26 Mar 2023 – 5th Sunday of Lent, Year A
26 Mar 2023 – 5th Sunday of Lent, Year A
(1) 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.
Responsorial: Psalm 129
R./: With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
Lord, hear my voice!
O let your ear be attentive
to the voice of my pleading. (R./)
If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt,
Lord, who would survive?
But with you is found forgiveness:
for this we revere you. (R./)
My soul is waiting for the Lord,
I count on his word.
My soul is longing for the Lord
more than watchman for daybreak.
(Let the watchman count on daybreak
and Israel on the Lord.) (R./)
Because with the Lord there is mercy
and fullness of redemption,
Israel indeed he will redeem
from all its iniquity. (R./)
(2) 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 not 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. But even 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.
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.
The gospel of John about the raising of Lazarus is parallel to the other gospel on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. It reminds us that death is not end but change.
The greater the waiting time, greater will be the miracle!!
There are a good number of teachings in today’s Gospel. Let us go over the scripture verses and analyse them:
Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair:
Mary was a repentant sinner. She was not a proven saint who had always pleased God. She was proof that our Lord Jesus loves sinners, not only saints. Jesus loves us too, irrespective of our sins.
So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”:
The sisters prayed. They were confident that our Lord Jesus would come and cure Lazarus. They had witnessed many miracles from Jesus, and so they knew that curing the sick is part of a daily routine for our Lord Jesus.
They were also confident of the love that Jesus had for their brother Lazarus. Yes, Jesus loved Lazarus, but that did not stop Lazarus from getting ill. Illness or any major suffering does not mean that God does not love us.
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.”:
When we suffer without a cause, it is for God’s glory. In the garden of Gethsemane, our Lord Jesus prayed, “Father, if it is your will, take this cup away from me”. To see His only Son suffer on the cross was a huge cross for God our Father. It was a big suffering for God our Father too. God the Father would have cried seeing His Son Jesus suffer on the cross. How many times, our Father witnessed “Jesus is my beloved Son”. How much would his heart have suffered to see His beloved Son hanging from three nails on the cross?
Still God the Father would have to make such hard decisions for our good.
“………. he stayed two days longer in the place where he was”:
Our Lord Jesus gives us a tough teaching here.
1. Our Lord Jesus knew that Lazarus was sick. They are in need of Him.
2. The sisters prayed. Their only hope was Jesus. Their prayers reached Jesus.
3. Our Lord Jesus wanted to go and help them immediately, but He waited.
Though Mary and Martha did all that could have been done, Lazarus still died. “Why did our Lord Jesus not come and help us on time?” was a bigger question for the sisters than the question, “In spite of following all that was taught by our Lord Jesus, why did our brother still die?” The sisters were thinking that they were waiting for Lord Jesus, but actually our Lord Jesus waited on purpose for them.
Why does our Lord Jesus allow a waiting period?
1. For God’s glory:
When you complete the waiting period allowed by God, your life will tell a story of God’s power and it will be the cause of resurrection for many lives. Our Lord Jesus waited till nothing short of a miracle could save Lazarus. There was a big crowd gathered to mourn for the death of Lazarus. The crowd which was there with Mary at home also came with her and witnessed the miracle. The Bible says “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him”. So their life was a testimony for many to believe in our Lord Jesus.
I read about this true incident a long time back, I forget from where, but I am not able to forget this incident. A widowed mother had a young daughter who was well placed in her career. The daughter wanted to preach the Gospel throughout the world. One day before leaving the office, she called up her mother and informed that she was coming back home. When she went to the car garage, there she was raped and killed. The culprit was found and put in prison. The old mother was shaken and living her life all alone in great agony. She could not believe that while her daughter was longing to preach the Gospel, why such a thing happened to her. After a few years, a priest visited the mother and gave her a Bible. He said this Bible is for the culprit who murdered your daughter. Please bless and sign this Bible for him. Initially the mother got angry but later she got the Bible, signed it as “From your mother … ” When the priest gave the Bible to the culprit and explained who it was, he cried and cried. After his release the first person whom he visited was this mother. On looking at the face of the mother, he said, “If I had a mother like you, I would not have been the person whom I am now”. He asked for forgiveness and they both preached the Gospel travelling around. The daughter preached the Gospel to more people through her life even after her death. God turned her ashes into beauty.
2. For moulding us:
The Bible says that God led the Israelites in the wilderness since they were not ready for war. Though God was taking the Israelites to the land flowing with milk and honey, they had to fight and win over the existing occupants. The wilderness was their waiting period and it served as their training period too. After exiting the wilderness, they won every war under the leadership of Joshua.
In our lives, sometimes we have to cross our wilderness too. Better taking the test and passing the first time rather than retaking the test again and again till we pass. If God is moulding us, then our time in the wilderness is directly impacted by how quickly we undergo the change that God is working in us.
God does not change us all at once, but He works on each change little by little. And between every change, He gives a time gap too. Since we are spending our time mostly in undergoing changes, we should learn to be happy while we undergo the change too. We need to learn to be happy while we are waiting more than when we are getting.
The way our good God trains us by allowing us to get through the problems, we need to allow our children also to get through their problems. If we keep solving their problems, when will they learn to solve on their own? Like God, we also need to be good trainers.
“Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”:
Our Lord Jesus teaches us not to back out when we face challenges in attaining our goals. One of the most important tools the enemy uses to keep us from any kind of progression in life is “fear”. If there is a certainty in your task, do not step back. Keep moving slowly. From somewhere God will help us.
Thomas said “Lets all go and die with him”:
God speaks and reveals His plans only to the concerned persons. So apart from him, others will not know of the big plans. They will not have faith or bigger visions. When God reveals to us the big mission we need to do, we cannot expect others to appreciate or encourage us. Since they are not hopeful, they will try to bring us down. We should not worry in such scenarios. The way Jesus ignored the comments of Thomas, we also need to ignore these comments and move on.
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.”:
Think big. Our Lord Jesus was happily sharing a big blessing, but Martha interpreted only a routine life out of it. Since God is Almighty, He would have prepared a big plan for us. But since we do not imagine such big plans for our lives, we do not take any step forward, when the opportunity knocks too.
Jesus began to weep:
Though our Lord Jesus knew that He was going to raise Lazarus, He was moved when He saw His beloved ones weeping. When we are weeping in sorrow, Our Lord Jesus and Mamma Mary also are weeping along with us. They are not able to bear to see us in tears.
“And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I know that you always hear me”:
What a confident prayer! Our Lord Jesus prays with childlike confidence to His Father. And he always asks for great things.
Though God has greater blessings we sometimes pray for greater blessings.
A couple of comments on T Benedicta’s reflection: So often, Mary of Bethany is mistaken for Mary Magdalene. Yes, Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, did anoint Jesus in preparation for his burial. Yes, seven demons were cast out of Mary Magdalene.
Also, I think a little clarification as to why Jesus waited 4 days. In Jewish tradition in Jesus’ time, the body was not truly dead until the fourth day. The belief was that the spirit hovered around the body for three days. Lazarus was indeed dead, thus more credence for Jesus’ miracle.
Hi there, from what I’ve read, the Latin Church Fathers held that Mary the sister of Lazarus and Mary Magdalene, were one and the same woman. The Greek Fathers, on the other hand, supported the tradition that they were three distinct women (as you add the “sinful woman” into the mix). A good article on new advent dot com will specify the details. From that well-researched article, one would more reasonably side with the Latin Fathers. This being the case, a beautiful story of discipleship emerges through the life of St Mary Magdalene, one which can be held as a prototype for each of us. Have a look and God bless you on your journey.