Saint Lazarus of Bethany

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Saint Lazarus of Bethany

Feast: July 29

By Michael McKenna, Director of the Office of Liturgy

Saint Lazarus does not appear among the memorials and feasts of the General Roman Calendar which directs our liturgical year. While earlier editions of the Roman Martyrology recorded Lazarus among the Saints of December 17, today he is recorded along with his sister Mary on July 29, the memorial of their sibling St Martha.

Pope Benedict XVI in reflecting on the Evangelist John’s narration of the resurrection of Lazarus reminds us that it is immediately following this that the high priests will convene the Sanhedrin and decide to kill Jesus and decide “… that Lazarus himself will be killed”.

Despite the notoriety one might expect for a man who was dead for days and yet lives, there is no further mention in scripture of what becomes of him following his miraculous restoration to life at the hands of Jesus. However Benedict’s notation regarding the Sanhedrin’s intention toward Lazarus does appear to lie at the heart of several of the traditions which endure where fleeing Bethany, Lazarus leads Christian communities as bishop in Marseilles France, Cyprus and even Syria.

This notwithstanding, the story of Lazarus preserves a place in Western secular culture even some two millennia hence. Implying a general acceptance of fact, it is interesting to note that his name, and the memory it implies, is invoked in our popular culture to reference a return of “biblical” proportion by a sportsman, politician and the like. Indeed the long serving Australian Prime Minister John Howard memorably reflected on his chances of returning to his Party’s leadership after having been deposed as Opposition leader in 1989 as "Lazarus with a triple bypass".

For Christians the resurrection of Lazarus is noted as the longest continuous narrative in John’s gospel (Jn 11:1-45) aside from the Lord’s own Passion which it prefigures. Lazarus is the climax of those deliberate signs effected by Jesus which so vexed the Sanhedrin to the point that they made plans to kill him (Jn 11:53).

Today still, the ruling elites find themselves similarly vexed by the message of Christ who said, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” The resurrection of Lazarus speaks to this truth. Let us reflect upon this as we recall the witness of his sister Martha’s faith.