My husband teaches gaming. Bear with me; this does relate to today’s gospel reading. He’s very good at explaining the mechanics of games and using the jargon to teach his students. Thanks to Zoom, I’ve half-heard most of his online classes this year so I can throw out terms like walk cycle and rigging to impress people. Maybe.
There are all kinds of games: first person shooters, ugh. Point and clicks, life simulators, and my favorite—quests. A quest involves a character who as you guessed, goes on a quest, usually to change their world. They encounter friends and foes, do good deeds here and there, and battle enemies known as bosses. It’s often combined with the slow accumulation of power and growth for the character as they develop skills and become stronger. THAT process is known as ‘leveling up.’
In today’s gospel, Jesus levels up. We have followed him and his disciples, moving from one place to another, helping, teaching, healing and preaching throughout those early years. Jesus spends time not only with his followers but also with people who end up forever changed by encountering him: Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman to name a few. As Jesus continues to preach, he and his disciples begin to gain followers and a reputation for healing. So when word comes that Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha is ill, it seems odd that Jesus doesn’t set out immediately. After all, Mary and Martha were clearly dear to Jesus, among the most supportive of his friends. Yet when asked about it by the disciples, Jesus speaks in metaphors, calling Lazarus ‘asleep’ instead of dead.
As so many times before, Jesus is ahead of his followers. He is aware of the quest ahead of him, which will be costly on several levels. Lazarus IS dead. Dead, and buried by the time Jesus finally arrives. The house is full of people coming to mourn and comfort Mary and Martha but Jesus doesn’t go to the house. Instead, he waits and the sisters come to him. Martha professes her faith, but Mary chides Jesus, commenting that if he’d been there earlier, her brother would not have died. It’s hard for anyone to hear that, especially Jesus, who understands the stakes more deeply than either sister ever could.
And here is where Jesus levels up. To raise Lazarus will take faith. Jesus knows this. He knows that it will cost him part of his own dual nature to bring Lazarus back. The humanity, yes, but also the divine. Jesus understands that he must give—freely—part of his life essence to revive Lazarus. The power comes from God, but it flows through Jesus.
And he weeps. He weeps for Lazarus, but I suspect he weeps too because it is the beginning of the endgame. The next two bosses he must battle are Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate, both of whom will also strip his humanity. The life he has led up to this point is over. No more wandering, no more quiet Sabbath evenings with his friends, no more dusty roads and broken sandal straps and resting under olive trees. The quest is coming to its end, and only Jesus understands this.
And he goes to the tomb. If there was ever a moment when doubt had a chance, it was here. In front of a crowd, dealing with a man who had been dead for nearly a week in a hot climate. All the humanity in hard evidence of death. But Jesus looks to heaven and thanks God. He acknowledges the glory of God. Only THEN does he order the stone to be rolled away, and in a loud voice, calls for Lazarus to come forth.
And he does. Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha comes out of the tomb, still wrapped in his linen shroud. Death has been defeated in that moment, in front of witnesses and without doubt. A final, indisputable miracle done as an act of love for three of Jesus’ most faithful followers. A reprieve for Lazarus and a true gift to his sisters coming from the compassion of Jesus’s humanity and the faith of Jesus’s divinity.
Now in terms of a game, you can’t really top raising the dead. That’s impressive. In terms of faith, you can’t really top raising the dead. That’s the ultimate miracle. But Jesus does. He tops that. He goes on to raise HIMSELF from the dead. THAT is a power move, and proves that Jesus can not only level up, but can bring us up as well. In games, sacrificing yourself isn’t a common move, but Jesus does so, knowing that the price of his life IS as the Eucharistic prayer says, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.
We are still in awe of these miracles to this day. Jesus’s journey is still one of the greatest quests, and we are privileged to acknowledge him as our savior.