“Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us, out from the grave like Lazarus?” The lyrics of a popular Christian song by the group CAIN, kept ringing through my thoughts. Yet we recently heard Luke’s Gospel of the other Lazarus and both started clashing in my head.
I don’t believe there are coincidences, especially where God is concerned. If Jesus is telling a story and names only one character, that name is rather important. I wonder about the audience to whom Jesus is telling the story; the Gospel references the Pharisees, so are these men familiar with Jesus’ friends? Do they realize that He is using the name of His friend as a man who faces tragedy on earth only to receive heavenly bliss in the comfort of Abraham after he dies? I think the use of a close friend’s name is significant in the story of the poor man named Lazarus; I think Jesus is illustrating His friendship with those who are poor and marginalized, people whom others wouldn’t even notice. By using the name of Lazarus, Jesus is telling the Pharisees about the types of people that will gain entrance to heaven and whom He considers His friends.
The name Lazarus stems from Eleazar which contains a reference to God and the connotation of help or assistance. It can be translated as “God has helped” or “My God is Helper.” In both the story of the poor man Lazarus as well as the Lazarus of Bethany, brother of Mary and Martha, God does help each. In the story, God’s assistance comes in the rewards of the afterlife. For Jesus’ friend, it comes in his resurrection from the dead, a sign that Jesus has power over life and death; a power that is God’s alone. It shows that God helps us both in this life and in the one to come. God also identifies and calls us by our names. He wants us life for us, life in His friendship, and is willing to help us attain that.
We share similarities to both men named Lazarus. While we are living on this earth, Jesus continually calls us, up out of the grave of sin and death and into a life of His friendship. This life may not seem to be easy, and in the secular view, our lives may look more like that of the poor man named Lazarus: forgotten and neglected by those around us. Like the rich man in the story, others may know our name and our circumstances, but prefer not to assist us or befriend us and instead choose to ignore us since we are not like them. But if we remain in the friendship of Jesus, we will find comfort and rest in heaven.
This Lent let us respond to the call of Jesus, not just dying to our sin, but rising in the strength and friendship of Jesus. We don’t need to wait until Easter, as it’s not a once and done response, but one we continually give Him with each temptation we face and every sacrifice we make.