Saturday, April 01, 2017

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Catechism Links[1]
CCC 992-996: The progressive revelation of resurrection
CCC 549, 640, 646: Raising a messianic sign prefiguring Christ’s Resurrection
CCC 2603-2604: The prayer of Jesus before the raising of Lazarus
CCC 1002-1004: Our present experience of resurrection
CCC 1402-1405, 1524: The Eucharist and the Resurrection
CCC 989-990: The resurrection of the body

“Raising of Lazarus” by Guercino, c. 1619
Reading I: Ezekiel 37:12-14
Commentary on Ez37:12-14
The Prophet Ezekiel, in this part of his oracle was speaking metaphorically of the Hebrew people in exile being returned to the land God had promised. In this mystic vision he sees this event as a type of resurrection, the gift of new life. Within the context of Christ’s revelation the fuller truth is revealed as Christ comes in the new resurrection.
CCC: Ez 37:1-14 715; Ez 37:10 703
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
R. (7) With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
Psalm 130 is a song of lament. The psalmist cries out to God to hear the voice of the one who calls, and to forgive the sins they have committed. The third verse, which is also the refrain, sums up the lament saying that if there is no forgiveness all will fall because all have sinned.
CCC: Ps 130:3 370
Reading 2: Romans 8:8-11
Commentary on Rom 8:8-11
St. Paul focuses on what disciples of Christ must do to please God which must come through the spirit, not the flesh. Paul makes it clear that the Spirit is "of God," for the new principle of Christian vitality is derived from the same source as all the other divine manifestations of salvation. The baptized Christian is not only "in the Spirit," but the Spirit is now said to dwell in him.
"St. John Chrysostom makes an acute observation: if Christ is living in the Christian, then the divine Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, is also present in him. If this divine Spirit is absent, then indeed death reigns supreme, and with it the wrath of God, rejection of His laws, separation from Christ, and expulsion of our Guest. And he adds: "But when one has the Spirit within, what can be lacking? With the Spirit one belongs to Christ, one possesses Him, one vies for honor with the angels. With the Spirit, the flesh is crucified, one tastes the delight of an immortal life, one has a pledge of future resurrection and advances rapidly on the path of virtue. This is what Paul calls putting the flesh to death" ("Hom. On Rom.", 13)." [5]
CCC: Rom 8:2 782; Rom 8:3 602; Rom 8:9 693; Rom 8:11 632, 658, 693, 695,989, 990
Gospel: John 11:1-45
Commentary on Jn11:1-45
We join Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem recounted in St. John’s Gospel. The story of Lazarus’ resurrection is part of what is known as “The seventh sign.” The Jerome Biblical Commentary does a nice job of summarizing the purpose: “In the narration of this miracle Jn gives at one and the same time a supreme proof of the Lord's life-giving power and a visualization of the doctrine contained in the conversation of vv. 23-27. The miracle literally fulfills the words of Jesus in 5:28; it is a sign, therefore, both of the final resurrection and of the rising from sin to grace that takes place in the soul of the believer.”[6]
Within the story we see the very human emotions of Jesus they range from the all too human grief and fear as he expresses his concern at what this revelatory event has cost his close friends, Martha and Mary, as they see their brother die, to confidence in his relationship with the Father at the end of the story. This exchange of fear for faith, seen in the witnesses, is the same conversion the Gospel attempts to initiate in the Christian faithful in response to these events.
CCC: Jn 11 994; Jn 11:24 993, 1001; Jn 11:25 994; Jn 11:27 439; Jn 11:28 581; Jn 11:34 472; Jn 11:39 627; Jn 11:41-42 2604; Jn 11:44 640
Perhaps the most significant omission from the Lazarus story in this shortened form is the subtext around the situation in Bethany, and the danger Jesus walked into. Also left out was the disciples' reluctance to take that path, knowing that the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem was plotting against him. We see that clearly when St. Thomas says, as they are departing “Let us also go to die with him.    The shorter form removes the story from the context of the journey toward the cross and establishes it as a proof of the identity of Jesus.
CCC: Jn 11 994; Jn 11:24 993, 1001; Jn 11:25 994; Jn 11:27 439; Jn 11:34 472; Jn 11:39 627; Jn 11:41-42 2604; Jn 11:44 640
The theme of Sacred Scripture for this our Fifth Sunday of Lent is resurrection.  It is a term we Christians use without much pause especially when speaking of Jesus, the one who leads us from death to life. He is the one who calls us to follow him, returning to life when our mortal bodies fail as they all must.  The simple definition from the dictionary says that “Resurrection is the act of rising from the dead or returning to life.”  This is something miraculous, yet we followers of Jesus proclaim it in our creed and speak of it as calmly as if we were expecting to cross a street when our lives end.
Ezekiel speaks about resurrection in the first reading.  To his original audience he was speaking in metaphor about the people of Israel who had been scattered in the Babylonian exile, returning to the land God had promised.  In a sense, the Prophet spoke about the resurrection of hope as a people: a people who had died in the spirit and were brought back to faith in God as the Lord restored their homes, their culture, and their faith.
This same understanding of a spiritual as well as a physical resurrection is alluded to in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, our second reading.  Here he speaks of the Holy Spirit that dwells in us, that gives life to our mortal bodies, and will allow them to live again as a consequence of Christ’s resurrection.
As if to renew our own wonder at the miracle promised by the Lord when he invited us to share in his own resurrection from the dead, we are presented with the wonderful story of the resurrection of Lazarus from St. John’s Gospel.
In this story we find ourselves most easily standing in the place of Martha and Mary.  We have met these sisters before in St. Luke’s Gospel.  Martha is the outspoken one.  The practical tasks of life fall to her.  She must concern herself with daily chores and keeping the home, a home she shares with her sister and brother.  She is the one responsible for running it smoothly.  She is fearless and completely un-intimidated by the holiness of Jesus.  Mary, her sister, is the less intense but more spiritual of the two.  We remember her sitting at the feet of Jesus, and we are reminded by St. John that it was Mary who anointed him with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair.  We can all empathize with the sisters as their brother Lazarus falls ill. 
They send for Jesus, having faith that the great healer will be able to save their brother.  We are surprised at Jesus' response when he receives this message.  He does not rush back to save Lazarus, rather he tells his disciples (who must have been relieved because of the danger they would face if they went back to that area) that Lazarus will not die, but that this whole incident is so that God’s Son might be revealed more clearly. What a curious response.
Then, he delayed two full days before starting off for Bethany.  The disciples even tried to talk him out of going, fearing the danger they faced.  Our Patron, St. Thomas even said to the other disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.”
While he was still some way off, Martha heard that he was coming and went to meet him.  We are given a glorious exchange between the outspoken Martha and our Savior.  Martha takes him to task. “Lord, 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.”  Knowing Martha, we can almost hear the accusation in her words. She is not calm in her grief for her brother, but she still has faith in Jesus.
The Lord tries to tell Martha what he is about to do. But she does not understand, instead thinking he is speaking about the resurrection on the last day. (Martha’s understanding of resurrection is likely the same as the Pharisaic definition, that the righteous dead would be raised at the end of time.  The Lord, after all, had not demonstrated the truth by his own resurrection at this point.) 
Finally, he corrects Martha and puts the question directly to her: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  We can see the light of understanding come into her eyes as she responds: “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
As the totality of the truth is revealed, she sends for her sister. The emotional Mary comes to the Lord in inconsolable grief, weeping.  The Lord sees the great sorrow this miraculous proof of his identity will have caused his friends, and he becomes very upset.  The famous, shortest verse in scripture is uttered: “Jesus wept.”  He did not weep for Lazarus.  He was going to bring Lazarus back.  He wept for those who were weeping, those he loved, Martha and Mary.  They did not have enough faith to know what was possible in Christ.  In that one moment he wept for all who grieve their own loss, forgetting the joy of those who return to the Father in death.  He wept for all of us, for all we have to endure, the suffering of loss before we see what is promised by the Lord.
Immediately he asks to be taken to the tomb where they have laid Lazarus.  Martha still does not understand what he is about to do.  She tries to prevent him from opening the tomb, thinking he simply wants to see his friend’s body once more.  She warns him that it will smell.  He’s been dead for four days (also symbolic – Hebrew tradition stated that the spirit remained in the vicinity of the body for three days and then departed).
We are told that at this point Jesus prayed aloud, for our sake.  He did this so we might understand the power of prayer, and know that it was not Jesus who did this thing, but God the Father.  Then he called to Lazarus: “Lazarus, come out.”  And the one who was dead (the words from scripture are “the dead man”) came back to Jesus who commanded that the bonds of death be untied: “Untie him and let him go.
It is said in scripture that after this event, many of those who saw this event came to believe.  We must ask ourselves if we believe.  We, who assume the roles of Martha and Mary, are asked, as Martha was: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  What is our response?  When we talk about the resurrection do we speak with the awe and wonder that should accompany the greatest gift ever offered?
We are entering into the final days of our Lenten journey.  The high Holy Days are rushing upon us and we are challenged again. “Do you believe this?”  Our actions must reflect our words, and the Love of Christ must flow from us as it flowed to Lazarus, whom Jesus called back to himself as he calls us.
In other years on this date: Optional Memorial for Saint Francis ofPaola, Hermit
[1]Catechism links are taken from the HomileticDirectory, Published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 June 2014
[2] The picture today is “Raising of Lazarus” by Guercino, c. 1619
[5] The Navarre Bible: “Letters of St. Paul”, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, © 2003, pp. 100
[6] Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, Inc., © 1968, 63:123, pp.446

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