Thursday, March 15, 2018

Fifth Sunday of Lent Year B: Option A

Readings: Ez 37: 12-14; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45

Life and death; hope and despair are the key phrases that sum up the message of this Sunday. All three readings this Sunday 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 the Easter Sacraments. 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 purpose of the third scrutiny is to help the elect and candidates to deepen their faith in Christ who is the life and the resurrection. The readings therefore provide a sharp contrast between life and death; hope and despair. They also remind us of real life experiences of the destructive forces of death in real families. We are reminded of the pain of death of loved ones faced by millions of people all over the world everyday. 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. If you are facing grief or strife in the family, here is a message for you. The prophet Ezekiel offers hope for those who believe in the God of life. You and I have many times encountered the shattering effects of death in the family as I did just one year before my ordination to priesthood, when I suddenly lost my dad in a tragic automobile accident in which 3 others died with him in 1966.

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, and that the Son may also 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 the 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 witnessed, 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. In other words, Jesus has the power to transform death into life; to bring hope in the midst of despair; and joy out of grief. What message do we take home this Sunday? 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) We are led to strengthen our faith in the life after death. The first reading reminds us that the Lord will transform death into life for those who believe in the God of life. 3) The entire liturgy celebrates the God of life, who in Jesus Christ conquers death that we may have life.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

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