Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A

Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130:1-8; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

First Reading: In today’s first reading, Ezekiel announces to the people of the covenant God’s fourfold promise to them: the graves of the dead will be opened; those who have died will be brought to life; the people in exile will be brought back to their land; and the spirit of God will be given to them. The promise of resurrection prefigures the promise of Christ for all those who believe in him and sets up the Gospel story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

Psalm 130: This psalm, considered one of the seven penitential psalms, begins with the haunting lament: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; / Lord, hear my voice!” In the midst of this plaintive cry, the psalmist expresses a spirit of confident trust in the Lord’s forgiveness.

Second Reading: In this letter to the Romans, Paul wants us to know that, through Christ’s Death and Resurrection, we now belong to God in a very special way.

Gospel: The story of the raising of Lazarus draws us into the human grief of a family and of Jesus himself. The story has more than one purpose and several layers of meaning. Are you able to identify them?

Reflection: Can you imagine receiving a phone call with the news that your best friend who lives nearby is dying and thinking to yourself, “I’ll just wait four days and see what happens?” Of course not! That is our clue that John’s narrative about Jesus’ friend Lazarus speaks not of the bonds of human friendship, but rather of the power of Jesus.

Today’s Gospel is the account of the raising of Lazarus. This is the last and greatest of Jesus’ “signs,” and it marks a turning point in John’s account: from this point on, the movement to silence Jesus gains force and strength, and the religious authorities make plans to have him arrested.

The story unfolds in a series of dramatic encounters. In the fourth, Martha meets Jesus half way, in more ways than one. She comes out from the house full of mourners, and goes to meet him on the road. Even before Jesus says anything to her, she professes her faith in him: “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Martha believes in the Resurrection, but Jesus opens up a whole new dimension when he tells her, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

In the encounter with Martha, we see Jesus at his most divine. But when her sister Mary comes out we see Jesus at his most human. Jesus is overwhelmed by their grief: “he became perturbed and deeply troubled. . . . And Jesus wept.” Jesus, we know, was like us in all things except sin. And here, the Christ who is soon to undergo suffering and death shares in the agonizing grief that comes to those who have lost a beloved friend.

With Jesus as our example, we are called to live what we are called to believe: that new life comes from dying to self. Discipleship challenges us to make the kinds of choices about action that Jesus made. Sometimes these choices mean holding back, sometimes they mean forging ahead – always they entail some kind of dying to self. But, oh, the Life we receive in exchange!

Question for reflection: Have I made the right “choice” in my discipleship?

Copyright © 2017, Scott W. Eakins. All Rights Reserved.

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