02 April, 2017. 5th Sunday of Lent
Saint Francis of Paula, hermit
First Reading: Ezekiel 37:12-14
During the exile, God’s people were like a pile of dried bones
Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.
2nd Reading: Epistle to the Romans 8:8-11
In baptism we have died to sin, to rise to new life
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Gospel: John 11:1-45
Jesus’s raising of Lazarus shows his divine power
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”
But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”
The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is ot in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”
The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Buteven now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to wep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
On the readings
(Kieran O’Mahony. See his fuller exegetical comments at tarsus.ie)
Living life to the full
It seems a bit strange to have this gospel on the Fifth Sunday of Lent. It seems to be clearly about the resurrection and yet we are still plodding through Lent and have to get through Good Friday before we get to Easter. What’s going on; have the Church’s liturgical engineers got it all wrong? Can I suggest that this text is more about death than resurrection? After all, Lazarus isn’t walking around today; he had to undergo another death. This text is more about our life and death here and now rather than about the resurrection. We will have time enough to consider the resurrection when we get to Easter Sunday and the weeks of celebration afterwards.
In his Spiritual Exercises St Ignatius Loyola suggests that when reading a particular Gospel passage we should put ourselves in the place of each character in turn and use our imagination to see how we would feel in those circumstances. This can be a most revealing exercise. How about putting myself in the place of Lazarus? I am dead to everything and then I hear a voice: ‘Come out, Lazarus.’ There I am, lying in a tomb swathed in bandages and surrounded by darkness. If we wonder how we would feel in this situation, the answer would be different for everyone but I think many might say: Thanks Lord, but I’d prefer to stay where I am.
While attempting to put ourselves imaginatively in Lazarus’s place we might become aware of how tomb-like our present way of life is, and rekindle a longing for freedom which has perhaps been buried for years. Putting ourselves into the place of a character from scripture can awake all kinds of thoughts within us and lead us to turn to God in prayer with new words on our lips. Yet it is something so simple that we are surprised that we never thought about it ourselves. This Gospel features here in Lent to help us come to live life to the full; for often it is only in the face of death that we are shocked into this realisation. This can happen to us in all sorts of ways on the occasion of a loss or bereavement. It is amazing how often it takes overcoming a negative experience to make us realise afresh how much there is that is truly positive and makes life worth living.
That’s How I Want To Die
(José Antonio Pagola.)
Jesus never hides his tenderness towards the two sisters and their brother who live in Bethany. Surely they are the ones who welcome him in their home whenever he goes up to Jerusalem. One day Jesus receives the message: «Our brother Lazarus, your friend, is sick». Shortly afterwards, Jesus heads out for their small village.
When he gets there, Lazarus has already died. When Mary, the younger sister, sees him there, she breaks down crying. No one can console her. When Jesus sees his friend crying, along with the Jews who are with her, he can’t contain himself. He too «breaks down and cries» right along with them. The people remark: «See how much he loved him!». Jesus doesn’t just cry for the death of a very beloved friend. His soul is broken when he feels the powerlessness of all in the face of death.
All of us carry in our deepest heart an insatiable will to live. How often we wonder, why do we have to die? Why isn’t life happier, longer, more secure, more fulfilled? Today too, like people of every age, we feel in our hearts that unsettling question, one that’s hardest to answer: what’s going to happen to us when we die? What can we do in the face of death? Fight it? Give up?
Without doubt, the most usual reaction is to just forget that question and «get on with living». But isn’t the human person called to live life lucidly and responsibly? When the end finally comes, do we end up just approaching it stoically, not knowing where we stand? In face of the mystery of our final destiny neither scientific nor religious dogmas are of much help. They can’t lead us beyond this life. The more honest approach seems to be that of the sculptor Eduardo Chillida who on one occasion said: «Concerning death, my reason tells me that it is final. But then, concerning reason, I guess that my reason is limited».
We Christians don’t really know any more about the next life than anyone else. Like all others, we need to approach humbly the dark fact of our death. But we do it trusting radically in the goodness of the mystery of God, that is shown to us in Jesus. This Jesus is the one whom we love, without having seen him, and whom in that love, we profoundly trust.
This trust can only be lived by one who responds with simple faith to what Jesus says: «I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?». Recently Hans Kung, the most critical Catholic theologian of the 20th century, coming toward the end of his life, said that for him, dying is «resting in the mystery of God’s mercy». That’s how I want to die.
How’s Your Hearing?
Response to the Psalm: With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption
There is no surprise that, for all its brevity, Psalm 130 has always fascinated Christians. One of the seven penitential psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102 and 143) it celebrates the powerful mercy of God, but, in such a way as to point a clear way out of the depths: Listen to God’s word! The phrase de profundis has passed into English to mean being emotionally in the pits. Over the centuries, this psalm has helped people address the experience of being downtrodden, pushed around, utterly depressed, sinful, even spiteful towards God who is so stable, organized, serene.
We can find a resonance of these experiences in many parts of the Bible. For example, Isaiah’s exhortation, directed to returning exiles, to trust in the Lord (51:10). The same Hebrew word for depths is found there: “Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to cross over?” The “depths of the sea” balance with the waters of the “great deep,” a clear echo of Genesis 1:2. God is praised for having dried up the sea to make a way for the redeemed. Now Creation and Exodus have come together to effect the return from the Exile. What power! All of this is carried into the “de profundis,” our exquisite psalm about the promise of deliverance. One other thing to note from Isaiah before returning to the Psalm: God signs off on this oracle of salvation by asserting: “I have put my words in your mouth…” (v. 16). That idea is the unifying thread in Ps. 130: the word of God. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and I hope in his word …” (v.5) We see a liberation from “out of the depths” and “from iniquities”. The liberation is effected by God’s word in response to the cry: “Lord, hear my voice!” (v.2) The Psalmist is forgiven because God hears his prayer, and patient trust in God’s word leads to a kind of resurrection.
Lazarus’ being restored to his life on earth, clearly intended as anticipating the Resurrection, is in response to the word of Jesus: “he [Jesus] cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come out!”” (John 11:43). The subtle interplay might be lost on us were it not for the earlier statement of Jesus: “Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (5:25)
Imagine Lazarus, four days dead and already stinking, hearing the word of Jesus beyond the grave. The story echoes what St. John had earlier written, that the Lord’s sheep hear the voice of their shepherd. Jesus had announced this on the Feast of the Dedication (10:4,16), and dramatically restated it before Pilate (18:37). Is this the path we must follow, to live resurrection faith? In the beginning God spoke and we became, in the end God will speak and we will live/hear forever: “my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for daybreak,” (Ps 130:6). Watching for God’s word is such a bold expression. Do you watch for a word?
Surely Lazarus must have appreciated Ezekiel whose famous vision was auditory: “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” (37:4). There is new life for which to pray. Do you and I pray for our resurrection? Every day? Listen to how St Paul beautifully put together the belief in resurrection and how we celebrate God as Trinity: “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11). The salient word in that sentence is “also.” On it a hangs a grasp of the Father’s joining us to the Son in the power of the Spirit.
Pushed to the edge by grief, the de profundis reproach of Martha and Mary brought tears to Jesus’ eyes: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (vs.21 & 32). Jesus’ response echoes what Paul had said: “Father, I thank you for having heard me.” (v. 41)
Saint Francis of Paula, hermit
Francesco from Paola (1416-1507) was an Italian mendicant friar and hermit. By 1436, he and two followers began the Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi, later named the Minim friars (referring to their role as the “least of all the faithful”). He lived a life of great austerity, abstaining from all meat, and is revered by many Vegans of today.