April 3, 2022 – Fifth Sunday of Lent – Year A – Scrutinies

Apr 1, 2022 | Blogs, Fr. Luke, Homilies

“This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  Words from our Gospel today from the Gospel according to St. John – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.

As Jesus boldly proclaims this message to his disciples, Lazarus paradoxically did end up dying, and having been in the tomb now for more than three days there was absolutely no hope of him coming back or snapping out of a coma or anything like that.  He wasn’t just asleep as the disciples supposed, he was dead and gone.  But our Gospel today is not just an historical story about what happened all those years ago to our friend Lazarus whose illness claimed his life, but it’s the story of everyone who is ill.  Illness makes us to experience death, maybe not physical death, but when we are ill, something dies in us nonetheless.  When we are ill, our emotions are spent wrestling with overwhelming stress and tension.  We feel cut off, isolated, rejected, stigmatized, redefined.  We wonder how we are going to pay for things or how we are going to get by.  Anxiety and depression pervade our thoughts and panic sets in when illness becomes widespread in the community.  Spiritually, we are made to face our mortality.  Our sickness may sap us of our physical strength, and so we will have new limits on what we can or cannot do.  We’ve lost something.  We are grieving, sometimes alone.  Many of our loved ones die from illnesses and the pandemic of these past two years has caused great suffering for us all.  We don’t understand: “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?”  Amidst our illnesses we say the same thing to God: “If only you had been here.” (2x)

And I think there are two things that God wants to say to us through our readings today.  The first is that although it’s hard to see the love we receive in the midst of misery and although we don’t always understand our suffering, we can’t be led to believe that God doesn’t care.  The phrase from our Gospel today, John 11:35, “and Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in all the Scriptures, but it is also one of the most profound: “See how much he loved him.”  God loves us and is moved by the suffering that we are made to experience.  Jesus feels our grief and the pain, as well as the grief and pain of all those who are around us.  Indeed, Lazarus was Jesus’ friend, and although he took his time getting there, Jesus did take a dangerous detour from his ministry to go to Bethany to be with Martha and Mary and to do something astonishing for his friend.  So, we can say with certainty that God cares for you, is there for you, and wants to bring healing and new life.  

 

The other thing I think God wants us to know is that illness and death does not have the final say – God does.  Jesus didn’t promise that we wouldn’t experience death along the way; this is an inevitable part of life.  We were reminded as Lent began that we are dust and unto dust we shall return.  But Jesus did promise that death no longer has the final say and what Jesus told his disciples indeed proved true: Lazarus’ illness did not end with death, but at the end, he was raised and received life once again.  St. Paul reminds us that even “though the body is dead, the spirit lives because of righteousness,” and likewise God tells us through the prophet Ezekiel, “Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!”  Do we believe that?  Do we believe that the Lord our God is Lord alone over all these things; or have we set up false gods besides him?  I think we have to come to grips with the idea that our culture and society has long made an idol out of health and wellbeing, and that we give this false god the final say over our decisions and livelihoods.  I fear we are desperately clinging to an illusion of immortality and control over our lives, and we believe that our happiness depends on such things – yet we see how our world fell apart when this illusion was unmasked by the pandemic these past years.  Now, please don’t misunderstand me as I say that, for all of us have great dignity with a life to be cherished and cared for from conception to natural death, and our bodies are temples of the holy spirit, and all of us have a share in the healing ministry of Christ whether or not we are medical professionals.  So, there is a Christian value to health and caring for each other, and it is precisely for this reason that disciples of Christ have the moral obligation to do their respective part in looking out for others’ physical well-being.  This is as true in a pandemic as it is in normal times.  Nothing has changed there, and it’s why we’ve implemented the measures we have.  But with the final analysis in mind and with the meaning of life placed before us, even amid illnesses, we need to be reminded once again, that our lives are in God’s hands, that it is our compassionate God who has the final say, that nothing stands outside of God’s grace, and that we can and should turn to God above all else in this passing world. 

That fills us with great hope!  In this 3rd Scrutiny we celebrate with our candidates and elect today, we ask that, like us, they be freed from false hopes and find the life that God alone gives through faith.  The last words in our Gospel passage today are: “untie him and let him go.”  Sickness can imprison us as not all bars are made out of iron and steel, but we don’t have to let illness, sin, nor death deprive us, define us, or decide for us.  Jesus wants to free us and lift the burdens from our shoulders.  He wants to be there for us and care for us.  He can and does bring about new life.  So, let us be freed from the trappings of this world that we may live and have life to the full by the Spirit of God dwelling in us.

Fifth Sunday of Lent
Year A Readings

Lectionary: 34

Reading I

Ez 37:12-14

Thus says the Lord GOD:
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves and have you rise from them,
O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live,
and I will settle you upon your land;
thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.

Responsorial Psalm

Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8.

R (7) With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
LORD, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication.
R With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
If you, O LORD, mark iniquities,
LORD, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.
R With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
I trust in the LORD;
my soul trusts in his word.
More than sentinels wait for the dawn,
let Israel wait for the LORD.
R With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
For with the LORD is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption;
And he will redeem Israel
from all their iniquities.
R With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.

Reading II

Rom 8:8-11

Brothers and sisters:
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh;
on the contrary, you are in the spirit,
if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
But if Christ is in you,
although the body is dead because of sin,
the spirit is alive because of righteousness.
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.

Verse before the Gospel

Jn 11:25a, 26

I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will never die.

Gospel

Jn 11:1-45

Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany,
the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil
and dried his feet with her hair;
it was her brother Lazarus who was ill.
So the sisters sent word to him saying,
“Master, the one you love is ill.”
hen Jesus heard this he said,
“This illness is not to end in death,
but is for the glory of God,
that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
So when he heard that he was ill,
he remained for two days in the place where he was.
Then after this he said to his disciples,
“Let us go back to Judea.”
The disciples said to him,
“Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you,
and you want to go back there?”
Jesus answered,
“Are there not twelve hours in a day?
If one walks during the day, he does not stumble,
because he sees the light of this world.
But if one walks at night, he stumbles,
because the light is not in him.”
He said this, and then told them,
“Our friend Lazarus is asleep,
but I am going to awaken him.”
So the disciples said to him,
“Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.”
But Jesus was talking about his death,
while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep.
So then Jesus said to them clearly,
“Lazarus has died.
And I am glad for you that I was not there,
that you may believe.
Let us go to him.”
So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples,
“Let us also go to die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus
had already been in the tomb for four days.
Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away.
And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary
to comfort them about their brother.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him;
but Mary sat at home.
Martha said to Jesus,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you.”
Jesus said to her,
 “Your brother will rise.”
Martha said to him,
“I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus told her,
“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.
Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world.”

When she had said this,
she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying,
“The teacher is here and is asking for you.”
As soon as she heard this,
she rose quickly and went to him.
For Jesus had not yet come into the village,
but was still where Martha had met him.
So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her
saw Mary get up quickly and go out,
they followed her,
presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him,
she fell at his feet and said to him,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping,
he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said,
“Where have you laid him?”
They said to him, “Sir, come and see.”
And Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.”
But some of them said,
“Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man
have done something so that this man would not have died?”

So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.
It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him,
“Lord, by now there will be a stench;
he has been dead for four days.”
Jesus said to her,
“Did I not tell you that if you believe
you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone.
And Jesus raised his eyes and said,
 “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.”
And when he had said this,
He cried out in a loud voice,
“Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out,
tied hand and foot with burial bands,
and his face was wrapped in a cloth.
So Jesus said to them,
“Untie him and let him go.”

Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what he had done began to believe in him.

OR:
Jn 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45

The sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus, saying,
“Master, the one you love is ill.”
When Jesus heard this he said,
“This illness is not to end in death,
but is for the glory of God,
that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
So when he heard that he was ill,
he remained for two days in the place where he was.
Then after this he said to his disciples,
“Let us go back to Judea.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus
had already been in the tomb for four days.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him;
but Mary sat at home.
Martha said to Jesus,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you.”
Jesus said to her,
 “Your brother will rise.”
Martha said,
“I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus told her,
“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.
Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world.”

He became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said,
“Where have you laid him?”
They said to him, “Sir, come and see.”
And Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.”
But some of them said,
“Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man
have done something so that this man would not have died?”

So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.
It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him,
“Lord, by now there will be a stench;
he has been dead for four days.”
Jesus said to her,
“Did I not tell you that if you believe
you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone.
And Jesus raised his eyes and said,
“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.”
And when he had said this,
He cried out in a loud voice,
“Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out,
tied hand and foot with burial bands,
and his face was wrapped in a cloth.
So Jesus said to them,
“Untie him and let him go.”

Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what he had done began to believe in him.