by Sister Mary Josephine Torborg
“I am the Resurrection and the Life. Do you believe this?” (John11:25) This is the response that Jesus gave to Martha when he came to visit them after the death of Lazarus their brother. She had said to him, “Lord if you had been here, Lazarus would not have died.” It is still two weeks before Easter Day, but the theme of resurrection abounds in our readings for this Sunday. Why? Is it perhaps because the disciples – and we, ourselves – are not grasping the full impact of his pending death and resurrection? Or is it to give us renewed strength and hope to continue our Lenten journey?
Pondering the message of the Gospel of John for this Fifth Sunday of Lent, we may find our answers to these questions. In the Gospel Reading of John, we have the very powerful experience of the illness and death of Lazarus, the sixth and last sign that concludes the Book of Signs for the evangelist John. The sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, cannot understand why Jesus did not come after they had sent him a message that Lazarus, whom he loved, is ill. It was their hope that Jesus would come and heal him.
I have often wondered why Jesus had not come to heal Lazarus. He had always shown compassion and concern for others that were ill and crippled and needed healing. It seemed to me that this compassion and care and concern was just not evident in the case of Lazarus.
However, as I pondered further the Gospel reading, I noted that when Jesus shared with his disciples that Lazarus was asleep, they were sure that he would get well. But then Jesus spoke to them clearly, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe” (John 11:15). Jesus must have perceived that the disciples were not comprehending the full meaning when Jesus spoke of his pending suffering, death and resurrection and his need to go to Jerusalem. They had come to believe in his power to heal, but did they really believe that Jesus was the Messiah, sent by God to redeem the world through his suffering, death and resurrection?
He was glad because this would give Jesus the opportunity to raise Lazarus from the grave after being buried for four days. Jesus proves his deep humanness when he is perturbed and weeps at the tomb of Lazarus. He also shows his divinity as he prays, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me, but because of the crowd here, I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.’ After this prayer, Jesus commands Lazarus to come out! “Untie him and let him go.”
Fr. Demetrius Dumm notes, “These words of Jesus are an echo of the dramatic words of Moses: ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Let my people go’ (Exodus 5:1). And, then as now, the message is the same: God wants us to be free – free from all kinds of bondage, including death, so that we may enjoy that fullness of eternal life that he has always intended for his beloved children.” (Dumm, A Mystical Portrait of Jesus, p. 160)
Our holy Father Benedict reminds us in the Rule, “The life of a monastic ought to be a continuous Lent. Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life more pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times.” (Chapter 49)
These words of Benedict come to central focus, especially today, when we recall the journey of +Sister Sarah Smedman” [whose funeral was March 25] “and how she has attained the reward of her labors. The pilgrimage of Lent is to walk with Jesus and enter fully into the passion, death, and resurrection so that we may put on the mind and heart of Christ.
After this miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, many Jews believed in him. The Gospel does not tell us that the disciples now understood and believed. We are left to wonder. This wondrous miracle now begins the plot to kill Jesus because he has dared to speak and act in the name of his heavenly Father. In our second reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans, we also have the theme of resurrection. “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are reconciled to God and become a new creation in Christ. Theologian Illia Delio notes, “The more we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit of love, the more we become ourselves, and the more we become ourselves, the more we are like God.” (Clare of Assisi, A Heart Full of Love)
A spouse who was caring for her husband in the last stages of Lou Gehrig’s Disease asked the Lord how much longer this would go on. His response was, “Can you do it just for today?” “Yes, I can do it for today.” Then she remembered that His grace is sufficient for each day.
My part is to do what needs to be done each day. This kind of love is truly a decision that needs to be made every single day. In our Lenten Journey, are we being asked? Can you do it just for today?