Gospel Contemplation: The Raising of Lazarus
Gospel Contemplation is a way of praying that St. Ignatius proposes quite frequently in his Spiritual Exercises. You are invited to use your imagination to enter the scene, to take part, to let the scene unfold. As Ignatius suggests, notice the people, listen to them, watch what they do [SE, 106, 107, 108]. Perhaps you may sense an invitation to be one of the individuals in the scene and engage in a conversation with one of them. You can do this on your own, or use the text below as a guide.
If this way of praying is new – simply relax and try to become engaged in the scene. Try not to worry about what you are “supposed to” be doing. If you find yourself distracted during your prayer, very gently bring yourself back to the scripture text or your imaginative contemplation.
There are a few movements in this contemplation – from conversation with Martha, to Jesus own tears, to the scene at the tomb. If at any point your imagination comes to life in such a way that God invites to you stay with a particular moment, follow the invitation that you sense, rather than move on to where the written contemplation is going. In that case you might want to stop reading and continue on your own.
Background to the Text
This week’s reading from the Gospel of John takes place two chapters after last Sunday's story of the man born blind. The intervening chapter (10), with the discourse on the Good Shepherd and an encounter with some who threaten to stone and arrest Jesus, continues the theme of doubters questioning that Jesus is from God, and Jesus pointing to his healing works as all the evidence they should need. At the same time, many others do not doubt, but come to faith in Jesus. In this Sunday’s reading, Jesus once again promises new life for those who believe in him.
Quiet your body and mind
- Choose a position where you can be relaxed but alert.
- Breathe deeply several times and let your body relax
- Breathe out any worries or stressful thoughts and put them in God’s hands
- Become aware of God’s presence here with you now, looking at you with love.
Ask for a grace
- Ask God for whatever you need at this time during this prayer period. If you can’t think of anything, ask that Jesus bring you to deeper faith in him.
Read the scripture passage
Read the passage slowly, savoring the words and beginning to imagine the scene. Read it twice if that helps you to visualize it.
John 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45
The sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus, saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea.”
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, Your brother will rise.” Martha said,
“I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “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. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
He became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man
have done something so that this man would not have died?”
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” And when he had said this, He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.
Begin to imagine this gospel scene at the point when Jesus arrives in Judea, on the road outside the village where his friends Martha and Mary live. Construct the scene – what does the area look like? Is the road made of dirt, or do you see a more modern scene? Is it shaded with trees or open to full sun? What kind of day is it?
[Pause to use all of your senses to see the scene]
How does Jesus appear as he approaches the village? Who is with him? Do you see Martha approaching from the village?
Place yourself in the scene. Perhaps you are among Jesus’ companions, or maybe you are Martha herself. Where are you in this scene?
[Pause to fully enter into the scene]
Martha draws near. How do she and Jesus greet each other?
Pay attention as Martha says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”
How do Martha and Jesus react to one another? As they continue their conversation, with Jesus’ statement that he is the resurrection and the life – and Martha’s statement of belief in him – how do you feel during this exchange?
Jesus is troubled by the grief of his friends and asks to see Lazarus’ tomb. He himself begins to weep. Stay with him in this moment of grief. Let the moment unfold naturally.
When he is ready, Jesus goes to tomb. You are there as he commands the stone to be rolled away, despite warnings of the stench. Listen as Jesus thanks God and assures the crowd they may believe that he is from God.
Jesus calls, “Lazarus, come out!” and you see the dead man emerge.
How does the crowd react? How do you?
Take a few moments to talk with someone in this scene – it could be Jesus, or Martha, or Lazarus, or one of the disciples. Tell them about your experience and how you feel – and listen for their response. And when you are ready, close with your favorite prayer.
Review of Prayer
St. Ignatius recommends that we review our prayer. A written review has many advantages. It enables us to look back on our prayer experience, and to notice what happened. It allows us to be fully present to our experience of prayer. We do not write while we are praying. The review of prayer enables us not to judge ourselves or look for how well we are doing. It helps us to become more sensitive to how God is speaking to us in the here and now. It is also a precious record of our journey with God, which nourishes wholeness and integration.
Some questions to assist with your review:
What happened in your prayer?
What feelings did you experience?
During the prayer period, when did you feel encouraged?
When did you feel discouraged?
Did you receive the grace you asked for?
What did you receive?