My Dear Sisters and Brothers! The smell of death was also the environment of the event we heard of in the Gospel of John. When upon his arrival in Bethany Jesus’ asked for the grave of his friend to be opened Martha said: “Lord, by now he will smell, this is the fourth day.” That smell from the grave is the most terrifying reminder that death is just around the corner. Martha was not the only one afraid of the death. Her reaction mirrors ours too. We are afraid of death too. We find it hard to come to terms with the fact that our death is just around the corner. Why do we need to die if there is such a strong desire for life in us?
That’s why this catechesis from the Gospel of John is so lengthy. We need to keep listening to the Word of God for a long time to hear it. We need to calm down first. Otherwise our own fears and rebellions accusing God will thunder in our head. Martha is again a good mirror to look into. When Jesus arrived she made an accusation for his delay: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
We are afraid of death and are scandalised by the necessity of dying but Jesus calmly says pointing out to the fields: “Unless a whet grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain, but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.” These words from the chapter following the passage we contemplate today are not from an agriculture workshop. They are the message from the school of the Kingdom of God. As an experienced farmer knows that the seeds have a potential for life as Jesus knows that the death is not a closure but a pass over to a new life. That’s why his words in relation to the death of Lazarus: “I am glad I was not there” can scandalise those who don’t have faith in the Lord. However for those who believe dying is necessary in order to poses a new life, to pass over to the new life. Jesus was glad because Lazarus was to receive a new life soon.
The new life begins with our baptism and constant commitment to put the baptismal grace to work in our daily dealings. Lazarus is a fresh reminder that the life we receive in baptism is a new life given us by the Lord. It is the Lord’s gift. Lazarus would need to die again like each of us will need to die eventually. The life he was given, when he walked out of his grave, was not about an extended life span but about a new quality of life, a new lifestyle, a Christian life. Baptismal death, as the Scriptures powerfully describe it, is annihilation of the sinful desire in us. It is starving our pride to death by refusing to feed it with empty self-glory. It is exterminating our avarice by the means of almsgiving. It is drowning our uncontrolled lust in the sea of love for God and people. It is controlling our gluttony by feasting on the Word of God. It is destroying anger, resentment and revenge by means of humility and service to our brothers and sisters. It is overcoming laziness by eagerness at spreading the Good News. That’s new life.
My Dear Fellow Christians! I hope that in the coming weeks you will be queuing up for Reconciliation because when you say: “Bless me father for I have sinned” you do what Jesus told the people in Bethany to do with the grave of Lazarus: “Take the stone away.” The smell of death and sin which keeps coming doesn’t frighten us anymore because we live the life given us by the Lord. Our sins don’t frighten us anymore because the Lord Jesus is greater than our sins. We don’t need to spend our life neutralising the smell of death around us by giving in to our passions and taking our mind away from death. But by believing Jesus and giving him our life we spend our life for God and others. That is living to the full.