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5th Sunday of Lent – 6 April, 2014

Ez 37:12-14; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45
Robert McAfee Brown was a chaplain in World War II. He was on a troop ship with 1,500 Marines on their way home after having served in Japan. To his surprise, he was approached by a group of Marines asking him to lead a Bible study during the voyage. One day, after the group had studied the passage about the raising of Lazarus, a Marine came to Dr. Brown saying, “The story is about me!” The young man had gotten into a lot of trouble before going into the service. He could not stand the thought of facing his family. The story of Lazarus gave him hope and courage to face the consequences back home. He had been “turned loose, untied.” Christ had rolled away the stone of his past life. That’s what Christ does for us. He gives us the power to start again, to live again. He said to Lazarus, “Lazarus, come out!” Then to those who were present, “Take off the grave-clothes and let him go.”
Introduction: Resurrection hope is the central theme of the Scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent. We can see the progression in themes from the thirst for living water (on the Third Sunday of Lent), through the desire to be healed of our spiritual blindness (Fourth Sunday), to our ultimate desire to share in eternal life with the risen Lord (Fifth Sunday). Death and resurrection are the themes that underlie today's Scripture lessons. The Psalmist awaits Yahweh’s redemption both for himself and for Israel. Ezekiel, in the first reading, bears witness in his vision to the Lord God's promise to reanimate the dead Israel in preparation for her return to the Promised Land. The Lord God guarantees His community in exile that He will one day bring them back to live in the freedom of the Promised Land. God assures His people that not even death will stop Him from carrying out this promise. Yahweh states, "I will open your graves, have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel." St. Paul, in the second reading, assures the early Roman Christians who were facing death by persecution, and us who are surrounded by a culture of death, that the same Spirit Who raised Jesus from the dead and Who dwells within us will give life to our mortal bodies. He considers the Resurrection of Jesus as a reality, the ground of our Faith and the basis for our Hope of sharing in Jesus’ Resurrection. For John, in today’s Gospel, the raising of Lazarus is the final and greatest sign of Jesus, the Deliverer, a symbolic narrative of His victory over death at the cost of His own life and a sign anticipating His Resurrection. Describing this great miracle, the Church assures us that we, too, will be raised into eternal life after our battle with sin and death in this world. Thus, resurrection hope is the central theme of the Scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent. The readings assure us that our Faith in Jesus, Who is “the Resurrection and the Life,” promises our participation in His Resurrection and new Life.
The first reading: The haunting vision of the valley of dry bones described by Ezekiel (in chapter 37 verses 1-11), forms the background of today’s first reading. The imagery may well have come from an actual battle site, probably that of the battlefield after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon in 586 BC. After a few years, the Babylonian soldiers uprooted many of God's people and dragged them into slavery in Babylon, some 750 miles from their homeland. This was the beginning of the period known as the Babylonian Captivity, or simply the Exile. Ezekiel was a priest of the Temple of Jerusalem up to 597 B.C., when he was deported to Babylon with King Jehoiachin and the first deportees. In Ezekiel's vision, the release of the Jews from the captivity and slavery of Babylon is described as the Lord God's raising the people from their graves to return to a new life in their own homeland. Through the prophet, God assures the exiles that they will live again. They will be raised from death and filled with life. They will experience new life, life that springs from God’s own Spirit. The Lord God urges his devastated nation to look beyond that catastrophe to a future that vindicates His justice and promises the restoration of the nation through the Spirit of God.
The second reading: In the second reading, St. Paul assures the Romans of a future resurrection to a life of unending glory for all those who during their time on earth have been loyal to God and His Son Jesus. This resurrection is won for us by the suffering, death and Resurrection of Jesus. Paul advises the Roman Christians, and us, to allow the Holy Spirit Who dwells in them to renew and sanctify them, thus making them eligible for resurrection. “If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through His Spirit dwelling in you.” This indwelling Spirit of God Whom we have received in Baptism will release us from the "grave" of the flesh and allow us to live the life of the Spirit. The Spirit-filled life is a life of intimacy with God. In this passage, Paul stresses the empowering action of God the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
Exegesis: The motives behind the miracle: According to John, the raising of Lazarus is the sixth of seven signs. It is also the last and greatest of the miracles worked by our Lord to prove that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, and that through faith in Him believers will receive eternal life. In other words, Jesus wanted to make this, His last recorded miracle, a convincing proof of His claim to be what He was---the Messiah, sent by God to give new life, eternal life, to mankind. This interpretive description of Jesus’ greatest miracle is also John’s reflection on the significance of the resurrection. As this miracle took place a few miles from Jerusalem, Jesus also knew it would give his enemies the impulse and motivation to carry out his condemnation and crucifixion, which was the “debt” He, "the suffering servant" of God, was to pay for the sins of mankind. Jesus explains the why of this miracle as, “It is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it”(John 11: 4). First, when Jesus brings Lazarus back to life, people will give God glory for the miracle. Second, in this Gospel, Jesus' glorification involves the cross, and verses 45-53 make it clear that Lazarus' resurrection will lead to Jesus' death and resurrection. This is another way of saying that His death on the cross will lead to His glorification. This miracle story, taking place as Jesus is on His final journey to Jerusalem, prepares us for His death and Resurrection.
The moving story of sorrow and faith: John's Gospel begins with a wedding and closes with a funeral. There are four primary characters in this story: Jesus, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Martha, Mary and Lazarus were good friends of Jesus. John tells us that Jesus “loved” them. The funeral rituals of Jesus’ day were obviously different from ours. When somebody died, there was no embalming. Instead, the body was wrapped in linen and, before sunset on the day of death, was put into the burial vault -- a cave carved into limestone rock – often with myrrh, frankincense and perfumes. Then there was intense mourning for seven days followed by a less intense mourning period of twenty-three days. Lazarus’ sisters had sent word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was ill and perhaps would soon die. On receiving the message, Jesus waited two days so that the will of God might be demonstrated and that God might be glorified by His Son through a major miracle. At last, Jesus went to the house of Lazarus, knowing very well that His friend had died. On his arrival, Jesus pacified Martha with one of the most treasured of His teachings which brings great consolation at funeral service, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus offers “eternal life,” which begins with Faith now and lasts forever in its fullness. Then He asked one of the most important questions found in the Bible, “Do you believe this, Martha?” Martha answered, “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the One Who is coming into the world.” Martha pronounced her confession of faith as a response to Jesus Who had revealed Himself as the Resurrection and the Life. Her faith did not depend upon seeing her brother raised from the dead. Proof begets knowledge and confirms faith; faith does not rest on proof. As John writes this story for his persecuted early Christian community, Martha represents that grieving community in asking the perennial question: "If Jesus gave us eternal life, why are believers still dying?" John's story offers a challenging response and offers us all those words that bring such consolation at funeral services: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; whoever believes in Me even if he [or she] die, will live, and everyone who believes in Me will never die.”
The supporting community and the reassuring Jesus. Martha returned home and told her sister Mary that Jesus wanted to talk with her. Mary went immediately, surrounded by grieving friends, to find Jesus. Then comes that classic line, the shortest verse in the Bible. “Jesus wept.” The Greek translation literally means that Jesus “burst into tears.” This showed that He was not only the Son of God, but also the Son of Man, fully human, sharing our grief and our sorrow and comforting us with His declaration, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” Mary’s friends who grieved with her are the model of a supporting Church community. There is something therapeutic about having friends around us when we are grief-stricken. Hence, the Church must be a community of compassion and consolation to one another. Often, in our busy and active culture, we don’t have time to live deeply with our feelings and to share deep love or deep sorrow.
The touch of human sentiments: While the miracle of raising Lazarus from grave shows Jesus’ divine power over death itself, it also shows Him as a wonderfully sensitive human being. His love for Lazarus and his sisters is palpable. Martha's and Mary's complaint that Jesus' presence would have averted Lazarus’ death shows us how real their friendship was. So do Jesus' tears. He feels the pain of Mary and Martha. He feels the anguish that death brings. He feels the pain for those who refused to believe. Today he weeps for those caught up in war and famine. He weeps for children lying in hospitals with serious medical problems. He weeps for those who feel unwanted, unloved and useless. He weeps with each of us and feels the pain and anguish that we feel. The story also represents the best of that special human quality in Jesus of openly expressing real feelings. The fact is that God is Good – and not because everything in life is smooth sailing. He’s Good because He IS Goodness. That is why He comes with us into the valleys of despair, why He climbs the difficult and slippery slopes with us, why He feels the highs and lows that we feel and, when we feel as if we can’t go any further, why He carries us. Hurt and pain will always be close by during our life on this earth, but we can be certain that God doesn’t leave us to endure these alone. Bad things may be happening in our life right now, but somehow God is in this with us. He promises that we won’t be tested beyond what we can endure and that He will bring us through it. Let us pray that He will help us to be strong and that His glory may be seen in the way that He helps us through the hard time ahead.
Life Messages: 1: “Roll away the stone, .” There are so many dark areas in our private life. We often bind ourselves with chains of addiction to alcohol, drugs, sexual deviations, slander, gossip, envy, prejudices, hatred or uncontrollable anger and bury ourselves in the tombs of despair. Sometimes we are in the tomb of selfishness, filled with negative feelings such as worry, fear, resentment, hatred, and guilt. Jesus asks us today to seek His help and that of the community around us to loosen those chains and come out of tombs of our own creation. Is there an area of life where hope is gone? Why should we not invite Jesus to visit this area? If we want Jesus to visit our dark dungeons of sin, despair and unhappiness, let us ask Jesus during this Holy Mass to bring the light and the power of His Holy Spirit into our private life and liberate us from our tombs. Are there times when we refuse to let God enter into our wallets, fearing that faithful tithing will endanger our savings? When we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus will call our name and command, "Come out!” Jesus calls each of us by name to come out of our graves and to help others to do the same. “Lazarus, come out! Mary, come out! Jim and Joe, Kathy and Lisa, come out!” This is particularly good news to someone who is addicted, whether to a chemical substance or to unsavory habits. “Lazarus, come out!” This is good news for the person who has lived an empty, meaningless life, “Lazarus, come out!” This is good news for the tired, the hurting, the person at his or her wit’s end. “Lazarus, come out!” This is good news for all of us, “Lazarus, come out!” This can be the beginning of a new life.
2) We need to be ready to welcome death any time. We live in a world that is filled with death. We kill each other in acts of murder, abortion, euthanasia, execution, war and terrorist activities. We kill ourselves through suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, smoking, overwork, stress, bad eating habits, and physical neglect. We watch calmly as others die from poverty, hunger and malnutrition, homelessness, unemployment, poor education, disease, child abuse, arms proliferation, discrimination, pollution, and destruction of the environment. The most important question is: am I ready to face my death? A strange question and its truthful answer are found in the sacred scriptures of the Hindus. “What is the greatest wonder in the world?” The answer is: “All of us know that we will surely die, but each of us foolishly thinks that he or she will not die any time in the near future." Let us not be foolish; let us be wise, well-prepared and ever ready to meet our Lord with a clear conscience when the time comes.

In an English cemetery we find this last thoughtful epitaph: “Remember man, as you walk by, As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so shall you be. Remember this and follow me.” To which someone replied by writing on the tombstone: “To follow you I’ll not consent . . . Until I know which way you went.” We are not making light of death. We simply hope to put it in the proper perspective. We want to see it in the light of an empty tomb. The story of the raising of Lazarus helps us do just that.
(Source: Homilies of Fr. Tony Kadavil)


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