Fifth Sunday of Lent 2017 – Year A
2 April 2017
A number of years ago my father called me, as he had to go into hospital and said: “I might not come out alive as I have a serious blood complaint”. A few nights later the nurse went to see him and she said: “There is a priest in the hospital now. Do you wish to see him?” My father replied ‘no’. An hour later she was back. ‘The priest is still here. Maybe you should see him’. My father who never seemed to fear anything asked ‘am I dying?’ The nurse replied ‘it seems you may be’, so my father said, ‘o.k. send him along’. Later on my father said ‘the moment the priest anointed me with the oil of the sick I knew I was healed’. My father didn’t see himself as a religious person. He lived a good number of years after that incident and felt he had been given a new lease of life – a kind of resurrection experience.
In the gospel today we hear Jesus being invited to go to the home of Mary and Martha who send him a short message ‘he whom you love is sick’. They refer to their brother Lazarus. They did not ask Jesus to go to the house. They gave him the freedom to respond to their request as he wished. Going to their house to see Lazarus was a risk. The enemies of Jesus were out to get him. Thomas, one of the 12 knew this and says in v.16 – ‘let us go too and die with him’. Despite this, his friendship with this family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, people Jesus loved, was enough reason for him to risk his life to go to them in their time of trouble. When Jesus arrives at the village Martha meets him and she shows great trust by saying: “If you had been here my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God he will grant you”. Jesus then tells her that her brother will rise again and she says she believes that he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day. Then comes the great statement of Jesus. “I AM THE RESURRECTION. If anyone believes in me, though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Martha believes. What of us? Do we believe? How fully do we believe it? It is surprising how many Catholics claim to follow Jesus and yet have problems with the resurrection from the dead. Quite a number say they believe in reincarnation.
The resurrection is the central belief of our Christian religion. And as Jesus said above – whoever believes in him though he dies, he will live. Obviously there are people who are enslaved by sin now and Jesus is offering them freedom from this slavery now. It could be the slavery of fear, of drink, drugs, hatred, unforgiveness, of what others think of them or whatever. The resurrection begins now if we wish it by calling on Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life to free us, unbind us. Towards the end of the story when Jesus goes to the tomb and asks for the stone to be taken away Martha objects. She says:’It is now the fourth day. He will smell’. Jesus asks her to trust him. Is there not always the danger that in the face of a big problem we will seek a human solution only? Here we are asked to believe and not to reduce God’s capacity to help us to our way of thinking.
So here we have Lazarus in the tomb which is closed off by a large stone. He is in the darkness. He is dead. He is bound with cloth. This is a good image of how we ourselves can feel like at times thinking there is no way out. Jesus is there. He asks for the stone to be removed. He calls out in a loud voice “Lazarus come forth”. He does. Jesus lifts up the one who was lying down, loosens what was bound and gives life to the man who was dead. Jesus is saying here that he can call us forth from whatever tombs we may be in now. Whatever the darkness may be for us, he can call us into the light as he himself said more that once ‘I am the light of the world’. He can unbind us too from whatever prevents us from moving freely as children of God.
It is important to remember that prior to calling Lazarus from the tomb Jesus prays to his Heavenly Father. It is a prayer of communion with his Father and the conviction that since what he is asking the Father for is that those standing around will believe, his prayer will be answered. It is.
Finally, it is good to note too that Jesus asked the help of others to remove the stone, to unbind Lazarus. Jesus still uses us to help him give new life to others until the day arrives when we will receive the fullness of eternal life after we die.
In the second reading St.Paul reminds us that nowadays this is the work of the Spirit within us. The Spirit dwells in us and so death is already overcome. The Spirit must eliminate the fear paralysing us, from closing in on ourselves and preventing us from seeing what is new in our lives. Also where God is challenging us to do what we can to help our brothers and sisters to be free in whatever way we can.
“Lord Jesus we believe that you are the Resurrection and the Life. Free us on all levels of our being where we are entombed, bound, unfree and lacking in a real faith in your power to raise us up now and after death, Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA