Apr 8, 2011

5th Sunday of Lent: "Do you believe this?"

Rembrandt:
"Lazarus, come out!"

Ezekiel 37: 12-14
Romans 8: 8-11
John 11: 1-45

An Atheist funeral could be defined as that poor guy in the casket who was, "all dressed up with nowhere to go." Yet, if life is defined merely by the material, then this life is the only true reality.  Once we're dead, it's over. End of story! To imagine a life of the spiritual as anything more than emotions or misguided hopes, which any committed atheist would likely affirm, would make those who speak of faith, the transcendent, or a supreme being who communicates with his creation, nothing more than foolish people. St. Paul in our second reading to the Romans alludes to this: " . . .Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit . . ."  (Rm 8: 9-10).

Herein lies the challenge of this season and the readings we have heard these last three Sundays. For people of faith, there is more than just this world. There is a reality outside of space and time. This is the point Jesus was making to the woman at the well in his "living waters" imagery. To the man healed of blindness when he stated, "I am the light of the world." And today, when he calls Martha to faith, "I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?" Do you believe there is a reality outside this place of space and time; outside the limitations this life imposes upon us? The life of the spirit?Only with a firm, "Yes" can we understand the Gospel today which challenges any logical or scientific explanation.  Either Jesus truly brought the dead, decomposing corpse of Lazarus back to life or this event is nothing more than a fairytail. "Do you believe this?"

In this Sunday’s reading on the 5th Sunday of Lent God changes the impossible as Lazarus is brought back to life. Yet, as inexplicable as that was it was only a temporary life. Lazarus died again. In fact, all those who Jesus had healed of whatever malady, eventually got sick and died. These were momentary events. The man healed of blindness in last Sunday’s Gospel died as one who had come to recognize Jesus as the light of the world. Lazarus, Martha and Mary all died as disciples and friends of Jesus who came to see him as “resurrection and life.”

From the woman at the well, to the man born blind, and now to Martha, Mary and their recently deceased brother Lazarus, Jesus continues to play center stage as the one who calls these players to listen to see to rise and walk. For, we all have questions, uncertainty, doubt, fear, grief, confusion and a longing for something more. The woman didn’t know – but she found him who offers “living waters.” The man who was blind only wanted to see – and once he did he found him as the “light of the world.” So, I think we hear in these readings – an invitation from God through Christ. We are invited to drink, to see, and to have hope in all that Jesus promises: new life, the eyes of faith, and the promise of eternal life in him. This Lent is a search for this new life – a conversion.

We see the very human Jesus today who had friends, loved his friends, was loyal to them, and wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. Jesus was “perturbed” or literally “angry” as the Gospel tells us. Maybe he was angry at the chatter of the crowd or maybe at death itself. Nonetheless, he steps to the tomb and looks human death in the face. The very human Jesus is about to reveal his divine power in a public way that he hasn’t done before.

A whole entourage of mourners accompanied Martha as she confronted Jesus, “If you had been here my brother would never have died.” (Jn 11: 21). True. Jesus would have most probably healed Lazarus of whatever malady had beset him. But, it seems there is a reason for the delay on the part of Jesus.

Why does God not stop tragedy before it happens? The people of Japan are suffering for no logical reason other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jesus words to his disciples today: “This sickness is not to end in death; rather it is for God’s glory that through it the Son of God may be glorified . . .” (Jn 11: 4). Much like the words we heard last Sunday as to why the blind man was blind: “It was no sin, either of this man or of his parents. Rather, it was to let God’s works show forth in him . . .” (Jn 9:3).

What is “God’s glory” or “God’s works show forth” that would permit such personal pain? That is a great mystery. But, what we do see here is the implication that God allows suffering so that something greater may come forth: the man’s sight is given and he comes to believe in Christ as his Lord and savior; Lazarus dies so that he may be raised to life and many come to believe in Christ as the “resurrection and the life.” I can’t imagine the look on the faces of the crowd who gathered and knew Lazarus was indeed very dead, now walk out alive!

So, this promise of resurrection is not only for some future historical period but even now we find a taste of it. The Easter sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist offer us a grace that can shape us to be more like Christ and sustains us on the road to eternity. Reconciliation likewise strengthens us against despair and hopelessness – and that too is new life; a freedom to follow Jesus. Jesus offers us this freedom in the same way he commands in the Gospel, “Untie him and let him go.” (Jn 11: 44).

In the second reading to the Romans, St. Paul puts this longing beautifully: “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 . . .” (Rm 8: 10-11). You can bet on this promise of God.


What greater good can come from our personal suffering or tragedy? Has this brought you to bitterness and resentment or strengthened your faith in God? Have others been changed for the good because of what misfortune or sadness happened to them or to you? Isn’t that a sort of resurrection?