was nothing in your article that indicated that Lazarus did not really die. It was very clear on that point (and many others as well!). And I agree with you that it would not be appropriate to apply the word "resurrect" to the raising of Lazarus. But everytime I read the word "resuscitate" I couldn't help but think of all the "new insights" that Bible scholars, acting like wolves, have thrust upon the unsuspecting sheep over the last 50 to 100 years, and "resuscitate" just sounds like one more of them. (Be assured that I am in no way implying that your article intends to do that!) The RCIA class I taught this past weekend was also of the opinion that "resuscitation" implied that Lazarus had not died. Through nearly all of my almost 60 years, this passage has been referred to, in my hearing at least, as the "raising" of Lazarus, not the "resuscitation" and of course, not the "resurrection" of Lazarus. In these days of much doctrinal confusion, I think this miracle is most clearly expressed by referring to it as the "raising of Lazarus." Be that as it may, I enjoy the good work that is being done by the NTM. Keep up the good work!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Dick L,
Ah, yes ... those impious "scholars" of the modern(ist) schools!
Well, I definately agree with you that we need to be careful about our language, since these "wise ones" (i.e. the historical-critical scholars) have done a good job of totally dismantling our biblical faith.

I agree with your point about calling it "Lazarus' raising" rather than "Lazarus' resuscitation" ... the reason I chose "resuscitation" is because it is etymologically so closely related to "resurrection" and therefore hinted at the content of my article.

Still, your point is well taken ... and I will probably refrain from calling it a resuscitation in the future -- if the word confused your RCIA class, it would probably confuse many others!

Thank you for your charity. Have a blessed Passiontide! +

Savio said...

Dear Fr. Reginaldus,

I am struggling to understand the purpose of Jesus' weeping. If He weeps simply out of His human experience of sorrow in regards to His friend, Lazarus' death, then why doesn't He weep in many other very troubling and moving situations in the Gospels as well? Or perhaps, why don't the Gospels mention Him weeping in other troubling and moving situations?

I feel as though there is a greater purpose to Christ's weeping and if you could help me see the light in regards to this topic, that would be very much appreciated.

Thank you very much.

In Christ,

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You are correct -- Jesus does not often weep.
I can recall only one other case: When he wept over the Holy City.

I suppose that his weeping over Lazarus shows just how much he loved him -- "See how he loved him"...

And it is good for us to recall the Christ loves all people, but he does love some more than others. He loved all his disciples; but he clearly had a preferential love for John. He loved all women, but he especially love Mary Magdalene (and, of course, the Blessed Mother).

So too, the Savior especially loved Lazarus -- thus, he was particularly grieved by his death.

Likewise, his special love for the Jewish people caused him to weep for Jerusalem.

Peace! +

Savio said...

Dear Fr. Reginaldus,

Firstly, thank you for your response.

Secondly, if Christ loves some more than others, isn't that favoritism in some sense? Isn't that an imperfect way of loving? If my mother were to say, "Savio, I love you and your sister, but I love your sister a bit more than you," that would just NOT seem right. How, then, can we say that Jesus loves some more than others?

I've always felt that, as St. Augustine says, "God loves each of us as if there were only one of us." Would this not imply an equal love towards all rather than a greater love towards some in comparison to His love towards others?

Thank you very much.

In Christ,

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Please allow me to give just a short answer -- it is a very big question!

Simply put, our modern notion of total uniformity does not help us much in understanding God.
The fact is that God loves some creatures more than others -- he loves human beings more than trees, he loves trees more than rocks. He loves each perfectly, according to its state and concrete existence.

Even within classes of beings, God loves each in its own way -- hence, he loves some more than others, and others less than some. For example: God loves St. Michael more than Satan -- he loves both, but he loves St. Michael into heavenly bliss, and he loves Satan into eternal punishment.

Even with human beings: God loves each and every man, but he loves some more than others -- and yes, this is preferential treatment; He simply choses to love some because he is good and he is free to love as he wants.

What is important is that he loves all men very very much -- he loves each and all enough to die for them.
Still, in his goodness, he prefers some and loves some more than others.

A good article on this was published a while back over at Catholic Phoenix:
The article is written by J. Hanson -- personally, I think that is one of the few blogs worth reading -- I especially recommend J. Hanson, Deny Powlett-Jones, and Cordelia.

Peace. +

PilotOfTheStorm said...

Dismus there is a book by Joyce Landorf entitled " I Came To Love You Late" which is a fictional account of Lazarus and his family. It has some interesting points to consider and may help you not feel so unsettled about Lazarus' story.



Post a Comment

When commenting, please leave a name or pseudonym at the end of your comment so as to facilitate communication and responses.

Comments must be approved by the moderator before being published.