March 25, 2012
Fifth Sunday of Lent
The readings proclaimed with the scrutinies on these last three Sundays are meant to prepare the elect to answer three questions:
• Could Jesus be the Messiah?
• Do you believe in the Son of Man?
• Do you believe this?
The things that might keep the elect from saying “yes” are the things that are scrutinized and exorcized in these rituals. It is important that the elect stand in the midst of the parish community. It is here that they announce that they hear and believe (Samaritan woman) see and believe (man born blind) and believe without proof (Martha and Lazarus).
The central figure in today’s Gospel story might at first seem to be Lazarus. This is a man whom Jesus loved and we want to know all about him. But John the Evangelist intended to tell us about Jesus, not Lazarus. John wants us to know why Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and why Jesus’ ministry led to his death. Two verses are particularly poignant: “This illness is…for the glory of God.” (11:5) and “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.” (11:15). Clearly, this miracle is about more than Lazarus.
The Gospel sets the scene for Jesus’ final going to Jerusalem to suffer and to die. The raising of Lazarus was yet another reason for his enemies to fear him. When we hear “See how he loved him” (11:36), we are reminded of how God the Father has so loved the world as to send his Son. The raising of Lazarus is dramatic proof of Jesus’ claim to continue the Father’s work of giving life. This final miracle of the Lord reminds us of the first miracle at Cana. “Master, the one you love is ill” is reminiscent of “They have no wine.” What sounds like a statement of fact is a request. In both instances, it seems as if the request is being denied. In both instances, Jesus goes beyond the expectation of the one asking for help.
The promise about which we read in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel is fulfilled in Jesus. As we move through this most sacred season, we remember the promises of Jesus. We recall the path he walked to fulfill those promises. Most of all, we look at the wider context—the whole story—and find our place in the Paschal Mystery. We move to the altar with the conviction that we too shall rise. The raising of Lazarus is only a reflection of the greater gift of renewed and unending life promised in the resurrection of Jesus. We looked for life eternal and we are given life renewed. But those who wept at the death of Lazarus did not know what God had in store from them. They knew only the pain of separation. In their own ways, each reached out to others. They looked to the community for faith.
As Christians we are called to show the depth of our hope by being with one another in good times and bad. When one individual proclaims "I believe" with difficulty, the "We believe" of the community becomes ever more significant.