From the beginning of John’s Gospel until now the magnificence of Jesus’ signs has been increasing: first we have the superabundance of good wine at the wedding feast in Cana, then we have the healing of a man paralyzed for thirty-eight years, the feeding of a crowd of over five thousand, the healing of a man born blind, and now Jesus performs the greatest sign of his public ministry; he brings Lazarus, who has been dead for four days, back to life. This sign reveals Jesus’ divine power over life and death, and many more come to believe in him as a result.
So picture the scene at the beginning of this passage. The messengers they arrive tired and breathless. Anxiously, they deliver their one-sentence message, a message composed by Martha and Mary, they say: “Master, the man you love is ill.” They then look earnestly and eagerly at Jesus, still breathing hard. The Apostles look back and forth from Jesus to the messengers. What’s our Lord going to do? They wonder. Then Jesus, looking warmly at the messengers, smiles and gives his answer. “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
This exchange gives us a privileged glimpse into Christ’s Sacred Heart, into our Lord’s charity. The message composed by Martha and Mary was the perfect prayer. “Master the man you love is ill.” They could have said, “Lord, the one who loves you is ill,” as if because Lazarus loved Jesus, he deserved to be healed. But who loves more, Lazarus or Jesus? Jesus loved Lazarus infinitely more than Lazarus could ever love Jesus! And so the appeal to Christ’s love was the wiser way to go.
Alternatively they could have said, “Lord, come and heal Lazarus, he’s very ill.” But that would have dictated what Jesus should do. And they wanted to leave it up to Jesus to decide himself, knowing that his love would do much, much more than they could ever think of – and they were right. And so, it was the perfect prayer. It plunged all their needs, hopes, and sorrows into the bottomless ocean of Christ’s love.
“Master, the one you love is ill.” Could Jesus’ heart ever resist a prayer like that? It expresses a total, uninhibited confidence in him, and it’s the exact confidence that his love wants to find in all of our hearts. The kind of confidence that unleashes his power and obtains the greatest miracle of his ministry.
This Gospel passage contains the shortest verse in the New Testament, two words: “Jesus wept.” If the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead isn’t enough to give us unlimited confidence in Christ, this verse should be more than enough. Jesus is God, all-knowing and all-powerful. And yet, in the face of his friend’s death, and in the face of the grief of those around him, his friends, his Martha and Mary, he is moved to tears. Jesus Christ is not a distant God. Jesus wept, and he weeps. He weeps with us when we weep. He stays with us even when everyone else abandons us. He’s always there in the Eucharist. Jesus wept with Martha and Mary before he raised Lazarus from the dead, because he wanted to assure us that he will always be with us in our sufferings too. When we are tempted to be angry at God or to feel abandoned by him, think of the shortest verse in the New Testament: Jesus wept.
All the saints learned this lesson. Fr. Dolindo Ruotolo who is on the road to canonization was a man with total uninhibited confidence in our Lord, the Lord who weeps with us. He understood the relationship between our neediness and God’s goodness. Fr. Dolindo was an Italian priest who lived from 1881-1970. Ordained at the age of 23, Fr. Dolindo spent his life in prayer, sacrifice and service. He heard confessions, gave spiritual guidance and cared for those in need. Fr. Dolindo was a contemporary of Padre Pio. When some pilgrims from Naples, where Fr. Dolindo lived, went to Padre Pio in Pietrelcina, Padre Pio would say to them: “Why do you come here, if you have Fr. Dolindo in Naples? Go to him, he’s a saint!”
As scholars begin to study his many written works this simple priest is becoming most known for his spirituality of surrender. He was well aware of the depth of human weakness and neediness, and Fr. Dolindo saw this as a way of fostering continual union with God. While inviting us to continually bring our worries and concerns to the Lord, Fr. Dolindo would teach that the focus doesn’t stay on our needs. Instead he would always encourage his people to bring their needs to God and to then be at peace, leaving God free to care for them in his own way and his own wisdom. Fr. Dolindo told his people that the Lord has promised to fully take on all the needs we entrust to him. In his own words: a thousand prayers do not equal one act of abandonment; give yourself to Jesus, and don’t forget it. Every malady we suffer is an opportunity for trusting in the love of Jesus. And there is no better prayer than this he would say: Jesus, I abandon myself to you. Jesus, you take over.
Fr. Dolindo knew suffering, his body was crippled with arthritis, his legs were always covered in ulcers that were always becoming infected, and for the last ten years of his life he was completely paralyzed. In each of these sufferings and every day of his life he would pray: Jesus you take over. This always filled him with joy.
Martha, Mary and Fr. Dolindo are three saints who trust. Their prayers express a total uninhibited confidence in Jesus. Martha and Mary prayed, “Jesus the one you love is ill.” They are saying the exact same thing as Fr. Dolindo, “Jesus you take over.” “You know what’s best, we abandon ourselves to you.” “You know what’s best, we abandon ourselves to you.”
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley