1. Lazarus our friend sleepeth (John xi. 11).
Our friend – for the many benefits and services he rendered us, and therefore we owe it not to fail in his necessity. Sleepeth, therefore we must come to his assistance: a brother is proved in distress (Prov. xvii. 17).
He sleepeth, I say, as St. Augustine says, to the Lord. But to men he was dead, nor had they power to raise him.
Sleep is a word we use with various meanings. We use it to mean natural sleep, negligence, blameworthy inattention, the peace of contemplation, the peace of future glory, and we use it also to mean death. We will not have you ignorant, concerning the last sleep, that you be not sorrowful, even as others that have no hope, says St. Paul (1 Thess. iv. 12).
Death is called sleep because of the hope of resurrection, and so it has been customary to give death this name since the time when Christ died and was raised again, I have slept and have taken my rest (Ps. iii. 6).
2. I go that I may awake him out of sleep (John xi. 11).
In these words Jesus gives us to understand that he could raise Lazarus from the tomb as easily as we raise a sleeper from his bed. Nor is this to be wondered at, for He is none other than the Lord who raiseth up the dead and giveth life (John v. 21). And hence He is able to say, The hour cometh when all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God (ibid. v. 28).
3. Let us go to him (John xi. 15).
Here it is the mercifulness of God that we are shown. Men, living in sin and as it were dead, unable to any power of their own to come to him, He mercifully draws, anticipating their desire and need. Jeremias speaks of this when he says, Thus saith the Lord I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore have I drawn thee, taking pity on thee (Jer. xxxi. 3).
4. Jesus therefore came and found that he had been four days already in the grave (John xi. 17).
St. Augustine sees in the four-days’ dead Lazarus a figure of the fourfold spiritual death of the sinner. He dies in fact through original sin, through actual sin, against the natural law, through actual sin against the written law, through actual sin against the law of the gospel and of grace.
Another interpretation is that the first day represents the sin of the heart, Take away the evil of your thoughts, says Isaias (i. 16); the second day represents sins of the tongue; Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth, says St. Paul (Eph. iv. 29); the third day represents the sins of evil action, Cease to do perversely (Isaias i. 16) ; the fourth day stands for the sins of wicked habit.
Whatever explanation we give, Our Lord at times does heal those who are four days dead, that is, those who have broken the law of the gospel and are bound fast by habits of sin. (In John xi.)