Lenten reflection: a leap of faith


By Father Ross Epping
For The Catholic Messenger

The story of the raising of Lazarus is found only in the Gospel of John. There is certainly miraculous beauty found here, but underneath it all runs a current of truth we’d rather not face.

Father Epping

Lazarus’ death, it seems, was untimely. He was a close friend and contemporary of Jesus when he fell ill, but whether or not he was a young man is never said. When Jesus eventually makes his way to Bethany, four days after Lazarus has died, he weeps. Then, Martha and Mary lead him to Lazarus’ tomb.

There, Jesus yells at Lazarus and Lazarus comes forth, hobbling out of his tomb wrapped in bandages. “Unbind him,” Jesus says. “And let him go.” And that is all we know about Lazarus. A man brought back from the darkness of death, the recipient of Jesus’ greatest miracle, Lazarus drops from the scene right here and is never heard from again.


Lazarus does not go on to be Jesus’ most devoted disciple. He does not preach inspiring sermons. He does not visit the sick and console the dying. In fact, he doesn’t utter a word before he disappears forever. He is alive, though; a walking miracle brought back to life. But that life is only temporary. Sooner or later, Lazarus will be carried back to his tomb and this time for good.

Herein lies that current of truth — we must all, finally, die. As fervently as we pray for healing and long life, and as glad as we are on the occasions when those prayers are granted, we must all die. Is there anything in the world we would like more than to make sense of everything? To know why, and when and how we die? To know where death fits into the divine life of all things? To have reliable evidence that death is just a door into a life where everything makes sense. If there is one word our hearts can be counted on to cry out when we are afraid, it is “why?”

It is not explanations we’re looking for, though, but security and a sense of control. “Tell me why, God,” we say. “And maybe I can convince you why not.” “Give me something I can work with, God,” we say. “But do not ask me to step out into the air without a net.”

The cry of the human heart — “Why me, why this, why now? Why you have forsaken me? My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Those are the words and questions we ask our God and they tell us the truth about what we feel when we cannot make sense of what happens to us and when we are given no reason at all.

We are in good company here. They are not just my words and your words. They are the words of the prophets and they are Jesus’ words. To have faith in God, faith that we are in good hands, faith that whether or not we understand everything, the universe makes sense — that is the hardest choice any of us has to make.

Do I decide to step out into the air without a net even if I don’t have much evidence of anything at all? I guess that all depends on whom we believe and if we believe. If belief is there, even a little bit, then we learn to simply give up the illusion that we are in control of every aspect of our lives and, so, step out and into the air. Which is why, perhaps, we call it a leap of faith.

(Father Ross Epping is chaplain of St. Ambrose University in Davenport and pastor of St. Peter Parish in Buffalo.)

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