Fifth Sunday of Lent - Scripture Soundings
First Reading: Ezekiel 37:12-14
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Second Reading: Romans 8:8-11
Gospel: John 11:1-45 [3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45]
Jesus, who has been set before us this Lent as the source of living water and light of the world, is today declared the resurrection and the life. The great signs narrated in John's Gospel lead up to this last great sign. There are other stories in other Gospels of people being raised from the sleep of death--the soldier's daughter, the widow's only son.
John does not offer us these miracle stories. He gives us the protracted story of the raising of Lazarus. We may be understandably intrigued by Lazarus, but John keeps our attention focused on Jesus.
The Resurrection suffuses the Gospel narratives. The Gospels are the work of believing communities of the Resurrection. Each Gospel was first proclaimed and passed on through the community's oral tradition. Only later were they written down. The Gospels contain numerous accounts of persons who came whole and alive in Jesus' presence.
In this narrative, Jesus declares himself the resurrection and the life. He makes himself abundantly clear. He says that those who believe in him will come to possess life, even though they will physically die. Physical death is not final.
The believer who possesses life in Christ lives with him now and will live with him forever. The person who is one with Christ in life will possess life through and beyond death. Then Jesus pointedly asks Martha, "Do you believe this?" Martha's response echoes that of the believing community at large. She speaks for us, confessing him as Lord, Messiah, and Son of God.
The other readings today provide the setting for this Gospel, which is surely the jewel in the crown of this Sunday's readings. The first reading from Ezekiel speaks of the resurrection of the body--the clothing of flesh on bone, the opening of graves. There is nothing God cannot or will not do for the exiled people languishing in Babylon.
The knowledge that they brought exile upon themselves is coupled with the humiliation of the exile itself. Over against the people's despair stands the action of God. When the people think it cannot get any worse than this, Ezekiel goes to great lengths to say what God will do. Ezekiel is the great prophet of hope for the exiled community.
The actions of Israel will be trumped by the saving action of God. "I have promised and I will do it," says the Lord. And this is how Israel in exile will know that God is the Lord. Throughout his book of prophecy, after each amazing act of God, Ezekiel adds the affirmation akin to this one, "You shall know that I am the Lord."
The new life so evident in the promise of Ezekiel and realized in Jesus is addressed by Paul. The "flesh" he identifies here refers to a life outside of Jesus' saving resurrection. Jews did not conceive of humans as divided between body and spirit. The division for Paul was between the unredeemed (flesh) and redeemed (spirit).
We are expected to live the new, redeemed life that is ours in baptism. More than the physical resuscitation of Lazarus, our new life is a transformation, an entirely new way of being. This is where Christ will lead us, if we let him. Then we can say with Martha, "Yes, Lord, I do believe."
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Updated: May 11, 2008