2 April 2017: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Ez 37:12-14 Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 Rom 8:8-11 Jn 11:1-45

A matter of death and life

Purple_banner_sm This week, John’s gospel reading invites the believing community to think about physical death and eternal life, and asks those preparing for Easter initiation to meditate on baptism’s death-to-life transformation.

John’s gospel tells of Jesus raising his friend, Lazarus, from death. This story is rich with meanings, but this reflection focuses on the story’s contrasts of physical death and eternal life, and on its baptismal imagery.

  • Physical death vs eternal life. Through words and a sign (John’s name for a miracle), Jesus leads Martha to deeper faith. Like many first-century Jews, Martha already believes that God will raise up her brother on the last day. She also believes that Jesus is the messiah and the Son of God. In his dialogue with Martha, Jesus teaches that he is the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in him will never die. He gives believers an eternal life that is impervious to physical death. Those who believe Jesus is messiah and Son of God will experience a new,resurrected, transformed, eternal life, that Jesus’ own resurrection promises and demonstrates. As a sign to Martha, Jesus returns Lazarus to life..Jesus calls us “to turn away from sin and believe in the good news.” In today’s story Jesus faces the full impact of sin and its human consequences. As he stands before his friend’s tomb, we read that “Jesus wept.” The Greek text is better translated as “Jesus broke into tears.” Jesus experiences the human cost of Adam’s sin: physical death. A few lines later we hear Jesus is “deeply moved”–which is better rendered as “strongly insistent” or “strongly convinced and focused.” That is, Jesus resolves to change sin’s outcome and restore Lazarus to life. We should find consolation in Jesus’ determination and action: he strongly desires to give life to each of us.
  • The catechumen’s baptismal death-into-life transformation. Jesus reformulates the Jewish idea of future resurrection into something new: “I AM theresurrection and the life.Resurrection means the eternal life that Jesus gives to the one believing in him, even if that one physically dies. Life means the new spiritual life Jesus gives through baptism to the one believing in him. Being submerged in baptism’s living water is a sign of death: the one being baptized dies to a former life and is reborn to a new, eternal life in Christ. Jesus himself will raise all believers on the last day; but the life Jesus gives is a present reality as well as a future promise. Eternal life is a current and ongoing participation in Jesus’ own life, in sacramental encounters and in the believing community.

The sign of Lazarus is a challenge to our faith. Martha stands for believers who ask: If Jesus gives eternal life, why do my family and friends die? Martha represents believers whose faith is real but inadequate–“if only Jesus hadn’t left us after his resurrection, the ones who believe in him wouldn’t die.” Here is the paradox for the believing community: eternal life doesn’t abolish physical death, but transcends it. Eternal life is not only a pledge of resurrection on the last day, but an ongoing participation in the ever-living Jesus’ life now, moment-to-moment. Those who believe this never die, even though they face physical death. The same living Jesus present with us now in our physical existence continues to be with us for eternity. In him we remain alive forever.

—Terence Sherlock


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