5TH SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR A 2020 (R. 1: Ezekiel 37: 12- 14; Psalm 130: 1- 8; R. 2: Romans 8: 8- 11; Gospel: John 11: 1- 45)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
LAZARUS, COME OUT!
I would like to begin by inviting you to join me in repeating the words of Jesus to Lazarus. We are going to do this while respecting the on-going need for physical distancing. We are going to do this in pairs. If you are in a place where you have one person physically with you, turn to that person, or if you are alone, think of someone dear to you and then shout at the top of your voice to that person, “Lazarus, come out!” We have done this because Jesus is in each one of us, and Lazarus is in each one of us. By our Baptism, we are reborn in Christ; and like Christ, we are priests, kings, and prophets. St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that those of us who belong to Christ have the Spirit of Christ in us. Also, like Lazarus, we are either dying or dead physically, spiritually, morally, emotionally, financially, etc. Around the world, many cities are on lockdown. And like Lazarus was locked up in the tomb, many of us are now locked up in our homes to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. In all of this, Jesus is saying, “Lazarus, come out!”
This call is not an invitation to disobey the law; I am not inviting you to physically come out of your homes and endanger your lives and those of others. Beyond being locked up physically, some of us are locked up in our fears, in our hopelessness, and Jesus is calling us out to trust in him who has the last word.
This Sunday gives the third and the last of the instructions from John’s Gospel to the Catechumens. Two Sundays ago, the instruction used the symbolism of water (John 4), last Sunday, it was light (John 9), and today it is life. Like last Sunday, I encourage you, after this Mass, to look at the readings of today to find out how many times the word “life” is mentioned. Every year, water, light, and life come together at the liturgy of Easter Vigil. On that night, we encounter the water of Baptism, we encounter Christ our Light in the Easter Light, and we meet the risen Christ who is our life.
The prophecy in the first reading finds literal fulfillment in the Gospel passage with the raising of Lazarus from the dead. One question that comes to mind from this passage is, “Why did Jesus wait for Lazarus to die before he intervened?” Jesus answers, “[it] is for the glory of God.” Remember, before this time, Jesus had raised two others from death, namely the daughter of Jairus, and the son of the widow of Nain. Jairus’ daughter had just died, while the son of the widow of Nain had just been placed in the coffin, but in the case of Lazarus, he was in the grave for four days. In the case of Lazarus, all hope seemed to be lost, but Jesus came to make it clear that with God, hope can never be lost even in the grave. St. Paul will later explain that the power of God is made manifest in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12: 9). God is at his best when we are at our worst; He is always up to something when we are up to nothing.
When Jesus told them to take away the stone, they thought he wanted to see the face of Lazarus for the last time, so they told him it was too late because it was already the fourth day. People believed, at that time and in that culture, that the spirit of the dead hovered round the body of the dead person for three days. But on the fourth day, the spirit finally leaves the body since the face would have decayed beyond recognition. That was the situation of Lazarus when Christ came before his tomb and called him back to life.
The miracle of the raising of Lazarus took place in Bethany. The name Lazarus means “God helps,” and the name Bethany means “house of affliction.” This story, therefore, is not just about that single man named Lazarus, but about how God comes to help all those who are afflicted. It is the story of how God comes to help us in all our afflictions. We experience afflictions in various ways. Our families may be lifeless because Dad and Mom now ignore each other; the youth in the family is now addicted to drugs; we continue to confess the same sin without really making any progress. Maybe the doctor has given you the date of your death because there is no cure for the disease you are battling. Perhaps you have lost your job; maybe you are not doing well in school. Now, your name is Lazarus, just give Jesus an invitation into your house of affliction.
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” That sounds like an expression of disappointment and anger. But she made a profession of faith after that by saying, “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Many of us share her sentiments as we continue to battle with the current pandemic. Some of us are angry and wondering whether Jesus was on vacation when the coronavirus found its way into our world. Some are even suggesting that God sent the virus into the world as punishment for our sins. Like Martha, let us make our profession of faith that we know that even now, whatever Jesus asks from God for us will be granted.
Regarding Lazarus, Jesus said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God.” Contrary to what he said, Lazarus died. But after four days, Jesus called Lazarus back to life. That is where the glory of God comes in. God is unstoppable; nothing, not even death, is a barrier to God’s plan. When we think of the number of those infected by the coronavirus, the number of those who have died, the number of medical personnel and facilities that have been overwhelmed by this pandemic, we may be tempted to feel like it is too late and that all hope is lost. But remember, “Even when Jesus is four days late, he is still on time.”
Jesus called Lazarus back to life, but Lazarus did not live forever on earth, after some time, he had to die again. The raising of Lazarus is a pointer to the ultimate gift that Jesus has come to give to us, that is, eternal life in the world to come. Even if Jesus decides to cleanse the world of all diseases today, we will still die one day.
My Dearly Beloved in Christ, in our various Bethanys or houses of affliction, Jesus is calling out to us, “Lazarus, Come out!” Remember what Norman Cousins said: “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”