Reflection for the 5th Sunday of Lent 2023

Readings: Ez 37:12–14, Ps 130:1–2, 3–4, 5–6, 7–8, Rom 8:8–11,  Jn 11:1–4  

These long readings from John’s Gospel during Lent have a depth and power that if we take them into our hearts, these words can reach the very core of our lives. Today we hear about death and new life, about the end of some things, and, perhaps, the beginning of others. It makes sense to hear Ezekiel preach to the valley of dry bones, and to listen to Jesus’s command, “Lazarus, come out”. But what is the meaning of this? The valley of dry bones represents the nation of Israel that God had raised up. Lazarus, like Israel, was dead. He was dead past three days. Maybe Jesus could have helped if he’d arrived earlier. Ezekiel looked over the valley of dry bones, and Jesus looked at the stone in front of the cave where his friend’s body lay. When Christians are at their best, do they look at death with the eyes of Ezekiel, and Jesus?

The first thing they saw was the reality, the force, the pain, and the sheer power of death. Ezekiel was struck mute (a very rare event). Jesus was shaken; he was deeply troubled; he wept. There is nothing light-hearted or glib here. The tears of Jesus sanctify every tear, and his deeply troubled spirit makes holy our grief, pain, and fear in the face of death. When Ezekiel looked at those dry bones, and when Jesus stood at Lazarus’ tomb, they didn’t see death blossoming into a new life. If Ezekiel had kept his mouth shut, those bones would have stayed dry. If Jesus had not called, Lazarus would have stayed in that tomb. Ezekiel and Jesus saw new life in what was dead. They saw that God was Lord, even over death. God was Lord even over a dead Israel. He gave Israel new life and new direction. The wonderful part of this story is not that some dry bones could move. The wonderful part of this story is that the Spirit of God would not be stopped and death can not destroy the purposes of God. New life promises that God is Lord even of the dead. We don’t have knowledge about death or power over death.

So, we must choose life or death, despair or trust, and have hope and faith in the Lord. That choice is not made for us but is instead given to us. For we see all that the world sees, and yet we see more. We see that the dry bones can live once more. The word of Jesus has power. “Come out,” the Lord calls. He invited us to come into a new life, come out of the unknown life, and come out in trust and hope.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­I am thinking of the husband whose wife asked him on their anniversary, “Do you love me?” To which the husband responded, “You know that I love you. How do we nurture a deep and personal relationship with Jesus? Today’s Gospel invites us to have a deep and personal relationship with Jesus, and to trust him even when it is difficult. The Gospel warns us not to get so literal that we forget to deepen our relationship with Jesus. Jesus urges us to be mindful of our faith in Jesus. After Lazarus had died, Jesus tell the disciples, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” To which the disciples responded, “Master if he is asleep, he will be saved.” So, Jesus had to say plainly, “Lazarus has died!” Even though he didn’t entirely understand Jesus, it was Thomas who shows us what is necessary.

Thomas realized that if Jesus went to Bethany, all of their lives would be in danger since the authorities had only recently tried to kill him in that area. But once Jesus decides to go, it is Thomas who says, “Let us also go to die with him.” To nurture a deep relationship with Jesus means that we are willing to even die for him. Most of the time, dying for Jesus will mean dying to our ego, letting go of our ideas and opinions in order to practice mercy and love. Many times it’s easy not to be mindful of our faith. It is easier for us to be mindful of our troubled hearts. It is easier for us to be mindful of our emotions and how we feel. It is our faith in Jesus that can carry us through such troubled times.

Today, Jesus tells us to be mindful and fully present to him. He urges us to be mindful of our faith in him and to avoid being so literal that we miss his presence. Let us be mindful of Jesus’ loving presence in our lives and of the power of this relationship in our life.


Nakyanzi Betty, RSCJ

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