April 2, 2017
5th Sunday of Lent
John 11:1-45 (The text in italics is omitted in the short form.)
1 Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 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. 3 So the sisters sent word to him, saying, "Master, the one you love is ill." 4 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."
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea." 8 The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?" 9 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. 10 But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." 11 He said this, and then told them, "Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him." 12 So the disciples said to him, "Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved." 13 But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. 14 So then Jesus said to them clearly, "Lazarus has died. 15 And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him." 16 So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go to die with him."
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away. 19 And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 (But) even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." 23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise." 24 Martha said to him, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day." 25 Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" 27 She said to him, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, "The teacher is here and is asking for you." 29 As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him. 31 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. 32 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." 33 When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, 34 and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Sir, come and see." 35 And Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, "See how he loved him." 37 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?"
38 So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. 39 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." 40 Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?" 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you for hearing me. 42 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." 43 And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44 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." 45 Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.
This text is one of the most important texts for the Christian community. It is also one of longest texts that the Church uses for a Sunday gospel. (Only the passion accounts are longer.)
The gospels contain three accounts of Jesus restoring life to the dead. Both Mark and Luke describe the healing of Jairus’ daughter. (Mark 5:22-24, 35-43 and Luke 8:41-42, 49-56) Jairus comes to Jesus while his daughter is still sick and asks Jesus to come and heal her. While they are speaking, the news of death of the young girl arrives. Jesus ignores those who bring the news, as well as those who have already begun to gather to mourn the young girl’s death. He restores the girl to health. The second account of Jesus raising someone to life is only recorded in Luke (7:12-17). In this incident, a widow is leaving the town of Nain to bury her only son who had died sometime during that very day. Jesus encounters the woman and is moved by the situation; he stops the procession and restores life to the woman’s son. Luke does not say how long the man had been dead, but he has certainly been dead longer than Jairus’ daughter. In today’s text, Lazarus has been dead for four days, and the presumption is that the body has already started to decompose to the point that there will be stench if the tomb is unsealed. John wants his community to know the raising of Lazarus is not like the others that are recorded in Mark and Luke. Here Jesus is reinserting the life force back into a body that has stopped functioning.
Another way that John points to the significance of this event is in the way the religious leaders react to what has taken place. In the other gospels, the timing of when the leaders plot ways to kill Jesus is after he goes into the temple and overturns the tables of those selling coins and animals used for making offerings. But in John’s gospel, the Pharisees and high priests come to that decision after Lazarus is raised. The seven verses following the gospel text are:
“But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, ‘What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.’ But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.’ He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to kill him.” (John 11:46-53)
Lastly, the importance of this text is indicated by the very questions that John states within the text itself and places on the lips of Martha and Mary:
- Why did Lazarus have to die?
- If Jesus has the power to cast out demons and cure a man who was born blind, could he not have done something for Lazarus and for all who believe?
- Why did Jesus have to ascend to heaven and abandon the Christian community?
Both Martha and Mary believed that if Jesus had been there, he would have had the power to do something to prevent Lazarus’ death. (11:21 and 11:32) Both of them, like John’s community, are struggling to understand their faith in Jesus and their experience of death of members of their community who believed that Jesus was the messiah. They struggled to reconcile their faith in Jesus, and what they believed that would mean for them, against their lived experience.
1. Jesus first speaks of Lazarus as being asleep, rather than saying directly to the disciples that Lazarus had died. Do you ever feel like God is deliberately vague? Does that affect your relationship with God?
2. The disciples try to deter Jesus from going to Martha and Mary by reminding him that the Jews had recently tried to stone him. How many times in the gospels to recall people trying to kill Jesus? What does this reference to people trying to stone Jesus suggest to you?
3. When Thomas says to the others, “Let us also go to die with him,” what does it say to you?
4. Both Martha and Mary say the same thing to Jesus when they encounter him. "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” What do you hear each one of them saying to Jesus by this statement? How are they saying the same thing? How might their statements be different, given what you know about each them from the gospel?
5. Have you ever felt like Martha and Mary; that if God wanted to, God could have prevented a death of a friend or some other terrible thing from happening?
6. Have you started to think about your own death? Do you have any questions or fears about death, dying, and life after death?
7. What, in this gospel, seems to strike home with you? Why?
8. Jesus approaches Jerusalem, the tomb of Lazarus, and his own death with a confidence that is different than those around him. Have you known people who approached their own death with an attitude that is similar to that of Jesus’? Do you know how they were able to develop this kind of attitude?
9. As you listen to this Gospel text, what do you hear God saying to you? Do you find yourself responding with gratitude, questions, or something entirely different? Can you talk to God about what is taking place within you?
On Wednesday of each week, the Gospel and reflection questions for the upcoming Sunday are posted at the following link: http://il-ritiro.org/gospel-reflections.aspx. You are invited to share your own reflection and comments with others at this website. The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To be added to the distribution list, send your name and email address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Excerpts from the readings for April 2, 2017, the Fifth Sunday of Lent
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, 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.
With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice! Be attentive to my supplication.
If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand? But with you is forgiveness, that you may be revered.
I trust in the Lord. More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord.
For with the Lord is kindness plenteous redemption; he will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.
Brothers and sisters: Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh;
you are in the spirit, if 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 dwells in you, the one who raised Christ
from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit.
Mary and her sister Martha sent word from Bethany to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was ill.
When Jesus heard this he said, "This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God."
After two days Jesus said, "Let us go back to Judea." The disciples said, "the Jews were just trying to
stone you, and you want to go back there?" Jesus answered, "If one walks during the day, he does not
stumble, he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles; the light is not in him."
He told them, "Lazarus has died. I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.
Let us go to him." So Thomas said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go to die with him."
When Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. Many Jews had come from Jerusalem
to Martha and Mary to comfort them. Martha heard that Jesus was coming, and she went to meet him.
Martha said, "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 believes in
me will never die." She said, "You are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."
Mary went to him, and the Jews who were with her. She fell at his feet and said, "If you had been here,
my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her and the Jews who had come with her weeping,
he became troubled, and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Sir, come and see." And
Jesus wept. 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?" Jesus came to the tomb and said, "Take away the
stone." Martha said, "By now there will be a stench." Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believe
you will see the glory of God?" They took away the stone. Jesus said, "Father, I thank you for hearing
me. I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me." He cried out, "Lazarus, come out!"
The dead man came out, tied with burial bands, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said, "Untie him."
Now many of the Jews who had seen what he had done began to believe in him.
Excerpts from Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130:1-8; Romans 8:8-11; and John 11:1-45