"I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me, though he die, yet will he live. Whoever lives and believes in Me will never die." (John 11: 25-26)
Fifth Sunday of Lent
(John 11: 1-45)
On the Fifth Sunday of Lent, our reflections on the Liturgy focuses on life and death. The readings are a marvelous movement from Ezekiel to Paul, to John - from Jerusalem to our world to the next, from the past to the present into the future. The movement opens with the prophet Ezekiel. The context is exile.
In 597 B.C. Ezekiel prophesied Jerusalem will be destroyed, and its destruction will be God's judgment on a people that has played the harlot of infidelity to its God. In 586 B.C. the city and its temple were destroyed.
Once the exiles repented of their infidelities, God gave them a new Spirit, His own Spirit, gives them new life, life in a Jerusalem restored, in a temple rebuilt. From death comes life. They experience once again God's presence among His people in their own dear land.
From Ezekiel the readings move to Paul, Again we hear of death and life, of dying and rising.
The dead are "those who are in the flesh, who live according to the flesh, who set their minds on the things of the flesh." (Rom. 8:5)
For Paul "flesh" has a special meaning. It denotes man and woman in their natural, physical, and visible existence, weak and earthbound; it connotes the natural human creature left to its native self.
Paul spells it out for the Christians in Galatia [and us], "Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, rivalries, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like." (Gal.5:19-21)
These are what separate us from God, weaken the life of God in us, darken the image of Christ in us. In Paul, alive are those who are "in the Spirit," in whom "the Spirit of God really dwell".
Paul spells it out for us: You are alive if your life is shaped of love: if your life is centered not on yourself, but on a whole little world around you. You are alive if joy suffuses your whole self - a joy that lends joy to all you touch.
You are alive if you are at peace - at peace with yourself, at peace with your sisters and brothers. You are alive if you are patient: if you can take the slings and arrows of each day with a measure of calm, with a minimum of complaint.
You are alive if you are kind, not only to your own kind, but to such as bore you to tears.
You are alive if you are generous - not only liberal in giving, a free spender and not a free-loader, but free from meanness of mind, from smallness of spirit.
You are alive if you are faithful: if you are full of faith in God and your fellows, if you inspire faith and trust in others. You are alive if you are gentle: if you are caring, courteous, and considerate.
You are alive if you are in control - not of others but yourself, master of whatever passions make you less human, less a mirror of the Christ in whose image you were molded.
From Paul the readings move majestically to John, from our world to the next, from the present to the future. The good news is that we are destined to be alive forever.
The Gospel of Lazarus tells us in story what Paul proclaimed to the Christians of Corinth: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.”
The story of salvation makes sense only if we take literally the verse in St. John's Gospel: "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
The promise courses through our very veins at this very moment, the pledge of days without end: "If [you] love me, my Father will love [you], and we will come to [you] and make our home with [you]."
Today's grace is our pledge of tomorrow's glory. Ezekiel, Paul and John guaranteed us in different ways that God can make dry bones spring up to life.
But, like Lent itself, they remind us that rising involves dying. Dying begins when living begins; we share Jesus' dying by sharing the cross through the whole of our lives. It was not by refusing the cross that Jesus triumphed over death; it was in His very dying that He gave us new life - now and forever.
FR. BEN SIM, SJ
SACRED HEART PARISH CHURCH
Cebu City, Philippines