Sunday Reflection, Fifth Sunday of Lent (April 6, 2014): Transformation Through A God Who Shares Our Suffering


“Jesus wept.” — John 11:35
“God has entered so thoroughly into our pain, into our loss, into our fear, that he weeps for us. We don’t have a God that stands aloof from the human condition.” — Fr. Robert Barron

This weekend is the Fifth Sunday of Lent. The readings can be found here. We read about the famous story of Jesus physical resuscitation of Lazarus from the dead. This event occurred shortly before His final entry into Jerusalem and His death and, as Pope Benedict XVI said, evolutionary resurrection into a higher dimension of existence (citing Teilhard de Chardin).  The Gospel also witnesses the very human side of Jesus. When He saw the pain and suffering of Lazarus’ family and friends, Jesus shared that pain.

This week’s reflection comes from Living Space, run by the Irish Jesuits.  You can find the full reflection here, but set forth below is an extended excerpt:

AS WE APPROACH HOLY WEEK, we see Jesus come closer to the climax of his life and mission.  As he comes near to Jerusalem, the setting for the final drama of his life, the threats of his enemies increase by the day.  They are rallying their forces to get rid of him once for all.

* * *

But Jesus goes on: “I AM the resurrection.  If anyone believes in me, even though he dies, he will live and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”  To which Martha replies magnificently, recognizing in Jesus the Messiah: “Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.”  The profession of faith reserved in the Synoptic gospels for Peter are here heard on the lips of a woman.  (We remember, too, that it was a woman, the Samaritan woman at the well, to whom Jesus first revealed his identity as the Christ.)

The words of Jesus say two things:

a. While physical death is the experience of all, Christians included, faith in Jesus brings promise of a life that never ends;

b. One who is totally united with Christ begins to enjoy right now true and never-ending life.  It is not just something for the future.

The Master calls

Jesus is still outside the village as Martha goes to call her sister.  “The Master is here and is calling you.”  The Greek word for ‘is here’ is parestin, which corresponds to the noun parousia , the definitive appearance of Jesus in our lives.  When Jesus comes – and he comes every day – he calls us and expects us to respond to his presence with the same eagerness that Mary did.

Grief at a friend’s death

In spite of the deeply symbolical and spiritual language that this passage contains, we come to the very human experience of people faced with death.  Jesus himself is overcome with grief at the death of a close friend.  The words indicate the intensity of his feelings: “in great distress”; “a sigh that came straight from the heart”; “Jesus wept”; and “still sighing”.

Just before giving life back to Lazarus, Jesus prays to his Father.  Jesus is no mere wonder-worker.  He is simply doing the work of God his Father, the Creator, Source and Giver of all life.

The “sign” about to take place is to lead people through Jesus to the Father who sent him. Union with our God is the one and only meaning of our living.

Many questions

The actual raising of Lazarus seems almost an anti-climax.  It is expressed in the briefest language and there are many questions we might have (e.g. what did he look like? how did he walk?  what did he say?…) which are simply not answered.  The story wants to focus on the central ‘sign’ which only confirms what Jesus had said of himself: “I AM the resurrection and the life”.

It is the fulfillment of the prophecy from Ezekiel in the First Reading.  This reading is part of the famous parable of the valley full of dead bones which are brought to life, a parable about Israel, dead in sin and idolatry, being brought back to life in God.  In today’s gospel, Lazarus represents all those who are being brought back to life, life in God.  He represents especially all those who are brought into new life by baptism, sharing the very life of God.

Like the gospels of the last two Sundays (the Samaritan Woman and the Man Born Blind), this reading is directed at those preparing for Baptism at Easter.  Baptism, as Paul tells us, is both a dying to one’s past and an entry into new life.  The newly baptised person is “a new person” with a new life.

For us already baptized, we can do well to reflect on how much we have continued to see that life growing in us.  That is the theme of Paul in the Second Reading.  Those whose lives are embedded in the “flesh”, that is, those whose lives are given over to their instincts of greed and self-indulgence, can never be close to God.

Those who are in the Spirit will want to give their whole selves to the higher instincts of truth, love, compassion, sharing and justice.  When we are full of that Spirit then we have truly risen with Christ for his life is truly active in us.  We are both alive and life-giving.  “I live, no, it is not I, but Christ who lives in me.”

Additional Resources:

Living Space
Creighton Online Ministries
Fr. Robert Barron Homily

About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog ( explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
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