5th Sunday of Lent. Readings and Commentary.
Old Testament Reading
The Valley of Dry Bones
37 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
A song of ascents.
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; 2 Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6 I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. 8 He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life[d] because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
The Death of Lazarus
11 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
The Plot to Kill Jesus
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
In today’s Gospel reading we find Jesus beyond the Jordan. He has to go there because staying in Jordan he risks to be captured, but the time for the Son of Man to be “handed over to be crucified” has not yet come.
Something happens, an event. News of that event reach Jesus. A news that any of us can get any day. A friend, Lazarus, is sick. Very sick. Marta and Maria are desperate, they send a word to Jesus to tell him the distressing news.
“The one you love is sick”. Very simple, isn’t it? However, in this clear statement something more is hidden. Why is there need to remind Jesus that Lazarus is someone whom He loves? It is possible to read some doubt in the souls of the sisters. They are not sure whether the Lord continues to love Lazarus in his sickness.
Often, when the infirmity comes to us, we are demanding a proof of His love. What is really implied here is: if you love him, you have to cure him. This is, of course, the hope of the Lazarus’ family.
It might seem that their hopes are ruined. In fact, Jesus’ intentionally delays his coming for two days, letting the situation to worsen. The more surprising seems the amazing faith shown by Martha. She runs to meet Christ almost with a reproach: “if you had come earlier, my brother would have been alive!” and yet it doesn’t change her belief that He is the God’s anointed one. Or, as the blind man from last week’s reading said: The Holy One of God.
Jesus responds that Lazarus will live, but His goal is not to reassure the sisters by giving the family a temporary consolation. Yes, Lazarus will be raised, but he we understand that eventually he will have to die anyway. Jesus is saying something deeper. He surpasses the expectations. He proclaims not a temporal relief, but eternal life. “I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe!” In what? That death cannot and will not separate Lazarus from Him. His gives a new perspective on death. Death is not the limit. It loses its grasp. It is not an even that cuts us off from the living (until perhaps some remote resurrection comes at the end of times, as the prophecy of Ezekiel could have been interpreted), because to be alive, to be truly alive – is to live in Christ.
As they approach the tomb, Martha starts to doubt. After all, it’s hard to deny the evident. Her brother has been dead for four days and the consequences on the body are well known.
In the biblical language “the glory of God” means that man will find God exactly in the place where he feels abandoned and without hope. This is what Jesus is telling to Martha: “if you believe, you will see the glory of God”.
No man or woman is abounded in his/her weakness. Christ has perfect knowledge of our vulnerability. In the early centuries Christians have summarized it in this saying: “What is not assumed is not saved”. Everything that Christ assumed of the human nature is taken up to God. If there had been be anything that He left out, the act of redemption would not have been perfect, complete. But He assumes everything, including death and fragility. No one suffers or dies alone.
Holy Sonnets: Death, be not proud
by John Donne
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.