Fifth Sunday of Lent


By Fr. Chris Valka, C.S.B.

This Sunday’s readings represent some of the most dramatic stories in scripture: Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones revived by the breath of God, and Lazarus raised from the dead. Two miraculous events that contain a great lesson: death is a part of life, but it is not the end, and it is not removed from God’s awareness. John’s account of Lazarus is beautiful in every detail, but there are two pivotal moments in the Lazarus story that I would like to draw your attention to: The first concerns Martha’s words to Jesus: “Lord, if you would have been there, my brother would not have died.” You can imagine the pain, perhaps even anger, she must have felt knowing that Jesus was capable of saving him, but chose not to. Her brother had been dead for four days. How long was she waiting for Jesus to intervene? It would have taken time for word to get to Jesus and for him to make the journey to the village. Still, Martha was confident that Jesus could do anything he asked of God. She did believe that Jesus was the Christ, but it is clear she did not fully comprehend what that meant. Martha lived in hope, even when there seemed to be no reason to do so.

But it must have been so very hard to have hope for so long, when things seemed so bad . . . The second moment is the infamous shortest line in the Bible: Jesus wept. No elaboration is necessary. Nothing more needs to be said. Jesus felt their pain, their suffering. In two simple words, we learn that God is not absent from our sorrows, difficulties, and loss. Though it may seem that God is far away, God enters into our most difficult moments and feels deeply.

Is this line so noteworthy because it is the shortest in the Bible? No. It is noteworthy because it conveys an important theological truth: our faith, our religion cannot be reduced to some form of magic, nor are we helpless pawns on the chessboard of a whimsical God. God doesn’t intervene to prevent the tragedies and sufferings of life. For certain afflictions, there exists no human remedy. Words of encouragement often fail to effect any change. Many times people in these situations are not able to do anything, not even pray. They are like Lazarus in the tomb. And God is there in the midst of it all – weeping. This is our God who stands in profound human solidarity with us. This is the incarnation of God – fully embracing our human condition. Suffering cannot be avoided. It is part of humanity. God does not prevent it; rather God is there with us… until we are ready to truly live.

Sunday’s Readings:

Ezekiel 37.12-14

Romans 8.8-11

John 11.1-45