5th Sunday of Lent
Joke for the Week: A funeral home director called a man for further instructions about his mother-in-law’s dead body. “Do you want your mother in law embalmed, cremated or buried?” “All three!’ the man answered promptly. “Don’t take any chances.”
The four Gospels are the life and story of Jesus in a nutshell; not in details. 33 years of His earthly life has a lot more stories. Maria Valtorta was an Italian mystic. Jesus Christ appeared to Maria Valtorta in the 1940s and showed her the Gospels in detailed, expanded holy visions. Maria wrote down these visions in explicit detail, what she saw, heard and even smelled. Her writings are called “The Gospel as Revealed to me”. In the book there is a conversation between Jesus and Mary after Jesus selected the Apostles. Mary is evaluating each of them. Mother Mary was speaking about St. John the Evangelist. She said ‘look at his eyes; it’s so innocent and powerful that he can see through the material world to heavenly mysteries and realities. Yes, John was able to see heavenly mysteries more than the rest of them.
We read the Gospel of John during the Easter season all three years and many of the Sundays during Lent. The Gospel of John is symbolized by an eagle – a figure of the sky, and believed to be able to look straight into the sun. John starts with an eternal overview of Jesus the Logos and goes on to describe many things with a “higher” level than the other three (synoptic) gospels, which represents Jesus’ Ascension, and Christ’s divine nature. Through his writing John is inviting the people of God to look through this world and what is happening here to beyond, and see eternal realities without flinching as they journey towards their goal of union with God. If we do that, then we will never be afraid; but have peace and well-being.
Today’s gospel reading is from the gospel of St. John chapter 11 where we see Jesus raising the dead Lazarus. The gospel of St. John is known as the gospel of signs because St. John records seven famous signs that Jesus performs. These seven signs are recorded “to help you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, so that through this faith you may have life in His name” (Jn 20:31). A sign is more than a miracle. Signs signify something, point the way for us. Those signs are not just for themselves, but lead us to beyond and to see the glory of God! These miraculous signs are designed by God to make us believe that Jesus is the son of God. Eugene Peterson says, “Belief by its very nature requires assent and participation, trust and commitment.” So a sign is a moment of realizing. In the bible number seven is a sacred number. Seven Days of Genesis, Seven feats of the Lord, seven signs of St. John and Seven Seals of Revelation. In Scripture, seven symbolizes completeness or perfection. On the seventh day God rested from his labors and creation is finished. The seven signs of St. John are:
- Changing water into wine at a wedding (Jn 2:1-12),
- A remote healing of a royal official’s son (Jn 4:46-54),
- Curing a man who was ill for thirty-eight years (Jn 5:1ff),
- Multiplying the loaves and fishes (Jn 6:1-14),
- Walking on water (Jn 6:19),
- Giving sight to the man born blind (Jn 9:1ff), and
- Raising Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11:1ff).
Why did Jesus perform signs? Because He observed: “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you do not believe”. The bible says after the first miracle at Cana, His disciples began to believe in Him. The raising of Lazarus is the last and greatest of the miracles worked by our Lord to prove that he is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, and that through faith in him believers will receive eternal life. In other words, Jesus wanted to make this, his last recorded miracle, a convincing proof of his claim to be what he was—the Messiah, sent by God to give new life, eternal life to mankind.
What does this seventh and last sign of Jesus teach us? This is the last opportunity to believe in Jesus. Do not wait for tomorrow, because tomorrow may never come. 2 Cor 5 18-20 St. Paul says. “And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation”. In life there are deadlines: this may be the last opportunity; this may be the final invitation. Belief by its very nature requires assent and participation, trust and commitment. Sin is real! This last sign is an invitation to stop worshipping this world, money, power, myself, my selfish desires, and other people.
In the early Roman Empire there is an account of a king, who was so unusually brutal in his punishments. This brutal king used to chain a dead man to a living criminal. It was impossible for the poor wretch to separate himself from his disgusting burden. The carcass (remain) was bound fast to his body — its hands to his hands; its face to his face; the entire dead body to his living body. Then he was put into a cell to die suffocated by the foul emissions of the stinking (rotten) dead body. Biblical scholars suppose that it was in reference to this that Paul cried out: “O wretched man that I am!” Today’s readings invite us to turn away from sin, approach God for reconciliation and revive the dead soul we are carrying within our body, thus becoming eligible for the glorious resurrection Jesus promised to the believers at the tomb of Lazarus.
Jesus is coming to the tomb and asking people to roll the stone away. Jesus who can bring this dead man back to life. Is He not able to Roll this stone away? Yes, He is. But by asking the people to so he is teaching us a lesson. For certain miracles to happen; you have to act and do certain things. Even with some things, Even God Can’t help you.
We often bind ourselves with chains of addiction to alcohol, drugs, sexual deviations, slander, gossip, envy, prejudices, hatred and uncontrollable anger and bury ourselves in the tombs of despair. Sometimes we are in the tomb of selfishness, filled with negative feelings such as worry, fear, resentment, hatred, and guilt. If we want Jesus to visit our dark dungeons of sin, despair and unhappiness, let us ask Jesus during this Holy Mass to bring the light and the power of His Holy Spirit into our private life and liberate us from our tombs. When we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus will call our name and command, “Come out”! This is good news for all of us, “Lazarus, come out!” This can be the beginning of a new life.
Finally, the Gospel reading today reminds us that 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. Why in the world did Jesus wait until he is dead? Why did Jesus delay for four days before He brought Lazarus back to life from the tomb? Everyone else said ‘nothing can be done’? This was to reveal the Glory of God! When we fail, that is when God acts. He knows the end of the story. He doesn’t share our panic. Because He is God! He will always act at the right time in the right way. These days, let’s remain in prayer and faith for His time that all of us have the opportunity to see the Glory of God.