There is an old saying with which each of us is, no doubt, familiar: "Nothing is more certain than death and taxes".
The average person in Jesus' milieu would have also recognized the truth of this statement.
Matthew and his fellow tax collectors were nothing if not efficient... and as for the certainty of death, well, it was a familiar companion for all age groups.
Heavy Roman taxes they might just be able to do something about, especially if, as many believed, Jesus was the Messiah, the promised leader who would send the Romans packing back home across the Mediterranean. But Jesus disappointed them. He told them to pay their taxes and to respect civil authority.
But he took them completely by surprise when he told them that he would do something about death.
This far more significant deliverance is the focus of today's gospel narrative, the whole of which can be summed up or distilled into a few words. Everything else is illustration. The essential words are: "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, though he should die, will come to life."
Once again, Jesus speaks in a manner unique to Him. To Thomas, He would say: "I am the way, the truth and the life", ... not "I know the way ... I have learned the truth ... I can teach you to live" ..... but rather, "I am the way, truth and life."
And now he is saying that He is life and resurrection. He does not deny death, but He does take it out of its final ... end of the line ... game over, context. He declares it to be a transient reality, a phase. He says, "I am life before and after death." Today, with the help of the spirit, we can say that this makes sense because He is God and so life's very essence is somehow bound up in Him.
Look back for a moment to Ezekiel as he speaks to us from that famous plain of dried bones. That is where life dumps us when our ambitions are frustrated and when our friends forget us. When our relationships fail and when our loved ones die.
Paul tells us that we are foolish to expect more. He says that if we hope in anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ, then we are wasting our time. Like us, Jesus was subject to the vicissitudes of life. But being subject to life is not the same as being mastered by it. Thus, there is no contradiction in Jesus, the Master, the Lord of Life, weeping at His friend's tomb. Even in his natural grief, Jesus remains the lord of life so that at the sound of His voice, death retreats.
At the sound of His voice, Lazarus walks and laughs again. Sure, he will die again too ... but so what? Jesus is life. Jesus is life here and now and in the future. Jesus is and always will be life. Not just a promise, but also a presence.
You see, the gospel is not talking about just the main event, the big death that precedes our funeral, which in turn precedes our resurrection. It is talking about that and all the other deaths and resurrections that are part of our experience as earthly pilgrims.
Of Lazarus ... Jesus said, "he is but asleep" ... the others knew better. After all, he had been bound and entombed for several days. He was dead. Who was right? They both were.
As Jesus sees it, sleep and death are first cousins. One gives way to the sunrise, the other to the risen Son of God.
At this moment, Jesus weeps outside our tombs of frustration ... misdirection and suffering. He weeps over our dry bones of divorce, exile and death; but He calls us forth ...... HE calls us forth ... for He alone is the resurrection and the life.