5th Sunday of Lent, Year A (RCIA)
Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 (7)
March 21, 2021
Today we hear of the last of seven signs done by Jesus. And it is no small sign!
Lazarus, the one who Jesus loved and the brother of Martha and Mary, was ill. They sent word to Jesus of the illness.
What was Jesus’ response to the news?
He had already been healing people who were not his close companions. He says, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God.” Surely, one might think He would immediately go to heal Lazarus.
He does not. In fact, He remained where He was for two days.
Do not fear. Jesus knows the right time to go just as God knows the right time to answer our prayers.
Of course, as He often does, He is using it as a teaching opportunity. He speaks to his disciples with him about Lazarus’ death, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.”
He is about to do something incredible. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus “had already been in the tomb for four days!” No one would expect Jesus to be able to do anything for Lazarus.
Still, Martha has faith. When she heard that Jesus was coming, she goes out to meet him. In faith she says, “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.” She believed that Jesus could have healed Lazarus. She believes that God will do whatever Jesus asks. Clearly, she continues to have faith even after Lazarus has died.
Jesus then speaks of the Resurrection. Martha affirms her belief in the Resurrection. Jesus responds, “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.”
Martha has faith in Jesus. Mary has faith. Even some of the others said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that his man would not have died.” They believe that Jesus could have healed Lazarus but they think it is too late now.
It is not too late. In fact, it was God’s intent all along for Jesus to come after Lazarus died so that they might see the “glory of God.”
Standing outside the tomb, Jesus said, “Lazarus, come out!” and Lazarus came out. The seventh sign reveals that Jesus has power even over death.
What does it mean to die? What does it mean to live?
Remember Jesus’ words, “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.”
Does this make sense? How could He say we will never die?
In human terms, we see death as the end of a life on Earth. Through the prophet Ezekiel God told his people, “I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” In hearing this passage, our tendency as Christians is to think of the Resurrection. The passage does indeed speak of the Resurrection to come but what would have it meant to the Israelites hearing it several centuries before Jesus came?
They were in exile in Babylon. To be taken from their homes seemed like death to them. God told them, “I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land.” He will set them free from exile and return to their land and life.
When Jesus speaks of living and dying, He is not speaking of human life and death. He is pointing us to what it means to live.
Sin brings death. Forgiveness brings life.
Thinking of healing, we have the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. For a long time, this Sacrament was limited to those at the point of death. Study of the ancient church helped us understand this Sacrament is for anyone seriously ill. The words the priest says as he anoints the person are, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”
These words are said for all who anointed. The part “raise you up” may direct us to the Resurrection but I think it also points us how the Lord helps us face our illness. We may suffer and be sad but the Lord is with us in our illness, lifting us, raising us up.
When Jesus speaks of living and dying, He is not merely speaking of physical life and death. As Paul writes, we are “not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit.”
To truly live is to live as led by the Spirit.
When Lazarus emerged from the tomb (resuscitated not yet resurrected), Jesus told the others to “Untie him and let him go.” Lazarus has been freed (untied) from the binds of earthly death to life in Jesus.
What keeps you from living in Jesus?
Is it sin? Then confess them and God will give you forgiveness and life?
Is it an illness? Ask God to walk with you through the Sacraments.
Maybe the pandemic, job issues, or a difficult relationship? Offer it to Jesus who walks with you through it, giving you life.