Hope for those who trust in the Lord
We may physically die, but belief in God brings a new kind of existence
March 17, 2002, Fifth Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
The last three Sundays of Lent we heard about a water that gives life, a sight and light that grows from faith, and now this Sunday that Jesus is resurrection and life. All are ways in which the author of the gospel teaches his community about signs that mean more than what might be immediately obvious. We do not know how real the stories John tells are. They are not found in the Synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Yet as part of what we call the Book of Signs they enable us to reflect on our faith commitment to Jesus.
Paul told the Romans that sin brings death while righteousness brings the Spirit who makes one alive. Just as the Spirit raised Jesus from death to life so will it bring life to us. The great contrast is between life in the flesh and life in the Spirit. The former, which means our physical nature, tends to lead us to sin while the latter is a life revolving around God. Life in the Spirit means a real union with God.
The prophet Ezechiel teaches how, out of death, God can bring life. He presents a graveyard. God opens the graves and raises the dead. His metaphor refers to the people who are in Exile and feel abandoned by God. He tells them they should have hope because the power of God can literally do anything. God will bring them back from Exile and give them a new beginning. Just as God in the Garden of Eden gave life to the clay of the earth formed into Adam, so too will God give life to the people of Israel. This teaching may have been the beginning of the belief in resurrection from the dead. It emphasizes that God's power reaches into the realm of sin and death.
The responsorial psalm begins with a cry for help. We acknowledge our inability to overcome sin. We express the conviction that God alone can help. God brings hope to those who trust in the Lord. We know that God will show mercy to those who seek him.
The readings lead us to the story of Lazarus. The story points to Jesus' own resurrection which, unlike that of Lazarus who eventually had to die again, led to a whole new kind of life over which death had no power. The author is pointing to the fact that Jesus' power to raise the dead and himself was source of eternal life. Martha believed that there would be a resurrection of the dead at the end of time. Now Jesus speaks of himself as resurrection and life. If we believe in him, even though we may physically die, we may live in a new kind of existence with him.
Martha expresses faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and the one who is coming into the world. She may not have known what Jesus would do but she is confident that he will help. Jesus then prays not for a Lazarus to rise but in thanksgiving to God, that God will show that what he teaches is true and that he is the true herald of life.
We have heard in Lent how much God loves us and how God will bring us life. We are encouraged to follow the path that Christ has shown us. He showed us how to overcome our tests, how to be transformed by our experience of God, and how we might have both water and sight that gives life. All of this leads to the depth of the experience which, as Paul says, brings the Spirit who gives us true life. Now we have the promise that this extends even beyond our natural life.
(Fr. Ver Bust holds the title of professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)