March 21 Fifth Sunday of Lent Year A (Third Scrutiny)
Readings: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45
This Sunday all three readings lead us to meet Jesus who is not only the water of life and the light of the world, but also the resurrection and the life. It is around this central theme of our faith in Jesus as the resurrection and life that the Church celebrates the Third Scrutiny with those preparing for Baptism at Easter. In the prayer over the candidates this Sunday the celebrant says these words: "Free from the grasp of death those who await your life-giving sacraments and deliver them from the spirit of corruption." The readings provide a sharp contrast between life and death; hope and despair; apparent failure and success; defeat and triumph. They also remind us of real life experiences of the destructive effects of death in real families. We are reminded of the pain of death faced by millions of people all over the world everyday. In many life experiences, the Devil tries to take advantage of us by sawing seeds of defeat in order to destroy our lives, our families or our married life. The prophet Ezekiel in the first reading urges the devastated nation of Israel to look beyond the destruction of Jerusalem to a new future, when God’s Spirit will restore Israel. In other words, the prophet offers hope for those who believe in the God of life. You and I have many times experienced the shattering effects of death in the family as in the Gospel of this Sunday.
The Gospel opens with the announcement that Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, is ill. Jesus’ immediate response is that this illness will not result in the death of Lazarus but that it will be an occasion for God’s glory to be revealed to all, so that the Son may be glorified. Even though Jesus had a deep love for Lazarus and his sisters, he remains in the same place for another two days. By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus is already dead for four days. The dramatic episode of Jesus raising Lazarus to life is a reminder that Jesus is the source of life; he is the life and the resurrection. Just as in any funeral we have attended, there are tears in this story too. There are tears in the eyes of Mary and Martha as they tell Jesus, that if he had been there, their brother would not have died. The whole account is a beautiful catechesis that Jesus offers as the episode develops. On meeting Jesus Martha says: “If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died.” Your brother will rise to life,” says Jesus. “Yes, I know that he will rise again on the last day,” replies Martha, reflecting on Jewish belief of life after death. Jesus uses the occasion to lead the two women through a gradual revelation of who he is: "I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die". The whole episode is a powerful revelation of who Jesus is from his absolute control over life and death. What message do we take home? 1) Like Martha and Mary we are led to believe that Jesus is the resurrection and source of life that he promises to anyone who believes in him; 2) The prophesy of Ezechiel in the first reading reminds us that there is hope beyond death for those who believe in the God of life. 3) The entire liturgy celebrates the God of life, who in Christ conquers death and the powers of defeat that we may have life.
©2010 John S. Mbinda