The Fifth Sunday of Lent – 29 March 2020
Lectionary Readings: Ezek 37:12-14; Ps 130:1-8; Rom 8:8-11; John 11:1-45
Theme: Those who believe in me … will live forever
On this last Sunday of Lent, before the solemn liturgical commemoration of the Passion, the voices of Ezekiel, the Psalmist, and Paul set the ambiance for John’s account of the raising of Lazarus, which leads to the decisive act of unbelief, the formal decision that Jesus must “die for the people” (NJBC, 969, #145).
Ezekiel speaks from exile in Babylon, “at the worst of times and the most decisive of times in Israel’s long history” (NJBC, 305). He recounts God’s crucial assurance for his people: “You shall know that I am the Lord (when I) open your graves and bring you back to the land of Israel” (Ezek 37:12). That promise of divine power is tempered with tender intimacy: “I shall put my spirit within you and you shall live” (v. 14). Psalm 130 reflects this steadfast love and power of the Lord to redeem, which enkindles hope.
In the passage taken from Romans, Paul brings exuberance to that hope. Twice he mentions the “Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead,” and three times he assures the Romans that this Spirit “dwells in you,” and finally, he states that this Spirit “will give life to your mortal bodies too” (Rom 8:11). These promises of opening graves and giving life to mortal bodies orient us to the sixth and greatest of Jesus’ “signs.” Brown comments that John uses the word “sign” to designate extraordinary deeds that manifest who Jesus is, his purpose, his glory, and his relation to the Father. Brown also notes the distinction between the resuscitation of Lazarus, restoring him to ordinary life, and resurrection to eternal life (Brown, 349-50).
The report of the raising of Lazarus is only two verses (John 11:43-44). The rest of this lengthy passage, developed almost entirely as dialogue, provides various perspectives on that central action, highlighting the meaning of it. Great attention is given to confirming that Lazarus is truly dead (vv. 6, 14, 17, 37, 39). Perkins states that Lazarus has been dead “for a long enough time that the rabbinic authorities would have said that the soul had left the vicinity of the body and decay would have set in” (NJBC, 969, #147). No one could question the fact that Lazarus has come back from death (NJBC, 150, #150).
Lazarus’s illness is ultimately “so that the Son of God may be glorified” (John 11:4). As Jesus approaches the tomb, he prays, implying that what is about to happen manifests God’s power, not Jesus’ (JANT, 181) and Perkins remarks that this sign demonstrates that the Father has given power over life and death to the Son (cf. John 5:25; NJBC, 969, #146). Jesus discloses to Martha the new and key revelation regarding his identity: “I am the resurrection and the life; those who believe in me … will never die” (vv. 25-26).
John’s characteristic depiction of “the Jews” appears here in their sympathy (v. 36: “See how he loved him”), which gives way to their challenge (v. 37: couldn’t he “have kept this man from dying?”); yet, this passage concludes with “many of the Jews who … had seen what Jesus did, believed in him” (v. 45).
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. In this account of the raising of Lazarus, what speaks most to your faith, and why? 2. In what situation in your life, do you most need hope; what can nourish that hope?
Bibliography: Brown, R. An Introduction to the New Testament (New York, 1997); Brown, R. et al. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (New Jersey: 1990); Levine, A.-J., Brettler, M. Z., The Jewish Annotated New Testament (New York, 2011).