10 April 2011 The 5th Sunday of Lent
Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130; Rom 8:8-11; John 11:1-45
Note: This is a scheduled post. Every article published in this blog has been written long before the 11th of March 2011, the beginning of my 30-day retreat. The rest will come out at the date and time I have programmed it in blogger. A big favor to ask: please pray for Fr. John Murphy SJ, who gives the retreat and 8 Jesuits, including myself, doing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. My prayers also for all of you who have sustained me and encouraged me to blog since 2005.
The ads tell it all: you have to believe in this product because the endorser testifies that indeed it is effective. Then you will see a correlation between the product and the endorser. Baby’s milk by a celebrity mom; medicine by a certified medical practitioner; facial soap by a supermodel. To believe in a new product, we rely on other people’s experiences.
Analogously, this is like the raising of Lazarus: the resurrection is true because Martha, Mary, the disciples and many others have seen it happen and believed (John 11:45). Six days before the Passover, Lazarus will sit at table with Him (John 12:1-2) while a great crowd will gather not just to see Jesus, but to see Lazarus (John 12:9).
In the Season of Lent, the Church gives us a guarantee of Easter; that Lent prepares us to the truth of the Resurrection. The last weeks of Lent is characterized by an impending sense of darkness and inevitability. There is no way for Jesus to save us, than the way of the cross. There is no way for us to experience the rise of new life, than the way of passion and suffering. Like an expectant mother: the way to behold her child is through labor. The guarantee is the Gospel story we heard today.
And therefore what is the importance of having a preview of the resurrection? It is for us: we need a witness or better, many witnesses who can testify that it is true. It is a consolation for Martha and Mary, that their belief in the resurrection is not an empty promise. That is why, aside from Peter in Matthew 16:16 and Andrew to Peter in John 1:41, there is no comparable statement that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God except from the mouth of Martha. To many in the early community of Christians, this confession was the mark of a true disciple.
Personally, the Raising of Lazarus is a story of great consolation. We hear this Gospel especially in funerals, and the context is correct. The story tells us about the close friendship of Jesus and the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. It tells us that this intimacy naturally compels Martha to send word to Jesus that His friend (their brother) is seriously ill. Jesus’ coming is delayed and Lazarus dies. Mary approaches Jesus distraught and weeping, and some sharp words, “If you have been here, he would not have died.” And Jesus’ response is that of tears and weeping.
Isn’t the dynamic of sorrow like the story? Those who genuinely weep are those who are in the community of love. And those that are within it share the experience of loss and tragedy. And most of all, those who can empathize are those whose hearts are also in pain with them, as the circle of Martha, Mary, the disciples and Jesus.
And what consolation to know that those who have died, did not vanish into thin air and became nothing as many Existentialists purports. How good it is to know that our deceased have actually passed on to a better life where we too will inevitably go – we will all die someday – but we will soon be with each other again!
But of course, we cannot preach this way to those in the midst of sorrow! In an occasion of great pain, the best response (and sensitively) is not to give a lecture on death and the resurrection. So, please do not attempt to quote all books that I have to be happy when at a family or a friend’s wake. I KNOW but I don’t need it at this time! And personally, don’t give the “everything happens for a reason” because a road accident out of reckless driving is unreasonable! Sometimes these empty platitudes reveal our wanting to say something when there’s no need. Enough said.
The best thing to do is what Jesus did: be with and share the sorrow with touch. See how He heals scores of broken people: the blind man (Mark 8:22-26), Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15), the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:21-43), the woman with an hemorrhage who just touched His cloak (Mark 5:25-34) and many others!
Hold people’s hands. Embrace them with great warmth and sincerity. Put your arms on the shoulder of the sorrowful. Weep with them as Jesus – though avoid the hysterical weeping! You know what I mean.
Our personal deaths or dryness, our private pains and wounds, are made whole again as we tenderly touch and are touched by one another. The Gospel about the raising of Lazarus proclaims the renewal that is discovered when we share our sufferings with one another. Healing, forgiveness, well-being are experiences of ‘little easters’ and they are all made possible in our interconnectedness! It goes without saying, aside from the miracle is for God’s glory (John 11:4), that Jesus raised him (and not the many others who died) because of friendship, compassion and love.
As we enter into the heart of the Season of Lent in the celebration of the Holy Week, let us share each other’s sorrows especially the regret for our sins because, the Lord, in His great love for us, takes on our sins and our sufferings and changes them to salvation and joy! Let us not forget to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who suffered for us! He is the resurrection, the God who gives life.