Fifth Sunday of Lent, year A

Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8: 8-11; John 11:1-45

Last year march while I was improving on the Swahili language in one of the parishes in Tanzania, I stayed with one deacon who was doing his pastoral experience before his priestly ordination.  He received a phone call one day from one of the Christians who requested him to come in order to give the body of Christ to one woman who is sick. As he was going, he said to himself “what if the sick woman requests for confession? I am not a priest; I cannot listen to the confession”. It is wise to call a priest, so he called me to join him. We walked into the house, and we found the woman lying down in bed, apparently, her condition was not that critical. After engaging her in a conversation, she asked for the sacrament of reconciliation, the anointing of the sick, and the body of Christ. After I finished, I wished her a quick recovery and we left. Less than ten minutes later, I was phoned that the woman has left this earth. What sad news!

Death is an experience that all of us shall go through one day whether we like it or not. It is a very painful experience humanly speaking but as Christians, we believe that death has no power over us for Jesus Christ, our Master has defeated death on the cross.

Brethren, today being the fifth Sunday in the Lenten season, the liturgical readings are inviting us to reflect on the theme “Jesus, the Giver of life”. As our Savior Jesus gives us the gift of life in different ways. Today’s readings emphasize on three manners we get the give of life: through restoration from captivity, through restoration from illness, and by dwelling in God.

Thus in the first reading taken from the book of Ezekiel, we are told how God had revived his people. The people of Israel had found themselves in captivity in Babylon because they did not listen to God. The prophet compared their situation of captivity to the people who have died and are buried, henceforth their dwelling place is in the graves. However, out of compassion and mercy, God has decided to take them off their situation of captivity and bring them back home to the land of Israel. In Babylon, the people of God have lost hope and there is no future for them because they did not have in them the Spirit of God. Therefore, they resembled the dead ones in the graves. But when the Spirit of God entered into them, they were revived and they have life and they walked out of their graves which was the captivity.

Today many of us are living in the same situation as the people of Israel at the time of the prophet of Ezekiel. Our captivities take different forms: some are captives of sins, captives of social media, captive material well-being, captives of drinking, and so on. These situations make us look like dead people for we lack the Spirit of God in us. But from the moment we open up to God and the gift the of Holy Spirit in us we are revived and we are full of life. We get restored and revive through the mediation of Jesus Christ our master.

Today, the message of the prophet Ezekiel is addressed to us who are suffering the spiritual captivity that God is about to open our graves and revive us.

In the gospel, we hear the episode of the illness, death, and resuscitation of Lazarus. Jesus was informed about the illness of his friend Lazarus but he simply 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”. Therefore, he chose not to reach Bethany on time. While the siblings of Lazarus and the entire village men and women were laming and morning their dear one Lazarus, Jesus was calmed for he knows what is best when the appropriate time of God reaches. Upon his arrival he surprised everyone for no one has ever given back life to a dead body. This act made him to be popular in the entire region but the Jews did not understand that he was the resurrection and the life.

 This episode is actualized when people lost their dear ones in a tragic manner. Families are still morning their beloved ones who die in the earthquake of last month in Turkey and Syria. The tragedy of death is so common but dear friends; how do we cope with this painful situation?  And how do we face it while we know well that we will never see nor meet the dead people in this present life again? One thing we bear in mind is the word of Jesus which he said to Martha “I am the resurrection and the life”. This is a message of hope and trusts that death will take away our beloved ones but they do have not to die forever, there is an expectation that will be raised one day by God.

In the second reading, Saint Paul is reminding the Romans and us today to live in the Spirit for without that we cannot please. Pleasing God simply means to be in the presence and under the protection of God. When we are in the Spirit, the Holy Spirit is in us and we are united with God even if our mortal bodies experience death, there is hope that he who has raised Jesus Christ will surely also raise up at the appropriate time.

Jesus, the Giver of life is ready to bless us with the give of life, to restore us, and to unite us with God. In order to be beneficial from this blessing, we are called upon on this 5th Sunday of lent to put all our hope and trust in Jesus. May God bless our effort during this Lenten season, amen

Fr. Issere Agre, SVD

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