When I was a young seminarian I read a book entitled “Lazarus, come out!”. It captivated me. It was a man’s story of his conversion to a living Christianity. He felt that, though he had faith, he had been living as someone “dead” spiritually. It was his encounter with a movement in the Church that opened him up, bringing him to live that reminded him of the “Lazarus” experience of today – dead to his own self but now alive in the new encounter with Jesus’ word: “come out!”. He felt he had come out of the tomb and was living a new life.
In a sense, what Lazarus heard when Jesus spoke was an echo of the line from the first reading: “I will put my spirit in you and you will live”.
Life is not just the humdrum of what happens us every day. It’s what we do with life that matters. The “how” we live life is the “life” that Jesus is talking about.
As Pope Francis puts it, “the Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane...:” Everyday can become an experience of that call from Jesus to “come out” of our “old self”, the self that is locked up in its own interests and desires, whereas to come out to live for others is life.
The more we stop trying to be in charge of ourselves and let ourselves be taken into the adventure of living our lives with and for others, the more we will experience life as deep joy.
Again Pope Francis: “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others”.
Each of us is called firstly to live the Lazarus experience, hearing Jesus say: “come out…live life on a higher plane”. We can have problems, difficulties, burdens, yes, but still we are called to really trust that Jesus’ word, the word of the Gospel can transform us onto a higher plane even in the middle of difficulties.
But each of us is also called to be like Jesus helping others to live the Lazarus experience, helping them to “come out” of their tombs. Many people can feel down, tired, fed up, angry…but often they are turned in on themselves. Through our love, our “bursting into tears” (as the Gospel puts it about Jesus crying over Lazarus) we can let Jesus draw near to those people and through us hear his invitation: “come out”. I went around visiting a place recently and I was struck by the words of the priest I was accompanying: “keep your heart up!”.
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.” And the Spirit works in all kinds of way.
A few months ago, a New York bus driver came across a troubled woman standing on a bridge over a busy road and decided to stop his bus full of passengers to help her. There’s a video recording of the event. What you is Mr. Barton shouting from the driver's seat: ‘Ma'am, are you okay?’ When she didn't answer he walked toward her. ‘She was distraught, she was distant, she was really disconnected,’ the driver told a TV station in an interview. ‘I grabbed her arm and put my arm around her and said “Do you want to come on this side of the guardrail?” And that was actually the first time she spoke to me—she said yes.”
The video shows Mr. Barton lifting the woman from the other side of the railing and sitting down with her on the sidewalk. ‘It was meant to be. I was supposed to be there for her at that moment and I was. I wanted to convey that whatever it was, I'm going to help you through and it's not as serious as jumping onto the 198,’ he told the station. They were soon joined by a policeman who’d seen her from the road and another good Samaritan who said she was a counselor, the station reported. Loud applause and cheers can be heard on the tape. ‘I feel like I did what I was supposed to do at the time. I'm a football guy so when you sit the bench and the coach calls your number, you gotta go in there make a play, do what the play calls for, and I think that's what I did,’ Darnell Barton said.
Of course Darnell didn’t bring that poor woman back from the dead, but it looks as if she felt coming from him a love that made it possible for her to want to stay alive, who knows after she’d given up hope that there was any love for her in the world.
As we leave this Conference with a renewed focus on joy, on the Spirit, on the new life that is on offer to us, let’s remember we’re called to re-live this episode of the Lazarus “come out” every day both personally in our own lives and in our outreach to others.