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Fifth Sunday – Year A – Lent
Readings: Eze 37:12-14; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45 (11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45).
1/ Reading I: RSV Ezekiel 37:12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done it, says the LORD.”
2/ Reading II: RSV Romans 8:8 And those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.
3/ Gospel: RSV John 11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go into Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if any one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 Thus he spoke, and then he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead; 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary sat in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, 26 and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” 28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying quietly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews, who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; 34 and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb; it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. 42 I knew that you hear me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.
I. THEME: God has power on both life and death.
Human beings desire to live forever; but all must face death. Is death the end of everything? Many people think so; but the majority believe a human soul is immortal because it isn’t made by material things like a human body. But the questions such as: Where will a soul be after death? Will the soul of the just and the soul of the wicked be in the same place? What does a soul do in the next life? Only the Catholic has the answers for these questions.
Today readings make a transition from the Lenten atmosphere to the atmosphere of the resurrection and the eternal life. The passage in the first reading is the conclusion of the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the dried bones field. God has power to create and to recreate. God commands Ezekiel to prophesize on the dried bones so they can connect with each other, have sinews to keep them together and skin to cover them up, but not have breath yet to live. Then God gives them His spirit and they become living people. In the second reading, St. Paul compared the two lifestyles according to the spirit and to the flesh. The lifestyle according to the flesh only leads people to destruction, but the lifestyle according to the spirit shall lead people to life and the eternal life. In the gospel, the author of the Fourth Gospel reported a spectacular miracle which never happens before; Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead after four days in the tomb. He also revealed the dimension of the realized eschatology, “Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”
1/ Reading I: “You shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.”
1.1/ The Jewish conception of Sheol: This name has many meanings, it can be a grave, an abyss, a dark place or the abode of the dead. The Jewish conception of Sheol changed with time. At first, they believe Sheol is the place for all the dead because all people must die (Psa 89:47-48). Those who believe in God and keep His law shall be blessed with prosperity, descendants and long life; but once they die, they must enter into Sheol. Once people enter it, they shall not be resurrected or returned to the earth (Job 7:9-10). Though Sheol is a dark place, they believed God can see all people in there (Job 26:6, Psa 139:8). Gradually it becomes the place of the wicked and the sinners who forsook God (Psa 9:17). This change might take place at the same time with the Jewish conception about the eternal life.
The authors of some Psalms and prophetic Books likened the suffered life of the Israelites during the exile as living in the Sheol, and the return to their country as coming out of it, “I am reckoned among those who go down to the Pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom thou dost remember no more, for they are cut off from thy hand. Thou hast put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep” (Psa 88:4-6). Pit is understood as Sheol.
1.2/ Only God has power to lead people out of Sheol: The Old Testament mentioned many times of being brought out of the grave, the pit or Sheol (Psa 30:3, 49:15, 71:20, 86:13, 88:4-6, Lam. 3:54ff, Jon. 2:3-7). God has power to liberate those in Sheol when they pray to Him (Psa 116:3-6).
The prophet Ezekiel, who lived during the exile, continued this tradition when he prophesized, “Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.” This passage belongs to the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the valley full of dried bones. In chapter 37, God commands the prophet to prophesize twice: the first time is for the dried bones to connect with other bones; the second time is for the spirit to provide breath for the bodies to live again.
In today passage, God said, “And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.” We can see an allusion to the second account of God’s creation of human beings in Genesis 2:7. But where is the difference between the prophet’s second prophecy and this time? It is very difficult to explain because in Hebrew, there is only one word “ruah” for wind, breath, human spirit and the Holy Spirit.
The important matter is to recognize God’s power in the resurrection of the dead, “Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done it, says the LORD.” When people see God opens the grave and brings them out of it, they shall know He is the LORD. There is none can do things like Him. This prophecy was fulfilled when God let the Persian kings, Cyrus and Darius, signed the decree to liberate the Israelites and to permit them to go back to their country from the exile; but most of the Church’s Fathers understood this vision as the Last Judgment Day when human bodies shall be resurrected and united with their souls for the divine judgment.
2/ Reading II: The lifestyle according to the Spirit versus the fleshy lifestyle
Chapter eight of the Letter to the Romans should be read together with chapters six and seven because once people are liberated by Christ from slavery for sins, the law and death, they are free to live according to the Spirit. Many people misunderstood Paul as the advertiser of a life in which people need only to believe in Christ to attain salvation and have no need to do good works. In chapter eight, St. Paul explained that people were liberated by Christ from their slavery for the flesh so that they are free to live according to the Spirit’s guidance.
2.1/ Living according to the flesh: According to Paul, this is a lifestyle of those who completely live according to human passion such as: the greed of their eyes, the desires of their heart and the passion of their flesh. Those who live according to this lifestyle are like the wild beasts because they act according to their instinct; but people can’t act as such because God creates people with the soul, the intellect and the free will to control all powers of their body. St. Paul describes this control as follows, “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.”
The Spirit of God is also Christ’s Spirit who dwells in the soul of the faithful to guide and to empower them to live according to the truth. In opposition, “And those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
2.2/ Living according to Christ’s Spirit: St. Paul lists three main profits for those who live according to the Holy Spirit:
(1) The Spirit helps people to live as a human being: If people live according to their passions, they live like all animals and shall be destroyed; but if they live according to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, they live as human beings according to God’s intention when He creates them and shall be remained forever.
(2) The Spirit helps people to become righteous: Since the law has no power to make people to become righteous, God gives them His Spirit to help people to believe in Christ and to do what he teaches.
(3) The Spirit shall raise people up from the dead: Paul said, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.”
3/ Gospel: “Lazarus, come out.”
Today gospel, chapter eleven, is set in the background of Jesus’ last days in this world. According to the structure of the Fourth Gospel, Jesus’ Passion begins in chapter thirteen. In chapter eleven, he raised Lazarus from the dead. This is the decisive factor because it leads to his Passion and Death. Jesus wants for people to see that if he has power to raise up a person from the dead, he also has power to rise up from the dead as he foretold his disciples many times. Death has no power on him. This miracle has a tremendous effect on the audience because they want to live and to live forever.
Chapter 12 reports people’s reactions of this miracle. It is the reason that the members of the Sanhedrin decided the dead sentence for him (Jn 11:53) and also Lazarus (Jn 12:10-11) because of him, many people left them to follow Jesus. The Pharisees became jealous when they see Jesus’ influence on people, they said to each other, “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him” (Jn 12:19). We can analyze chapter eleven according to the five acts as follows:
3.1/ Jesus with his disciples:
– When Jesus heard of Lazarus’ serious sickness, why didn’t he go right away to him but waited two more days to go? Some say because his hour isn’t come yet as when his mother urged him to do in the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:1-11) or his disciples urged him to go to Jerusalem (Jn 7:1-10). Others say because he wanted Lazarus to really die and to have a stench so that nobody doubts about his power to rise up a person from the dead. The second opinion is plausible due to what Jesus said later (11:14).
– In the Fourth Gospel, there are no three times reports about the reactions of Jesus’ disciples when he foretold them of what are going to happen for him in Jerusalem as in the Synoptic; this is the only time Jesus’ disciples prevented him when he wanted to come back to Jerusalem as they said, “Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?”
– A Jewish day also has 24 hours and is counted from 6 PM the day before to 6 PM the day after; for example, their Sabbath is counted from 6 PM Friday to 6 PM Saturday. People can only work during twelve hours of the daytime because they had no electricity as our time. The night is divided by five watches and is the time for rest, not for working. That is why Jesus said to his disciples, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
There are three things Jesus wants to say in this sentence: Firstly, the time of our life are counted by God. If we want to do God’s will, we should begin to do it before it is too late; once our time is up, we can’t ask for more time to do it. This saying is the same saying Jesus said to his disciples in John 9:4. Secondly, we have enough time to work and no need to be hurry. Don’t wait until water comes to our feet to jump. Lastly, we must use time to benefit ourselves and others; we should not be lazy nor wasting our time.
– In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus has a habit to use the word that causes irony; for examples, the adverb “anothen” in Greek can mean “again” or “from above” in (Jn 3:3-8); “udor zôn” can mean “drinking water” or “water that gives life” (Jn 4:10-15); and in today passage, “koimasthai” can mean “to sleep” or “to die—to sleep forever.” Jesus’ disciples understood it according to the first meaning, so they said to Jesus, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Then, Jesus clearly explained, “Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
3.2/ Jesus with Martha, Lazarus’ sister: In the Synoptic as also in John, Martha was described as a person who is quick to act and to speak while Mary as the one who are thinking more than talking. When heard of Jesus’ coming, she ran out to meet him and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Martha believed Jesus has power to heal all kinds of sickness; but to rise up her brother from the dead, she never thought of. There is an important revelation by Jesus in his conversation with Martha about the two kinds of eschatology: the future eschatology—what shall happen on the Last Day and the realized eschatology—what is happening at present.
(1) The future eschatology: Many Jews who were contemporary with Jesus believed in the resurrection and the eternal life as we found in Daniel (12:2) and II Maccabees (7:14; 12:43). Therefore, when Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
(2) The realized eschatology: Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” According to Jesus, people don’t have to wait until the Last Day to have the eternal life. If they strongly believe in him, they already live that life in presence; the physical death is only the transition from this life to the next while their relationship with God is unchanged. When people fear of nothing, even death, they are really and fully live.
– Martha professed many Christological titles for Jesus, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”
3.3/ Jesus with Maria: According to the tradition, the Jews wept for their deceased from seven days to one month, depending on their relationship and love. Maria didn’t know of Jesus’ coming so she continued to weep for her brother. When Martha returned and called her sister Mary, saying quietly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” When she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. When the Jews, who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
– Mary’s reaction: Like Martha, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
– Jesus’ reaction: When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. Two Greek verbs were used to describe Jesus’ passion are “embrimasthai” and “tarassein.” The first verb occurred three times in the Synoptic (Mk. 1:43, 14:5; Mt. 9:30), meaning to prohibit someone to disclose what happened for them, and two times in the Fourth Gospel (Jn 11:33, 38) and was translated as “is deeply affected by the spirit” because this prohibition is happened for oneself. The second verb occurred thirteen times in the NT, two times in the Fourth Gospel, meaning “to disturb” (5:4, 7) and four other times is translated as “to be tested” (11:33, 12:27, 13:21 and 14:1).
The Stoics don’t believe God can be disturbed or tested by human beings; but the author of the Letter to the Hebrews believed when Jesus put on the human flesh, he became like us in all aspects except sins. He has compassion for people, and many times in the gospel, the evangelists described Jesus had mercy for people. At the beginning of this chapter, the author said Jesus loves Martha, Mary and Lazarus. He has compassion for them, and he wept when he saw their suffering.
3.4/ Jesus with Lazarus: The Jewish graves at Jesus’ time aren’t single graves, but like the house of graves. Depending on the members of a family, the house of graves is divided by compartments; it has the form of a sleeping room with bunk beds on two sides and a walking space in the middle. The entrance is closed by a big stone and can be used as the door. The dead is covered completely with bandages, the face is covered separately; and the whole body is embalmed with myrrh and perfume and cover with a cloth bag. The body is laid upon the bed until it is completely decayed; then the remaining bones shall be cleared out to have the space for other member.
(1) Martha’s faith: Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”
Martha might think Jesus wants to see her brother’s face the last time; but Lazarus’ face was covered, and his body already had a stench. She might believe Jesus’ power is only limited in healing all kinds of diseases, but not in raising up her dead brother after four days in the tomb. Jesus emphasized her faith in God can do all things even raising a person from the dead, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”
(2) Jesus’ faith in his Father: Jesus knows his Father always hears him when he asks for anything. The purpose of raising Lazarus is to enlighten the faith of the people who are standing around him, not for his own glory. He wants them to believe he is the Messiah, sent the Father. After his praying, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Imaging that we are witnessing this scene, our whole body shall be chilled because of fear. Never before this moment, a person who was buried four days in the tomb, is raised up because of a command!
3.5/ People’s reactions:
(1) Many of the Jews who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.
(2) But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done: So, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council, and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on thus, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” What they feared became the reality later when the Roman completely destroyed the Jerusalem temple and the whole nation in 70 A.D, about 35 years after Jesus’ death; not because of people’s faith in Jesus, but their rebellion.
– The author used another irony here to speak about the purpose of Jesus’ death, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all; you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” Even though Caiaphas didn’t know about God’s plan of salvation; but he is accidentally right about the purpose of Jesus’ death, that is: “to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”
– The reason of Jesus’ death: In the Fourth Gospel, the reason for Jesus’ death is clearly because of his raising of Lazarus from the dead. It is also the beginning of his glorified hour on the cross. The author concluded the chapter, “So from that day on they took counsel how to put him to death. Jesus therefore no longer went about openly among the Jews but went from there to the country near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim; and there he stayed with the disciples.”
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– God has power on both life and death. We should completely believe in Him and have no fear of the death; it is only a transition before we are lived forever and happily with Him.
– The Holy Spirit is the principle of life. We should live according to his guidance to have life. We should reject the lifestyle according to the flesh.
– If we completely believe in God, we shall never spiritually die; death is necessary for us to enter into the eternal life.