Sunday Scripture readings, March 26, 2023, Fifth Sunday of Lent
Ez 37:12-14 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 Rom 8:8-11 Jn 11:1-45 (Alternate) Jn 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45
Messages in seasonal scripture encourage us to return to the Lord
On Ash Wednesday, the prophet Joel invited us to return to the Lord with our whole heart, mind, body and soul. “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart,” (Jl 2:12). Our Lenten observances of prayer, fasting and almsgiving serve to return us, slowly but surely, to the Lord — who we strive to place at the center of life.
The Sunday Gospels of Lent remind us that when we do return to the Lord, we find only a God who is merciful, rich in kindness and forgiving love. Each week we have walked with Jesus — through his temptation in the desert, his Transfiguration as a foretaste of his resurrected glory, his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, and his healing of a man blind from birth. These stories prepare us for the renewed outpouring of graces we first received in baptism, confirmation and Eucharist – the very sacraments with which the church welcomes her new members at the Easter Vigil.
In this fifth week of Lent, the Gospel raises the stakes of Jesus’ earthly ministry to a highpoint. Just as at the Transfiguration, Jesus goes beyond restoring the dignity of the marginalized and healing physical illness. Now he reveals his divine identity and the full extent of his divine power by raising Lazarus, his friend, from the dead. Only God could raise the fallen from the sleep of death. Now the crowds cannot remain indifferent before this most astonishing of miracles as Jesus cries out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man arose and came out and Jesus ordered him to be freed.
Mary, Martha and Lazarus are described as friends of Jesus. John tells us that Jesus was deeply, grievously disturbed when he saw the distress of Mary and Martha at the death of their brother Lazarus. With great simplicity we are told that Jesus wept.
The ancient promise that God would open graves and raise the dead to life — conveyed by the prophet Ezekiel in the first reading — is now fulfilled perfectly in this all-powerful miracle of Christ Jesus. To place our trust in God, who raises the dead to new life, is the gift of faith extolled by the psalmist who sings, “I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in his word. More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord.”
Even as this graced liturgical season draws to a close, it’s not too late to begin our Lenten journey of faith. “Even now,” (and every day) we can return to the Lord with our whole heart, mind, body and soul. In walking with Jesus, we let the “Spirit of God dwell in us,” as Saint Paul urges the Romans. On our Lenten path, the pattern of Jesus’ dying and rising to new life becomes the pattern of our daily life as we pray, “speak to me, Lord.”
Question: How does Jesus’ raising of Lazarus prepare us for the sacred events of Holy Week?
Jem Sullivan holds a doctorate in religious education and is an associate professor of Catechetics in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.