Scripture Commentary for 5th Sunday of Lent, cycle A

1st Reading – Ezekiel 37: 12-14

Ezekiel prophesized just before and during the Babylonian Exile. Both Jewish kingdoms had been devastated and many Jews had been taken to Babylon as slaves. It seemed to them that they were ‘dead’ as a people and as a country. Ezekiel speaks this message to encourage them in the midst of such desperation to still hope in a God who can bring life out of destruction and death. This reading comes from a longer section of Ezekiel called a “Vision of the Dry Bones.

Many of us can use this reading to be encouraged during difficult times. It can provide potent images for the times when our hearts begin to feel like a mausoleum stacked with failures, broken dreams, and friends we can only think of in the past tense. Besides his words, it is also impressive to consider the behavior of the prophet himself. To be able to say, “You alone are the Lord,” while standing in a field of death, is a marvelous testimony of faith. May we take his words to heart and trust that no matter how much darkness is around us – no matter how many dreams or loved ones have died – that our life and hope are in the God who can bring forth life always. (Today’s Parish, Lent 1996, p.23)

2nd Reading – Romans 8: 8-11

This reading has its problems because of the translation of sarx as flesh and pneuma as spirit.  Think of flesh instead as ‘our sinful nature’ that which leads to death.  Flesh is our ‘small, insecure self’ that does not trust in the goodness and love of God. Spirit is better understood as ‘our life-giving, God-empowered nature’ that leads to full life. This fits better in what Paul is trying to say.

Biblical hope is not a belief in the intrinsic immortality of the human person, as though some part of us, such as the soul or spirit, is in and by itself immortal. The whole person – body, spirit, soul – is subject to decay and death. But the Good News is this: Christ has broken this subjection. He has burst the bonds of decay and death by his resurrection. The crucified/risen Lord is with us to assure us that God’s love – not our own helpless selves – is more powerful than death. God’s love offers us a transformation that can go through death to an eternal life. When we live by and with this indwelling Spirit, we begin to taste in the here and now the beginning of a new life. It will be full and complete when we have passed through death into the marvelous presence of our loving God. The Spirit that we are talking about is the Spirit of Christ.     (R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

The Gospel — John 11: 1-45

This is a long ‘short  story,’ allegory, with layers of meaning about how Jesus has the fullness of God’s power to bring life from all that brings death. It is told here to prepare us for Jesus’ death and resurrection – to prepare us to celebrate Easter with new understanding. It is told only in John’s Gospel. Where do you see yourself in the story?

Martha and Mary are the voices of all faith-filled people who have suffered loss:  “Where were you? If You had only been here . . .”  Lazarus– “the one whom Jesus loved” is a paradigm of every believer. Just as Jesus calls to Lazarus to “Come out!” so, too, he calls to each of us to come out from whatever entombs us and allow ourselves to be ‘untied’ by his grace and live to ‘go free’.

The disciples are the ones who pretend to be brave and wise, but are often clueless. Jesus cries and is perturbed, also. Why?  No easy answer.

If Jesus reveals to us the invisible God, what does Jesus show us here about God?

What do you think of Thomas’ statement: “Let us go to die with him.” (verse 16)

It is in John 20: 24-29 we also see Thomas after the Resurrection.

From that story he gets the name, doubting Thomas.

From Exploring the Sunday Readings, March 2002:

John 11: 1-45 – “This illness is not to end in death . . .”

Jesus said the illness would not end in death, but it did.  Lazarus died.  And so have our friends and loved ones over the years, some of them great believers in the promises of Jesus.  We’ve all known people who’ve prayed and prayed that the cancer would go away, or the doctors would find a cure for their condition in time.  Sometimes it doesn’t, or they don’t.  And it hurts terribly, for the ones who have to let go of the life they know, the ones who have to say goodbye too soon.

Lazarus dies, and his family grieves.  Even Jesus weeps at the loss.  But then, Lazarus is called out of death to life!  And now we hear what Jesus really said: not that Lazarus wouldn’t die, but that death would not be the end of him.

Death wins the battle, but love wins the war.  So we believe.  So we profess.

Jesus is “the Resurrection and the Life” – but this resurrection is not about restoration of a corpse but rather a transformation of life. This eternal life does not abolish death but transcends it.  Our faith in Jesus is not fully developed until we can face physical death with a firm confidence that the present eternal life that we live with hope is not simply a pledge of resurrection on the last day but is rather a present and continuing participation in the life of the ever-living Jesus now, at this moment. Those who believe in Jesus never truly die. That is our hope, and our faith. (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

What can we do as Christians?

Pray for the dead, both those ‘still living’ and those who ‘passed on.’ Recall that they are part of the communion of saints, present always in the assembly of the faithful. Give comfort to those who struggle with illness and disability. Live with hope.

There are more mysteries in this story…why did Jesus wait to go back to Judea?  Why did Mary sit at home at first?  What is it about Lazarus that Jesus chose him to raise?  Spend some time imagining with these thoughts.

Human suffering is a mystery we must live with and in – it is a part of everyone’s life eventually. As we head toward Holy Week, it is important to think about how as Christians we view this. What does the cross of Christ tells us about suffering?  The cross does not really tell us the why of suffering, but it offers us instead the where of God’s sharing in it.  When we suffer, God is in the midst of our suffering. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is also Christ on the cross, God-who-suffers-with-us. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are our guarantee that when we reach the limits of our mortality in failure, loss, and pain, we find ourselves on the surprising road to resurrection.    (Today’s Parish, Lent 1996, p.22)

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