Mar 29, 2020
Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalms 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45 or 11:3-7, 17, 20-2
Do you hear the Christians sing? Life!
Next Sunday is Palm Sunday – the final Sunday of Lent for 2020. We will move from John’s Gospel back to Matthew’s in our Gospel readings. But today, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we have the final reading from John for Lent. There has been an emerging theme throughout the Lenten readings thus far, particularly in John’s Gospel. Have you felt or noticed it – the increasing tension or movement in our readings? The building up to a tremendous crescendo as we move inexorably towards Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus?
Let’s quickly recap the Gospel readings for Lent This Year:
Week 1 – Matthew 4:1-11:
Jesus is tempted and He overcomes them, showing His humanness but hinting at His Divinity;
Week 2 – Matthew 17:1-9:
Peter, James, and John witness the transfiguration of Jesus – a spiritual manifestation of His Divinity;
Then comes the three famous “I am…” statements by Jesus:
Week 3 – John 4:5-42:
“I am the living water” – Jesus is the Living Water – the One who sustains eternal hope;
Week 4 – John 4:1-41
“I am the Light of the World” – heals the blind man; Opens the eyes of the spiritually blind;
Week 5 – John 11:1-45
“I am the resurrection and life” – Jesus is the Giver of Life raising Lazarus from the dead and freeing us from death;
Week 6 – Matthew: 26:11-54
Jesus Hailed as the Redeemer on Palm Sunday;
Jesus rises from the dead as Saviour.
The three “I am” statements from John’s Gospel underline with increasing emphasis the Divinity of Jesus. You can feel the tension rising. We could parody that throbbing theme song and beat from Les Miserables, “Can you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men!” to “Can you hear the Christians sing? Singing the song of hopeful men”.
Just as the people of France in the time of Les Mis were confronted with injustice, death, and fear, so too were the people of Jesus’ time with the Roman occupying forces and the repressive enforcement of religious law and condemnation by the Jewish authorities. The Pharisees and the High Priests were inflexible and relentless. Both the Romans and the religious leaders tortured and killed the people without compunction. The people eagerly awaited redemption through the coming of their Messiah. They eagerly awaited freedom and life. And so their growing awareness and acceptance of Jesus as their Messiah is almost palpable as we move through the readings. From Jesus being seen as just another wise Rabbi to a King who was worthy of cheer and celebration – who would redeem and free them. The Romans, Pharisees et al were equally trenchant in their brutal opposition to it.
So today, as we move towards Palm Sunday and the glory of Christ’s resurrection, Jesus puts His stamp of Divinity on His life by living out the saving power of God alone – to bring Lazarus who is dead back to life – the Giver of Life. Only God can do that!
It’s an emphatic statement and example of God’s love for life and freedom. US Bishop Robert Baron, from “Word on Fire”, often quotes St Irenaeus (born circa 120CE; Died 202CE and regarded as one of the early Fathers of the Church) who professed that, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive!” Our God, Jesus Christ, loves one thing more than anything else, LIFE!
When we are open to life in Christ, we glorify God and God glorifies us. But as sinful people, we are not always open to life in Christ.
Jesus Can Take Care of Tragedies – Don’t Lose Hope
When we are surrounded by pain, misery, and poverty, life gets tough and gloomy (as it did for Martha and Mary on Lazarus’ death). We tend to focus on the here and now and sometimes lose sight of the ultimate salvation promised to us. We can easily be overcome and despair of success. Probably nothing has a more profound impact on us than the death or threatened death of a loved one. That’s almost a truism! But we are human – as Jesus was human; and we suffer – as Jesus suffered.
But despite being surrounded by death and gloominess in today’s world, there is hope. Hope in the resurrection. Hope in new life. Why? Because we know and believe from Scripture that our God loves life, more than anything else. So despite all the corona virus’ nasty impacts – its imposition on our freedom in ways we have never experienced before including severe curtailment of free association even with loved ones, or worse still its foreboding threat of death; despite all the evil in the world; despite our own inability to sometimes cope with our own challenges, there is still hope. Hope that comes from Jesus’ resurrection. Nevertheless, we struggle sometimes to see it.
It’s particularly exciting therefore that in today’s Scripture readings, hope is two-fold.
Firstly, God loves life, not death. The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel, is a prelude to Jesus’ action with Lazarus. Ezekiel lived about 600BCE. The Lord asserts to Ezekiel that He loves life & people so perfectly that He will “…open your graves and have you rise from them…”. He will overcome death and we will all rise to new life after death as God desires.
Secondly, in the Gospel reading from John, Jesus demonstrates His divinity unequivocally by raising Lazarus back to life after his death – He has Lazarus rise from his open grave – almost in accord with Yahweh’s promise to Ezekiel. Only God could do that! Thus, Jesus in turn preludes His own resurrection. The difference being, of course, that
• Lazarus was brought back to life by Jesus as a human being destined to die a second time;
• Jesus resurrected Himself as the Messiah never to die again but to be fully and perfectly reconciled to God as our Saviour.
In both instances, Jesus acted as and is God!
But Jesus is still human – He is “..human like us in all things except sin” (Catechism: 467) as the Church teaches and professes in our Creed. He still felt compassion and sorrow for Martha & Mary. He loved Mary, Martha, & Lazarus; he was wrought with sadness; and He wept. His own personal feelings of grief and empathy for Martha & Mary guided His response to their sorrow. He was not distracted by the situation but responded to it with love.
When we are confronted with life’s challenges, we can become distracted. Lose sight of our salvation. But Christ is there always, showing us the way. We only need to open our eyes to it and;
• Call on Jesus for hope when we are urged to despair;
• Allow Christ’s spirit to transfigure & strengthen us in hope that we can continue
• Be open to receive and drink of the Living Water, Christ’s spirit, to sustain us in
• Let Christ light our way through the darkness of despair by healing our
• Allow Christ to raise us above the constraints and limitations we impose on
ourselves or are imposed on us – whether they be ill health, poverty, stress,
death, and envy.
The Lazarus experience, in being freed from our current despair, is and can be a profound personal experience, physically and spiritually – if like Mary & Martha we humbly open our hearts to Jesus, the Christ, in trust and acceptance of Him as Lord. He will respond every time.
It is tough in these times of the corona virus – which is denying us the ability to be physically present to receive the Eucharist at Mass. But it’s an invitation from the Holy Spirit for us to reflect on just how good we usually have it in life, in our little part of the world. To focus on and reflect in more depth on how we respond to life’s challenges and the power of hope in Jesus – the resurrection and life. And so, to quote Jesus from today’s Gospel, one must ask, how would I answer His probing question?
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die!
DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?”
Do you hear the Christians sing? Singing the song of hopeful people?