Today’s Gospel recounts the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45). Lazarus was a friend of Jesus and the brother of Martha and Mary. In the story, Jesus is informed about Lazarus’ illness. He delays in going to him, however, so that “the Son of God may be glorified.” Lazarus dies and Jesus comes only after he has been in the tomb for four days. Both Martha and Mary complain to Jesus, saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus calls them to faith, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” Then, Jesus asks the critical question, for them and for us: Do you believe this?

Faith in Jesus is at the heart of this memorable account. Jesus asks then and now if we believe that He is who He says He is. If we have faith in Him, the ups and downs of our lives, or the seemingly inexplicable circumstances, can be filled with light and meaning. Martha and Mary both know that Jesus could have saved their brother. They had sent for him with enough time for Jesus to come and heal Lazarus; yet, Jesus delayed.  Not only that, He purposely delayed. He was inviting them and their friends and neighbors to a deeper faith and trust in Him.

Jesus says to Martha something that, at first glance, seems contradictory. He says, “(H)e who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” One might ask, “How can we die and never die at the same time?” If we look more closely at this statement, however, the question can be resolved.

First, the one who believes, “though he dies, yet shall he live.” What is the death that Jesus speaks of here? There are occasions for every believer in which one must give up something for the sake of a greater good, known by faith. Traditionally, this is called “dying to self” or “denying myself.” In offering up my preference or my self-will, I make a sacrifice to God so that He can do something greater through me. I may not always see what that is, but I can still make the offering to God. In doing so, I truly live for God. So there is a death to myself, but living for God.

Second, Jesus states, “whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” Through the series of small deaths to myself, I live for God in faith, day in and day out. A life lived in this way, walking in faith with Jesus, leads to eternal life. A state of “never dying” is the life with Jesus forever in heaven.
Today’s first reading from Ezekiel captures this meaning with a powerful image. Ezekiel is told to prophesy that the Lord will “open your graves, and raise you from your graves.” This is clearly fulfilled by Lazarus being raised, but it will also be fulfilled at the final resurrection of all the dead. At that time, those who have lived and believed in Jesus will be reunited with their bodies and live forever, united with Jesus in heaven.

Living and believing in Jesus is, in fact, living the resurrected life already now, which is what Saint Paul writes about in today’s second reading (Romans 8:8-11). Saint Paul speaks about this as the life of the Spirit, as he writes, “you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you.” Today’s second reading, therefore, opens up the reality of living in the body now, but living for the future eternal life, and making life in the Spirit, now and forever, the focus and hope of all our actions.