5th Sunday of Lent – 2nd April 2017

With God at our side

Scripture Reading – John 11:1-45
I am the resurrection and the life

There was a man named Lazarus who lived in the village of Bethany with the two sisters, Mary and Martha, and he was ill. It was the same Mary, the sister of the sick man Lazarus, who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. The sisters sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill.’ On receiving the message, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.’

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judaea.’ The disciples said, ‘Rabbi, it is not long since the Jews wanted to stone you; are you going back again?’ Jesus replied:

‘Are there not twelve hours in the day?
A man can walk in the daytime without stumbling
because he has the light of this world to see by;
but if he walks at night he stumbles,
because there is no light to guide him.’

He said that and then added, ‘Our friend Lazarus is resting, I am going to wake him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he is able to rest he is sure to get better.’ The phrase Jesus used referred to the death of Lazarus, but they thought that by ‘rest’ he meant ‘sleep’, so Jesus put it plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad I was not there because now you will believe. But let us go to him.’ Then Thomas – known as the Twin – said to the other disciples, ‘Let us go too, and die with him.’

On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days already. Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘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.’ ‘Your brother’ said Jesus to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said:

‘I am the resurrection and the life.
If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live,
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?’

‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in a low voice, ‘The Master is here and wants to see you.’ Hearing this, Mary got up quickly and went to him. Jesus had not yet come into the village; he was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were in the house sympathising with Mary saw her get up so quickly and go out, they followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

Mary went to Jesus, and as soon as she saw him she threw herself at his feet, saying, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ At the sight of her tears, and those of the Jews who followed her, Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ They said, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept; and the Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But there were some who remarked, ‘He opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death?’ Still sighing, Jesus reached the tomb: it was a cave with a stone to close the opening. Jesus said, ‘Take the stone away.’ Martha said to him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day.’ Jesus replied, ‘Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus lifted up his eyes and said:

‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer.
I knew indeed that you always hear me,
but I speak for the sake of all these who stand round me,
so that they may believe it was you who sent me.’

When he had said this, he cried in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, let him go free.’

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what he did believed in him.

Gospel reading – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com

REFLECTION

“With God at our side”

by Fr Paddy Hennessy

Peace Prayer by St Francis de Sales

St Francis de Sales was the first of the great saints to emphasise how it is in the ordinariness of life that we find holiness. He understood that for most people the model of the monastery, of spending many hours in prayer and contemplation is not practical.

For most of us, priority is given to the responsibilities of family life, work duties, and learning to support each other when faced with the struggles of illness, loss, and of death itself.

In his Prayer for Peace, St Francis invites us to remember we are God’s very own, that the God who cares for us today is the same God who cares for us tomorrow and the day after that, even into eternity.

We can ask on what is such confidence based?…

For me, the gospel today is one reason to trust in God and his continuous care of us.

To fear dying and to fear death is natural.

As we live daily, we build us and form an identity for ourselves and it is natural to fear anything that challenges or risks us losing this

Yet in life we must learn to die…to die to certain parts of self, those that hold us back from building a relationship, from being a better parent, a better friend, a better work colleague, a better Christian.

Taking time to Reflect on Life and Death…

Is central to our Gospel today.

Jesus hesitates before he sets out on the journey towards the house of his friend Lazarus…we may wonder why…was it avoidance or was Jesus pausing to prepare himself and the disciples with him…

For Martha and Mary, their brother Lazarus is lost forever. Death has robbed them of a person that was very special to them. Their anger, grief and disappointment is natural, especially when Jesus arrives late.

However, Jesus transforms their life experience that day, and changes their perception of the relationship between God and death, between God and life, between God and us.

It is Jesus’s own faith in a God who is compassionate and loving, that allows him to ask for the stone at the entrance of the tomb to be rolled back. In so doing, he faces death and loss head on.

It is the gentle voice of a friend that invites Lazarus to find life again, not some bolt of lightning from the heavens.

With God at our side, we can be such a voice, such a friend to those struggling with life.

Life is truly where holiness is found. Jesus is our guide.

We may at times have to wait but God will always be in the waiting with us.

We may have to experience dying to self and our desires, however, we should know that Jesus will be at our side.

We will face loss and death.  However,  as the poet John Donne says… “Death, be not proud. God will not let death win”.


LECTIO DIVINA

by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB

Introduction to Lectio Divine

The resurrection of Lazarus is the last of the signs wrought by Jesus (2, 1-12; 4, 46-54; 5,1-9; 6,1-5.16-21; 9,1-7).  This is the longest account in the gospel, apart from the story of the Passion with which it is intimately linked. It explains in a masterly way, although in symbolic form, why he who would give life to others had to give his own life. Jesus dominates the entire episode – he is mentioned 22 times! Then there is the family of Bethany with whom he is bound by ties of close friendship (11, 3.5.11.35). Lazarus is a silent participant throughout. He does not speak before his death and he remains silent when he returns to life. This is the only time Jesus comes face to face with the death of someone he loves (11, 3), a death that does not leave him unmoved (11, 35-36).

Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

The account opens with a detailed description of the sickness of Jesus’ friend (11, 1-3) and closes with a command, which conquers death (11, 45-53). After a brief introduction (11, 1-6), the account is structured in the form of several dialogues (11, 7-16: Jesus and his disciples; 11, 17-27: Jesus and Martha; 11, 28-37: Jesus and Mary; 11, 38-44: Jesus and Martha), together with brief narrative passages and comments by the narrator (11, 2.5.13.18-19.30). We cannot separate the action from the words, but it is the words that reveal the sense of what is happening (11, 4.11.15.25.42.43). Here also, as in the case of the healing of the man born blind, Jesus justifies his action beforehand (11, 9-10; cf. 9, 4-5).

The episode begins with a presentation of the situation and the characters involved (11, 1-6). The sick man Lazarus lives in Bethany, a village near Jerusalem (11, 18). His sisters do not explicitly request a cure – they simply present the sick man as a friend of Jesus and they inform Jesus of his illness (11, 2, 3). Jesus reacts in an unexpected manner: despite his love for Lazarus (11, 5) he waits for two days before making any move (11, 6.22.33). He knows that the illness will not end in death. Its purpose is the glory of God and the glorification of the Son.

The dialogue between Jesus and his disciples (11, 7-17) is intended to clarify the ultimate significance of the sign. When he decides to return to Judea, his last journey, the disciples protest because the Jews want to put an end to him. Jesus encourages them. His actions are not based on emotion or fear. He is following a precise plan of God. The work entrusted to him by God is not yet finished, his mission is not complete. He must waken his friend from sleep, since it is not yet night (11, 11). The disciples do not understand (11, 13). They believe, with good reason, that if he is sleeping it is a sign he will get better. Jesus has to explain to them that Lazarus’s sleep is real death but not definitive (11, 14): he allowed his friend to die so that his disciples might believe. For Jesus, the faith of the disciples, obtained at such a price, is a cause for joy. This is why he delayed in coming to the help of his friend.

In John’s gospel, Thomas is always the spokesperson for the doubts of his companions (14, 5; 20, 16.24-29; 21, 2). On hearing the express intention of Jesus to go to Judea to give life to his dead friend (11, 15), Thomas encourages the group to go with Jesus and share his fate. It is the first time that any of the disciples has made such a proposal, but Thomas did so without understanding Jesus’ intention (11, 16). The incomprehension is obvious: Jesus is not now asking them to follow him to death, but to believe in him.

The dialogue with Martha (11, 18-27) reveals the final significance of the sign before the account of its fulfilment. The situation seems irreversible: Lazarus has been dead for four days (11, 17). There is no hope of recovery (11, 21.39). The dead man’s house is in mourning, and the people are saddened (11, 19). When Martha meets Jesus, she laments his absence. If he had come earlier, her brother would not have died. She then expresses her faith in the Master’s prayer (a frequent theme in John’s gospel: 14, 13; 15, 7.16; 16, 23.24.26), and she continues to look on Jesus as a miracle worker, a man of God. She knows that God will refuse him nothing (11, 22). This conviction of Martha is not yet authentic faith but it does indicate a profound appreciation: God is with the one who works signs and wonders.

Jesus replies with an ambivalent statement (11, 23: “your brother is dead but will rise again”), which indicates the reason for the recent death. Martha thinks, mistakenly, that he is referring to the final resurrection, which she hoped for as part of what God would do at the end of time (11, 24). Jesus, however, presents himself as the fulfilment of all hope: he is the resurrection and the life (11,25a). Belief in him means life today and always. Death is not the end for one who believes. Anyone who believes will live and will never die (11, 25b-26). There are two aspects to what Jesus says. Faith in him, gives life now and in the future. It delivers from two deaths – physical death and eternal death.

The account of the miracle (11, 38-44) is preceded by Jesus’ meeting with Mary (11, 28-32) and by his meeting with death (11, 33-37)Death, which Mary lamented (11.32), and Jesus wept over (11, 35), dominates the scene until it is defeated (11, 34).

Martha, who is now a believer, informs her sister quietly that the Master is there and is calling her (11, 28). Mary responds immediately. She hurries to meet Jesus (11, 29.31), while he was still on the way. In his presence, she repeats what Martha had said (11, 32.21). She threw herself on the ground before him. Overcome with grief, she has not yet come to believe. Jesus is moved by her sorrow and the death of her brother. He sighs deeply, in great distress (11, 33.38). He asks them where they have put him, and weeps in public when he sees his friend’s tomb (11, 34.35). His tears are proof of his love for the dead man (11,36: “See how much he loved him!”) and they provide a pretext for the veiled criticism of the bystanders, criticism which in fact is due to their failure to understand – he opened the eyes of the blind man, surely he could have healed this man who was dying (11,37).

The Jews continue to misunderstand the motive for Jesus’ grief and his reason for wanting to see Lazarus. Jesus had not come to heal the dying but to raise the dead. And he does so with authority (11, 39.43.44). He depends only on God (11, 41-42). Freedom from death is obtained only by faith (11, 40) and faith does not come as a result of seeing the closed tomb being opened (11, 39). Faith must precede the work of God. Faith is more than simple trust – it also demands obedience on the part of the believer. (11, 39.41).

When faced with death, Jesus prays. He does not ask for a miracle – he takes it for granted. He is not like some wonder-worker trying to snatch a sign from God. His prayer reveals his intimacy with the Father. His prayer of thanks is based on the certainty that he has been heard (11, 41).  And as part of his thanksgiving, he reveals the motive for the miracle. He performs it as one sent by God to bring the people to faith. The one who is praying is also the one who grants (11, 42). The sign that he gives is proof that he is the one who was sent.

The miracle is reported in very sober terms. Jesus shouts. The hour has come when even the dead will hear the voice of the Son. Lazarus is called by name (11, 43).  The resurrection is a personal call. The final command of Jesus is to set the dead man free from the shroud that kept him bound to death. At the same time, he makes it clear that this resurrection is only a symbol of the true resurrection in the future. The dead man comes out of the tomb, still bound by death, still under death’s power. It is the witnesses who will have to set him free from his bonds. There will be another resurrection, however, when there will be no need of a shroud, because the life regained will be forever (20, 4.6-9).

As usual, the people are divided about the sign. Many saw what happened and believed. Some others conspired against him and went to tell the Pharisees. Without faith in Jesus, their brother would not have risen, but even the raising of a dead man does not always lead to faith. This is still the Christian experience, even in our own day. Only those who believe in Jesus, the resurrection and the life, will overcome death, their own and that of their brothers.

Meditate: apply what the text says to life

Right from the beginning, the gospel story emphasises the friendship between Jesus and the family at Bethany. The man who dies is a friend of Jesus and his death saddens him. For this reason, and bearing in mind also the expectations of the sisters, the reaction of Jesus seems strange, even inconsiderate. Jesus seems not to care about the extreme need of his friends. For the narrator, this is an act of revelation more than a work of mercy. Jesus is not just coming to the help of a needy person – he is trying to bring people to faith in God whom he is revealing. Jesus did not come to do favours or work miracles for his friends but to reveal himself as life for all people. What do I seek when I come to Jesus – his love, a response to my needs, or his revelation and his will to save? What do I look for in God – myself or him alone?

In a sense, Jesus “allowed” his friend to die so that his disciples would come to believe. The faith of his disciples, obtained at such a high price, is, for Jesus, a motive for joy. This is why he delayed in coming to the help of his friend. Much as he loved Lazarus, he valued the faith of his disciples even more. If we are unwilling to accept disappointments in our friendship with Jesus, we will miss opportunities to become true believers in him. We owe Jesus respect and acceptance even when our expectations are not met and our requests go unanswered.

If the believer dies, he will live. Death is not the end for one who has faith in Jesus. For the believer, there is no such thing as death that is definitive. It is good to remember that the conversation between Jesus and Martha takes place in the presence of her dead brother whom she loved dearly. Martha believes the words of Jesus.  She believes in Jesus, not just as a wonder-worker, not just as someone who raises the dead, but as the resurrection and the life for those who believe in him. The believer knows that he, Jesus, declares that he is eternal life of those who believe. Life, life eternal, is given to those who believe in Jesus. If this is my faith, that Jesus is my life, then I will live forever.

As he heads towards the tomb of Lazarus, the place where death is victorious (11, 39), Jesus is affected, but not conquered, by death which he will overcome (11, 38). Jesus who raised Lazarus first drew near him, caused the tomb to be opened, and felt the smell of death, before revealing the glory of God. Only faith, the belief that conquers death, opens us to the vision of God. All who were present saw Lazarus emerge from the tomb. Only those who believed saw the glory of God. Faith is the power to break death, to open tombs, to see God where his absence is felt.

In the presence of death that conquers, Jesus prays. He does not ask for a miracle – he takes it for granted. His intimate union with the Father is nourished in prayer. He thanks the Father because he knows that his prayer has been heard (11, 41). In prayer also he reveals the motive for the miracle – it is as the one sent by God that he has restored Lazarus’s life. The one who prays is, at the same time, the one who grants (11, 42). He is able to give life to Lazarus because he will give his life for all. He raises the dead because he himself, when he dies, will rise. Giving one’s life for others is the way, open to all, to give life, as Jesus did.

Pray the text. Desire God’s will: What do I say to God?

I am comforted, Lord, by the fact that you enjoyed the friendship and love of a family. It means a lot to me! Knowing that you felt the need to be understood, befriended and accepted as you were, brings you closer to me. But, at the same time, it makes me nervous and a bit afraid. If that is how you treated your friend who needed you in his moment of supreme weakness, what misfortunes might await your friends?

You “used” Lazarus to reveal yourself as life for all, and not simply one who raises the dead to life. Grant that my life, and especially my death, may be occasions for you to reveal yourself as you are, beloved Son of God, his representative sent by him. May my life express my faith in you who are my life, and may my death reveal you as the resurrection for all people. May my extreme weakness reveal your saving power and lead others to believe in you, the resurrection and the life.

PRAYER

Lord our God, your Son so loved the world
that he gave himself up to death for our sake.
Strengthen us by your grace,
and give us a heart willing to live by that same love.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

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