5th SUNDAY OF LENT (A)
Sunday 26 March 2023
Jn 11:1-45 [Shorter Version: 11:3-7,17,20,27,33b-45]
“Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’”
When Jesus receives the news that his friend Lazarus is sick, he remains a number of days in the Jordan valley (where he was) before heading to visit him in Bethany, near the gates of Jerusalem. When Jesus arrives, Lazarus is already dead, and has already been in the tomb for four days.
In his commentary on chapter 11 of John’s Gospel, Saint Augustine examines three different episodes when the dead are raised in the Gospels: the daughter of Jairus, a leader of the synagogue (who is raised while still at home) (Mk 5:41-42), the widow of Naim’s son (who is raised while being carried to the tomb) (Lk 7:14-15), and then this episode in which Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days). He compares these three deaths to three different grades in the gravity of the state of sin. Lazarus’ case is seen as a death of the soul, and where sin binds the sinner. The sinner cannot do anything because they are bound to the grave. The sinner is unable to exit the situation without a supernatural intervention.
At times, we can recognise that we are also living in relationships and in circumstances, in which we can sense the stench: of unfaithfulness, betrayal, injustice…, situations that can become unbearable. In a typically human reaction, we’re led to say: Enough! I can’t do this anymore! I place a rock to shut the situation/relationship away to avoid the stench!
But Jesus comes to disturb our ‘Bethany’, a town with a name meaning the ‘house of poverty’: wherever sin is the condition there is poverty! He orders us to remove the stone, the first step to be able to see the resurrection.
What should we do then? Believe with all our strength that Jesus can and wants to change our situations, that He can even transform a state of chronic sin, that He can resurrect our relationships, precisely because He is the resurrection and the life! So, let’s not place our circumstances behind a gravestone, let’s never stop hoping and praying. And, if we have already placed the stone, let’s take it away as the Master commands and pray: situation, relationship… rise in the name of Jesus!