5th Sunday of Lent "A"


(Resurrection of Lazarus -- John 11,1-45)


It is easy to discern two redactional levels in this text from the Gospel of John. The primitive story was a narrative of Lazarus' resurrection, the greatest miracle accomplished by Jesus. When John chose to put that narrative at the crucial moment of Jesus' life, at the end of his ministry and the beginning of his passion, he transforms it. Now, what is at the center is not the miracle itself but the dialogue between Jesus and Martha.

Central to that dialogue is the revelatory saying of Jesus: "I am the resurrection and the life..." as well as Martha's response in v. 27 "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the son of God, who is coming into the world".

This text can help us tremendously to understand the richness and the diversity of the spiritual experience of the early Church. Each one of the local Christian communities had its own way to live and re-live their experience of Christ. While the memory of Jesus' ministry in the Matthaean community is centered on the relationship of Jesus with his group of disciples, especially his twelve apostles, the remembrance in the Gospel of John is centered on his relationship with various friends, especially Martha, Mary and Lazarus. They are his true disciples and he is their "teacher". Martha is named first. She is the one who, after receiving the revelation and expressing her faith in Jesus' word goes and calls Mary, just as Andrew and Philip called Peter and Nathanael. As a "beloved disciple" of Jesus she is the spokeswoman for the messianic faith of the community. She confesses, however, her messianic faith not in response to the miracle but in response to Jesus' revelation and challenge: "Do you believe this?". Her confession parallels that of Peter (6.66-71), but is a christological confession in the fuller Johannine messianic sense: Jesus is the revealer who has come down from heaven. As such it has the full sense of the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi in the synoptics. Thus Martha represents the full apostolic faith of the Johannine community, just as Peter did for the Matthaean community.

If we want to apply that text to our own situation, we have to be both Martha, who confesses Christ and Lazarus who is brought back to life. And concerning that resurrection, we should be attentive to the fact that John does not try to give us the slightest information about what Lazarus experience when he was dead... or what were his feeling when he came back to life. What is important is the fact of his return to life.

The text of Ezechiel may help us to apply that text to our own existence: : "I will open your graves ad have you rise from them, and bring you back to your land... Then you shall know that I am the Lord... I will put my spirit in you that you may live.

We experience death in many ways during the course of our existence. The manner in which Lazarus comes out of the tomb is probably a symbolic expression of that: hands and feet bound in stripes of linen cloth, his face covered. And Jesus says "Let him go free!"

"Till we have faces" is the title of a beautiful poem by T.S. Eliott. Till we have faces we cannot enter into relationship with God or with others. Maybe we have lost the clear sense of our identity, of who we are, who we are called to be... A linen cloth covers our face; it is a form of death. That linen cloth maybe the mask we have carved either to protect ourselves from others, or to try to fool others in taking us for what we know we are not... Maybe it is the mask of our ambitions... so many forms of death. Maybe we have entered Christian life, monastic life for many of us, married life for many in our assistance, with a lot of ideal, of expectation, of generosity. Maybe we have been disillusioned, maybe we have lost our hopes. We continue to crawl along, but we don't really move ahead, we don't run, as says Benedict... Our hands and feet are bound. It is for us that Jesus says: "I am the resurrection and the life".

May we all find in that beautiful symbolic text, and in our Easter celebration not only the courage to live the fullness of life offered to us, but the joy of hearing the Lord says about us: "Untie him, let him go free!"