Over the last three weeks, our Gospels have been preparing us. First, they have been building up our stamina for Holy Week, when we must hear the long Passion narratives! But secondly, and more important, they have been teaching us important lessons about real, authentic discipleship.
Two weeks ago, we met the Samaritan woman at the well. She encounters Jesus and enters a conversation with Him. Through that conversation, she comes to realize who He really is; she is transformed; and she becomes a disciple to her fellow village people, who come to know Jesus as well, even calling Him the "Savior of the world."
Last week, we meet a man who is born blind. He encounters Jesus, who offers him sight, revealing Himself as the "light of the world." The healing of the man not only effects a change in him, but also demands a response from everyone around him: his parents, fellow townspeople, and the authorities. Through that encounter, the man comes to belief and discipleship, and others must grapple with the reality of Jesus' authority.
Finally, we have Jesus today performing the coup de grace of miracles: He raises a man from the dead. Now, this is not like the other times Jesus has brought people back from death or the brink of death. A cynical person could realistically doubt those. After all, the synagogue official's daughter might not have been "quite" dead, but only unconscious. Today, Lazarus is "very" dead - stinky dead - four-days-in-the-tomb dead - funeral-is-over-and-all-the-potluck-is-gone dead. There is no doubt here.
And Christ simply comes in and raises him.
But today, there is something different than the last two weeks' encounters. With the Samaritan woman and the blind man, the encounters were more "accidental." They "happened" to be there as Jesus was coming by. It was more of a coincidence, and if circumstances were slightly different, they may never have happened.
Today, we have a deliberate encounter. Jesus has been called by His friends, Martha and Mary. He loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. They were his friends - very close, among Jesus' inner circle. These days, they'd probably have Jesus' cell phone number. So they call Him, and He comes to them. He shares their loss.
I think that is the significance of today's story - not so much that Jesus raises Lazarus, but that this is an encounter between Jesus and His intimate friends. It shows us what real, authentic friendship with Christ can do. That is what discipleship must be - not a casual acquaintance or a mere"checking in" from time to time. Rather, it is a love that cannot be broken or ignored.
That love is so powerful that noting can stand in the way of the voice of Jesus speaking to His friends. It is so powerful that not even death can stop it.
Our journey toward Easter is one of being reminded of what it means to call ourselves "Christian." It is a journey of renewed discipleship. Lazarus is given new life because of his friendship with Jesus. And, that new life - that miracle - has an effect on everyone around him. Those who were there saw what [Jesus] had done and began to believe in him. This is what we are called to: true friendship with Jesus that is so strong that it affects everyone around us, and brings new life.