Sunday, April 2, 2017

Raising of Lazarus

                                    5th Sunday of Lent

Tintoretto: Raising of Lazarus
Scuola di S. Rocco, Venice*

Today’s first reading is from the book of the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel is an unusual prophet because his words are spoken in a land far away from Jerusalem or Judea. He along with the remains of the Jewish nation had been taken captive and enslaved after their homeland had been conquered and destroyed by foreigners. In a way Ezekiel and his fellow captives were the lucky ones since many of their people had died in the invasion.

Today’s reading is part of one of the most famous passages in the Hebrew Scriptures. The prophet has a vision of a vast, dry, desert valley filled with bones. Suddenly at the word of the Lord the bones arise and are covered with flesh, and the Spirit of the Lord breathes life into them. Scholars tell us that Ezekiel is speaking of a future time when his people as a nation will rise and return to their homeland. The Lord says, “I will put my spirit in you that you may live.’

Is it any wonder that the Church uses this prophecy to introduce today’s gospel account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead? The gospel of St. John is filled with signs. Last week we saw that our Lord gave sight to the beggar, blind from birth, to indicate that He was the Light of the world. We saw how as a result of this great miracle, the leaders of the people began to plot against Jesus. He was forced to leave Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, when Jesus hears that his dear friend, Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, is ill, He decides to return to Judea. On the way He realizes that Lazarus has died, but resolves to perform the greatest of His signs.

He said this, and then told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.”

As they say, the rest of the story is history. Not only did Jesus come to bring ‘light’ to the world, the raising of Lazarus was a sign that He came to bring ‘life’ to the world.

I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

He went to the tomb and cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” St. John tells us that after this incredible sign many came to believe but when Jesus gave new life to Lazarus, he sealed His own death warrant. He came to give life but now those who cannot believe plot to kill Him. Next week on Palm Sunday we will hear the story of His Passion and Death.

In this last week of Lent it might be good for us to consider the words of St. Paul in today’s second reading. He says, “Those who are “in the flesh cannot please God.” By “in the flesh,” St. Paul means living in a kind of captivity such as experienced by those Israelites who had been enslaved along with Ezekiel. In another place Paul describes the works of the flesh as ‘immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.”

Paul contrasts those works with the fruits of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Isn’t it obvious that any of us who could be freed from the captivity of the “flesh” and who could enter into the life of the Spirit would have been raised from the dead?

But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness.


Reading 1. Ezekiel 37: 12-14
Reading II. Romans 8: 8-11
Gospel. John 11: 1-45 (raising of Lazarus).

* click on image to enlarge.

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