The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author, says the story of Lazarus’s resurrection in John 11:1-44 has lessons for believers today. He has written “Come Forth: The Promise of Jesus’s Greatest Miracle” to invite readers into the Gospel …

James Martin, Jesuit priest and author: Miracle of Lazarus is guide to clear away life’s debris

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As Christians contemplate the Advent season, the Rev. James Martin says focusing on what he calls Jesus’ greatest miracle is helpful.

The resurrection of Lazarus, recorded in the Gospels, can help people overcome their own “dead” issues, said Father Martin, a Jesuit and confidant of Pope Francis.

His book on the subject, “Come Forth: The Promise of Jesus’s Greatest Miracle,” is an intensive exploration of the raising of Lazarus found in John 11:1-44. It centers on Jesus’ initial and subsequent response to Lazarus’ illness, the Nazarene’s decision to wait to go to his home, Lazarus’ death and the reaction of his sisters Mary and Martha.

All three were friends of Jesus who believed he was the Messiah. Yet Mary and Martha were quite candid in their reaction to Jesus’ delay, each telling him, separately, that had Jesus not tarried, Lazarus wouldn’t have died.

“Come Forth” grew from Father Martin’s interest in the story and the miracle of bringing someone who had been dead four days back to life. He said it has “always been my favorite Gospel story,” and he wanted to write about it, particularly after visiting the site in Azariya, a Palestinian Territory town near Jerusalem referred to in the Bible as Bethany.

“I’ve led pilgrimages there over the last couple of years,” Father Martin said in a video interview. “And the story has always proven so powerful for pilgrims.”

The account is “not just a story that happened to some guy named Lazarus 2,000 years ago, [but is one] that we believe in, that it has resonance for us today, spiritually,” he said. “The main theme of the book is how God always calls to us to leave behind anything in our metaphorical tombs that keeps us stuck, or unfree, or bound, into new life.”

The Gospel account, in which the sisters freely confess their disappointment and anger, also raises the question of theodicy — how evil exists in the presence of a God who is all powerful and all good, Father Martin said.

“Jesus is still with them, even in their frustration,” he said. “Jesus is still accompanying them and crying with them. Even when they say, ‘If we take away the stone, there’s going to be a stench,’ he’s OK with that, saying ‘I’m fine, that there’s going to be a stench. I’m fine with the difficulties in your life. I’m here with you, and I’m here to bring your new life.’”

The miracle has a message for modern readers, but within reason, he added.

“If we take it too far, we will say that Jesus will come and raise everyone who has died in our lives, the way he raised Lazarus from the dead, which is not happening,” Father Martin said.

Instead, readers should contemplate their resentments, disappointments and regrets and consider how Jesus can help them “leave those behind and move into new life,” he said. “Jesus and God are not afraid of these things. We might fear these things and want to keep the stone against our tomb. … Can we let Jesus speak to us? I think it’s something to really trust.”

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