Thursday after the Fourth Sunday of Lent
On the Death of Lazarus
Lazarus our friend sleeps. (Jn 11:11a)
I. A friend, because of the many things and favors he did for us; so we should not neglect him in his needs.
He sleeps (dormit). And so should be helped: a brother is born for adversity (Prov 17:17).
He sleeps, with respect to the Lord, as Augustine says; but with respect to men he was dead, as they were unable to revive him. 'Sleep’ (somnus) can be understood in several ways. A natural sleep, or one of negligence, or of sin, or of the quiet of contemplation, or of the rest of future glory - and sometimes it indicates the sleep of death: we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13).
II. But I go that I may awake him out of sleep. (Jn 11:11b) By this Jesus tells us that he woke him from the grave with as little effort as you wake a person who is sleeping in bed. This is not surprising: because he is the one who raises the dead and gives life; so it was said above: for the hour is coming, wherein all who are in the graves will hear the voice of the Son of God (John 5:28).
III. Let us go to him. (Jn 11:15) Here we see God’s mercy, for in his mercy he takes the initiative and draws to himself those living in sin, who are dead and unable of themselves to come to him: I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore have I drawn you, taking pity on you (Jer 31:3).
IV. Jesus therefore came and found that he had already been in the tomb four days. (Jn 11:17) According to Augustine, these four days of Lazarus signify that a sinful man is detained by the death of a fourfold sin. 1° original sin, 2° actual sin against the natural law, 3° actual sin against the written law, 4° actual sin against the law of the gospel and grace.
Another interpretation would be this: the first day is the sin of the heart. Remove the evil of your thoughts from before my eyes (Isa 1:16). The second day is the sin of speech: let no evil talk come out of your mouths (Eph 4:29). The third day is the sin of deed: cease to do evil (Isa 1:16). The fourth day is customary sin arising from evil habit: you can do good who are accustomed to do evil (Jer 13:23). However it is explained, the Lord cleanses those having been dead four days, i.e., those transgressing of the law of the Evangelist, and those held prisoner by the habit of sin.
(Selections from the Commentary on the Gospel according to St John, C11.L3, C11.L4)