Sunday, April 2, 2017

5th Sunday of Lent: Open Your Grave & Rise!

Today’s readings deal with Faith and the Resurrection.

The first reading is from the prophet Ezekiel and tells us of how God brings life to those in the grave. God says that He will raise the dead of Israel and bring them back to their land. Because of this, they will know that He is God. He then promises that He will put His spirit in them. This is an allusion to the resurrection of Christ. As we know, Jesus was crucified, died and was buried (1 Thessalonians 4:14). However, He rose from the dead. We read in Matthew 27:50-54 how the dead walked out of their graves and entered Jerusalem. This event must have been frightening for those who witnessed it.  However, it was not a scary scene like in “The Walking Dead” series. This event was foreshadowed in the first reading where God says that He will raise the dead of Israel and because of this the people will know that He is God. Ironically, in Matthew 27:54, the centurion and those with him said, “Truly this man was God’s son.” God is the one who restores life to us both spiritually and physically.

This brings us to the responsorial psalm which begins with a cry out of the depths to God. It is a prayer asking God for mercy, redemption and renewal. When we sin, our spiritual lives slowly die. There is nothing worse than a spiritual death. The human being becomes immoral, not knowing right from wrong.  He or she is lost in darkness and because of this, begins to fall not knowing where he or she is going. The Psalm reminds us that God is the one who saves us. He is the one who brings us out of the depths of the spiritual grave. We must trust in Him.

The second reading from Romans tells us that we cannot truly please God if we are in the flesh, or in sin. It is only in living in the Spirit that we truly please God because we are restored with God’s grace. St. Paul makes it clear that if we do not have the Spirit of Christ, then we do not belong to Him. When we sin, we die spiritually and physically. This is why St. Paul tells us that the “body is dead because of sin.” Because of sin, we are open to all kinds of ailments and diseases. Original sin damaged creation and all things exist without the perfection it had prior to the fall of Adam and Eve. Christ will restore our lives to what they were supposed to be. He rose from the dead and will give life to our bodies and entire existence as well.

Finally, the Gospel tells us about Lazarus who is the brother of Mary who anointed Jesus with perfumed oil as well as Martha. Lazarus is extremely ill; basically at the point of death. Jesus is told of the illness and replies that the illness Lazarus is going through is not to end in death but will serve as an example of the glory of God. In other words, Christ was telling them that He will be using this opportunity to show God’s glory via a miracle.  Jesus then plans to go back to Judea where He had some problems with the people. The disciples advise Jesus not to go because the people will stone Him. Jesus then reminds them that those who walk in light do not stumble basically reminding them that He will be safe. Then He tells them that Lazarus is “asleep” and He will awaken Him. They thought He was referring to sleep, but Christ was referring to the fact that Lazarus had passed away. Jesus knew this despite not being at Lazarus’ home. When Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had already been buried for four days. Martha and Mary met with Jesus and Martha voiced her frustration to Him telling Him that if He had been there that Lazarus would still be alive.

Nevertheless, she still has faith that whatever Christ asks of God will be granted. Martha believes in the final resurrection on the last day and Jesus replies saying that He is the resurrection and the life and that those who believe in Him even if they die will live. Christ then asks Martha if she believes Him and she replies, “Yes, Lord” showing her deep faith. Martha then calls Mary to tell her that Jesus is there and is asking for her.  Mary approaches Christ and falls to His feet voicing her frustrations as well just like Martha did. Next we see Jesus showing His human side. Despite being the Son of God and the second person of the Blessed Trinity, He becomes “perturbed and deeply troubled” when He sees Mary crying and the Jews who were there crying as well. He then asks to be taken to where they had laid the remains of Lazarus and they take Him.  Once again we see Jesus shows His humanity. He begins to cry as well. Here we have God crying. The Jews present ask Jesus “could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died? The people are complaining as well just like Mary and Martha did. Jesus is perturbed again we read, but goes to the tomb to see Lazarus’ body. Martha tries to stop Jesus saying that there will be a stench because the body has been there for four days. Jesus reminds her that God will show His glory via the death of Lazarus and calls out “Lazarus, come out!” The dead corpse once lying in state comes to life and walks out. Imagine the scene for a moment. A man is dead for four days and all of a sudden walks out still wrapped in bands like a mummy of sorts. Had it been me witnessing this, I probably would have run faster than the cartoon character “Road Runner” and would have been screaming like Mariah Carey!

However, the scene should not bring fright. It was not a scene of a zombie movie or “The Walking Dead” series (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). Lazarus woke from his sleep as Christ said he would. This Gospel shows not only that Christ is God and that God has power over life and death, but also shows Christ’s humanity and genuine love. We also see how the people get frustrated that Jesus did not act quickly in either preventing Lazarus from dying or raising him from the dead.  How many times do we get frustrated when we pray for something and God does not grant it right away or perhaps not in the way we wanted? This is a natural reaction because we still do not see the full picture. We are like little impatient kids who feel that waiting just one minute is like a lifetime, so we get frustrated. Our doubts grow just like atheists who see children suffering in the world and quickly declare God as non-existent or uncaring. Those who let this impatience get the best of them eventually doubt and fall into atheism believing God to not exist.  Yesterday was "Aprils' fools day" and the atheist's holiday (Psalm 14:1). We must not be like this.

Like Martha and Mary we must have faith. Christ understand us. He shares our joys and pains as we read in the Gospel how He wept despite being God who can do anything (Isaiah 53:4). God does care. He understands what we go through everyday. This is what is unique about the “God of Christianity” as atheists and academics describe Him. The “God of Christianity” IS GOD. He is not a distant deity who demands sacrifices and does not interact with the people. Christ is with each of us and shares with us our joys and our pains. The Gospel today is preparing us for Easter Sunday where Christ Himself rises from the dead. Death is something we all suffer. It is hard to get over the death of anyone, family or friend. However, it is our faith in Christ who is the resurrection and life that keeps us focused and of sound mind. We cry and are sad yes, this is a normal human response that even Jesus went through (John 11:35). However, we relax and know that death is not the end. Jesus is the resurrection and the life and will bring back to life those who believed in Him as St. Paul tells us in the second reading.  We must open up the graves that are our lives without God.  Without God, we are like a rock that is inert, dead and lifeless.  God gives us life.  We must seek Jesus in order to obtain life for Christ is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6)!  May Jesus Christ be praised!


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Here are reflections from holy writers:

But what was the message sent by his sisters? "Master, the one you love is ill." They did not say, "Come," for the intimation was all that was needed for one who loved. They did not venture to say, "Come and heal him," nor did they venture to say, "Command there, and it shall be done here."
And why would it be any different with them if, on these very grounds, the centurion's faith was commended? For he said, "I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. But only say the word, and my servant shall be healed." These women said nothing like this, but only, "Master, the one you love is ill"—as if to say: It is enough that you know. For you are not one that loves and then abandons.

— St. Augustine
(354 - 430)

Source: "Tractates on the Gospel of John, 49.5," quoted in Joel C. Elowsky, ed., John 11–21, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 3.

Do you see her faith? Do you see her undoubting mind? She affirmed in two ways that he was God and the Giver of life, even though she was led astray on account of her simple nature: "If you had been here," she said. What are you saying, Martha? Your reasoning is false. For he was there and he has been and still is present everywhere.… "If you had been here, my brother would not have died." Do you see how she believed him to be God and able with his power to restrain death and to raise the dead? For she was saying, I know that if you had been here, death would not have prevailed.

— St. Andrew of Crete
(660 - 740)

Source: "Homily 8 on Lazarus," quoted in Joel C. Elowsky, ed., John 11–21, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 12.

When Martha professed her faith in Christ and wiped out by her reverent confession whatever blame there was in womanhood, a message is sent to Mary, because without Mary death could not be banished or life be restored. Let Mary come; let the one who bears the name of his mother come so that humanity might see that as Christ dwelt enclosed in the Virgin's womb, so too to that extent the dead will come forth from the underworld, the dead will come forth from the tombs.
— St. Peter Chrysologus
(380 - 450)

Source: "Sermon 64.2," quoted in Joel C. Elowsky, ed., John 11–21, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 18.

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