I want to share a few thoughts with you about a new HBO documentary called The Lazarus Effect about the use of Anti-retroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS in Africa. But first, a few comments about the biblical story from which the title comes.
I think it is interesting that before performing the miracle, Jesus stopped in town to pick up the sisters, Mary and Martha, and the crowd of mourners. And he wasn't just looking for an audience; He was looking for partners! Consider His words starting in John 11:38: Then they came to the grave. It was a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. "Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them .
Jesus could have commanded the stone to move. In fact, a stone moving by itself might have made the overall miracle seem even more impressive! But He knew the impact of a miracle shared by an interdependent community, so Jesus made them partners.
But what he asked next would require more from them than simple stone moving. He would ask them to become humble, vulnerable and genuinely compassionate by getting dirty. Touching a dead person would cause them to become unclean, unacceptable themselves. Jesus knew this, yet in verse 43 He said: "Lazarus, come out!" And Lazarus came out, bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, "Unwrap him and let him go!"
Rereading this passage, it occurs to me that there are two types of Lazarus effects. First is the obvious and miraculous transformation in the recipient from the healing touch of Jesus. Less obvious but perhaps even more powerful is the transformation that happens in the hearts of the stone rollers and unwrappers. The biblical story ends with Lazarus out of the tomb, unwrapped and alive. We know what happened to Lazarus and can imagine how the memory of being raised from the dead changed him forever. What we don’t know is how those who participated in the miracle were different, yet I think it is fair to imagine they also were also changed forever. When we are willing to get dirty, Jesus uses us and changes us at the same time.
The HBO documentary, The Lazarus Effect depicts the miraculous transformation in AIDS victims, in just 40 days, from getting onto an anti-retroviral regiment that costs just .40 cents per day. As we learn how ARV’s restore life to AIDS victims, we also hear Jesus calling us again to become His partners; to roll away stones and take off grave cloths.
Self proclaimed atheist Peter Singer, Princeton University bioethics professor says this:
The path from the library at my university to the Humanities lecture theater passes a shallow ornamental pond. Suppose that on my way to give a lecture I notice that a small child has fallen in and is in danger of drowning. Would anyone deny that I ought to wade in and pull the child out? This will mean getting my clothes muddy, and either canceling my lecture or delaying it until I can find something dry to change into; but compared with the avoidable death of a child this is insignificant. A plausible principle that would support the judgment that I ought to pull the child out is this: if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable, moral significance, we out to do it. This principle seems uncontroversial.