The Suffering in Bethany


“Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something to spare this suffering?”


The Sunday Gospels in Lent for Year A are particularly poignant and reflective, drawing us into the Lenten mysteries. We can see how the Church values them by the fact that these Gospels may be read at the weekday Masses as well, particularly during Years B and C when they aren’t proclaimed on Sunday.

The drama of the resurrection of Lazarus in this Sunday’s Gospel seems to rush us even faster towards the holiest days of the year, as we experience a glimpse of the hope Jesus has come to give us. The darkness gives way to light and the despair of death is conquered by the faith of the resurrection. Like he did in the Transfiguration, Jesus preemptively consoles his apostles with the resurrection of Lazarus. What they are about to experience will be confusing and heartbreaking. Cling to hope. Suffering has an answer.

We must not forget this important point of the drama of Lazarus: Jesus allows Lazarus to suffer. Jesus reveals to us quite clearly that he delays going to his friends at Bethany in order to show the glory of the Father (John 11:4, 15). He will show he can do something far greater than heal Lazarus: he can bring him back from the grave. But have you stopped to think about what this delay means?

It means he stood by and allowed Lazarus, Mary, and Martha to suffer.

He had the power to alleviate their suffering, and he did nothing.

We don’t know what caused Lazarus’ death. Perhaps it was something particularly painful. His sisters had to watch him die. They had to bury him. They had to face life without their loved one. There was great suffering in Bethany, and our Lord seemed to stand idly by.

Jesus could have stopped it. He could have prevented the pain. Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something to spare this suffering?

It is not because he did not love Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. They were his closest friends outside of the Apostles. He chose to allow their suffering so that he could show his love is even greater than death.

Suffering is a great mystery. We know that it is evil; it is a result of sin. But we also know that God allows us to suffer so that we can participate in the mystery of the Cross.

Perhaps at times we see God allowing people to suffer in our lives, but we look at the Gospels and only see the healings, the exorcisms, and the resurrections. Jesus walked this earth and gave men back their sight, gave women back their sons, healed lepers, and raised paralytics from their mats. Why does He stand by and allow our world today to suffer? Why does he seem to be standing idly by when it’s my friends and loved ones?

Lazarus was one of his dearest friends. He allowed him to suffer because he loved him. It’s a great mystery, but one we will face every day: With the greatest suffering comes the greatest love.

We cling with hope to the promise of resurrection, even if we cannot see it through the darkness of suffering today.

 “I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.” Ezekiel 37:14 (First Reading, Fifth Sunday of Lent)


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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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