Theological Reflection for 5th Sunday of Lent (year B)
March 29, 2009
1st Reading: Jer 31:31-34; 2nd Reading: Heb 5:7-9; Gospel: Jn 11:1-45 (Yr A)
The Raising of Lazarus
Today’s gospel passage is taken from the readings usually designated for Liturgical ‘Year A’ but we have chosen it for this reflection because of the baptism in steps – the RCIA process that is going on here and in so many other parishes all over the world.
As we move gradually towards the mystery of Easter, the church presents for our reflection a very profound and unique miracle – the resurrection of Lazarus.
In that story, Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, and a brother of Jesus’ close friends, Martha and Mary, died of illness. He had been buried for four days before Jesus arrived at the tomb. As a human being, Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus (cf Jn 11:35) but as God He raised Lazarus from death. What is the significance of this passage for us? What challenge does it give us?
Death is an enigmatic problem, a mystery that every human culture has attempted to solve but without success. People can evade taxes but no one has been able to escape death. Jesus, however, claims to have power over death and he demonstrates this power by raising Lazarus from death to life. There are so many lessons to learn from today’s reading.
Lazarus represents situations in life that are beyond the control of any human being. What is the Lazarus of your life? What is that situation that is beyond your control? What is that thing in which you have lost hope? When all human efforts have failed then God responds with His own power.
Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. He shows his compassion and love for this poor man but he did not stop there. He continued by praying (cf Jn 11:41-42). Having prayed about the situation, “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” (Jn 11:43). It is good to know that we have a God who is not only compassionate but who also has power to do something about our situation. The same Jesus who raised Lazarus from death is still very much with us today.
During this season of Lent, we continue to pray and fast and give alms with hope that when our old self finally dies we may rise to new life at Easter. We need to allow bribery, jealously, bad tempers, disagreements, disobedience, rebellion, gossip, and all kinds of immorality to die in us (cf Rom 8:13, Col 3:5). We need to let certain things die in our life so that our Christian virtues, which are dying, or have died, may rise again.
Remarkably, Jesus did not come to prevent us from physical but rather, from spiritual death. The life we have in Jesus, which we received at Baptism, is eternal. That is the life we cannot afford to lose. Observably, Lazarus died again and was buried. Jesus himself experienced death. He suffered, died, and was buried but by God’s power, he rose again on the third day. Every human being will inevitably experience death, which is the separation of the body and soul. In Christian theology that death is only a transition and we should not be afraid to face it. The only death that we do not want to experience is the separation of our soul from God.
In today’s world in which people are making a vigorous attempt to crash the entire human life into the secular order we need to cry out to Jesus, who alone, can raise us up. Notably, one may be physically alive, but morally and spiritually dead. Some of us have lost contact with our spiritual base. Some of us feel like we are ‘living dead’. We are dead to family life, to our church, to prayer and to our spirituality. But all hope is not lost. The intercessions of Martha and Mary moved Jesus to help Lazarus. We need to pray for one another so that those who are spiritually dead among us may experience the power of Jesus. If Jesus could raise Lazarus from death, he can also revive our social, political, and economic situations. He can raise up our dead ‘spiritual life’. We just need to believe that he can do it.
May this liturgy strengthen our faith in Jesus, who has power and all things including death.
Fr. Clem Oyafemi