5th Sunday Lent A
Sunday 26th March 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
A man named Lazarus from the village of Bethany was sick. His sisters were Mary and Martha. (This was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair.) They sent a message to Jesus saying: ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’ When he got this message Jesus said, ‘This illness isn’t going to end in death, rather it will reveal God’s glory and, when that happens, the Son of God will be glorified through it.’ Jesus dearly loved Martha, her sister and Lazarus yet when he got their message he stayed where he was for two more days!
Then he said ‘Let’s go back to Judea!’
The disciples replied ‘Rabbi, they were wanting to murder you and now you want to go back?’
‘A day has its full number of hours. If you walk in the day, you won’t stumble because you have the light of the day but if you walk at night, you stumble. Lazarus, our friend, is asleep and I’m going to wake him.’
‘If he’s sleeping, then he’s getting better. Why disturb him?’
But Jesus was talking of Lazarus’ death as sleep, and the disciples did not understand him so he said plainly. ‘Lazarus is dead. I’m glad I wasn’t there because what is going to happen will make you believe. Come on, let’s go’
‘Come on,’ said Thomas, ‘let’s go and get killed with him.’
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had been buried for four days. Bethany was close to Jerusalem, so many people had come to mourn with Martha and Mary over their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was on his way, she went out to meet him, while Mary stayed in the house.
Martha cried, ‘Lord, if you had been here my brother wouldn’t have died but, even now, I know that God will give you whatever you ask!’
Jesus replied: ‘Your brother will live again.’
‘I know he will rise to life at the end of time.’ Martha said.
‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in me, even if they die, will live and everyone who lives with faith in me will not die. Do you believe this?’
‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one we were hoping for.’
Martha then went to get her sister, saying quietly to her: ‘The teacher is here and he wants you.’ When Mary heard this she went quickly to Jesus, who hadn’t yet come into the village. He was still where he had been with Martha. The mourners who had been with Mary thought she was going to the tomb to mourn so they followed her.
When Mary met Jesus she fell at his feet and said: ‘Lord, if you had been here my brother wouldn’t have died.’ Jesus, seeing her tears and those of the mourners, groaned in distress and was deeply upset.
‘Where have you put him?’ he asked.
‘Come and see.’
Some of the people said, ‘Look how deeply he loved him!’ But some others said, ‘He healed the blind man. If he had really loved him, he wouldn’t have let him die!’
Jesus, still very distressed, came to the tomb, which was a cave with a stone at the entrance. He told them, ‘Move the stone away!’
Martha cried, ‘What, Lord! He now stinks!’
‘Didn’t I just tell you that if you had faith you would see the glory of God.’
When the stone was lifted out of the way, Jesus looked to heaven and prayed, ‘Father, I thank you for hearing me! I know you always do but I am saying this aloud that the people standing here may believe that you were the one who sent me.’
Then he ordered in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus! Come out!’
And the dead man came out, still bound in his burial clothes, with his face covered.
‘Take off the burial clothes. Free him.’
Many who were visiting Mary saw what happened and now believed in Jesus.
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
From the depths of my being I cry to you God.
Lord, hear my voice.
Bring your ear close as I cry,
wailing for your mercy.
If you recorded sins,
who would survive?
But with you is forgiveness
therefore you are feared.
For God, I wait, my soul waits,
my hope is God’s word.
More attentive than any early warning system
I wait for God.
Put your hope, Israel, in God,
in God’s unfailing love
in God’s abundant redemption.
For it is God who will redeem
all your sins.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, you know how deeply the fear of death scars our lives, especially in this present crisis. Send us your Spirit that we may truly believe Jesus to be our Resurrection and Life. As we live faithful to his word, may our lives be radiant with your glory. We ask this in Jesus’ name, confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
This Sunday’s Gospel presents the last and greatest ‘sign’ that John uses to show who Jesus is. This story is the hinge by which we swing from all the ‘signs’ that have previously pointed to the glory of God in Jesus to the drama of that glory revealed once and for all in his Death and Resurrection. Irony abounds. The restoration of life to Lazarus so provokes the religious authorities that they decide upon the death of Jesus.
Though this Gospel text is long, it is not the full story. John presents Jesus as the close friend of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. The odd mention of Mary’s anointing, which actually takes place later, makes us realise that this story goes right through into the next chapter. Where we stop in the Sunday reading is like watching a movie through to halfway. The centre of the story is the raising of Lazarus and the other parts of the story are arranged on either side like mirror images playing off each other.
Scene 1 a Illness and death of Lazarus Jn 11: 1-16
Scene 2 b Jesus’ dialogue with Martha 11:17-27
Scene 3 c Jesus’ dialogue with Mary and mourners. (11:28-37)
Scene 4 d Raising of Lazarus (11:38-44)
Scene 5 c* Conversion of many and plot to kill Jesus (11:45-57)
Scene 6 b* Jesus’ anointing by Mary (12:1-8)
Scene 7 a* Plot to kill Lazarus (12:9-11) (This structure comes from _Flesh and Glory_ by Dorothy Lee.)
When Martha and Mary send their message to Jesus, they only tell him the fact that the man he loves is ill. They trust that his love will bring him to cure Lazarus but Jesus delays until he knows that Lazarus has died. In his dialogue with the disciples concerning light/darkness, rest/death and ‘the hours’, we understand that Jesus is entering freely into what is to come – all is under control. The disciples, knowing how dangerous return is, see it as suicide.
Martha’s dialogue with Jesus is one of the extraordinary moments in the Gospels. She is audacious in her faith. She senses that even though her brother has been dead for days, Jesus can do anything. She believes in the resurrection of the last day, she believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Yet when Jesus orders the tomb open, she objects. Her faith can only go so far. Her belief in Resurrection is for ‘after death’, her understanding of Jesus is as ‘the greatest intermediary with God’. She comprehends Jesus with the best vision of Jewish faith. Only with the outpouring of the Spirit at the death of Jesus could she come to the Christian level of faith which believes that Resurrection Life begins now and that Jesus is more than an intermediary: he and the Father are one.
At the tomb, Jesus groans with anger and weeps in grief. While being One with God, knowing that his hour for overcoming sin and death is near, he still shows how he is one with humanity. He experiences the emotions that we should have before those twin evils: anger at sin, grief at the effects of sin. There before the tomb he communes with his Father and then proclaims the words he addresses to us, each one of us whom he loves: “Come out!” Come out from death to life. Allow yourselves to be unbound.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
Aristotle pointed to a great truth when he said: “A true friend is one soul in two bodies.” With our deepest friends we somehow abide with them in love even when separated and we have an ability to inspire each other to be more than what we would be if we were alone. It is significant that this last and greatest sign of Jesus was done for friends and abounds in the marks of friendship.
Trust: The sisters trusted that Jesus would understand their implicit request. Jesus trusted that his delay would not break the friendship. The sisters trusted that even after Lazarus’ death Jesus could do something – even if it was in the ‘afterlife’.
Love: The sisters knew Jesus loved Lazarus and them. They loved each other. Their love for Jesus transcended the gender barriers of their culture.
Openness: Both sisters expressed their disappointment that Jesus had failed to come. Jesus could speak openly to Martha. Jesus prayed openly to his Father in their presence.
Belief: The marvel of the sisters’ faith is not that they fail to explicitly request the miracle of the raising but rather that their faith went so far as to allow such a request to hover on the tip of the tongue. This is what friendship does to people. It teaches them to hope, to trust, even to believe in another beyond what common sense dictates.
At the end of the Last Discourse, just before he goes to his death, Jesus calls his disciples ‘friends’. This is the relationship he desires with each of us. In his Death and Resurrection Jesus revealed his love for us through sin and death. He desires us to trust his love and be prepared to enter into the intimacy of his friendship.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
When Martha and Mary sent news to Jesus of Lazarus’ illness, they implicitly wanted Jesus to do a miracle. When he failed to arrive and Lazarus had been dead for three days, Martha’s belief in Jesus as ‘the Resurrection’ focussed on the last day when all would rise. In other words, her faith was one that looked for miracles in this life and saw the glory of God being revealed in the next life. It was a form of religion that saw God separate from human life, as one who erupted in extraordinary events and rewarded people after death.
The faith that the Gospel of John presents is quite different. It understands ‘miracles’ as signs of the glory of God already present in human life and sees resurrection occurring here in this world when people have faith in Jesus. God is not separate from human existence but very much involved in its drama. This is why Jesus states that his glory is revealed when he is lifted up, that is when he is being crucified. In the very disgrace of crucifixion God’s glory is revealed because Jesus has remained faithful in love. This is called the ‘realized eschatology’ of John.
When Jesus comes, he transforms the nature of religion. We are not called to be live good, moral lives so that God may reward us with miracles in this life and blessedness in the next. We are called to live and love like God so that people see the glory of God in this world. When we forgive freely, serve all lovingly, give without counting the cost, the glory of God is revealed in our lives. When we face the difficult, dark and even dead places of our lives with hope, we know that Christ is again rising in our world. This is our faith, this is the glory to which we are called.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
A Gospel text that has obviously inspired artists through the centuries!
– The Limbourg brothers delightful picture is worth close study. Lazarus’ posture echoes images of Adam’s creation. Martha is withdrawing her hand from her faces realising that Lazarus does not stink, while Mary turns with a look of love to Jesus. And Jesus stands serious in the face of death. Follow the eyes of the main people within this picture.
– Salvador Dali’s paintings always offer a different way of looking at Christ. Here the darkness of Lazarus’ death is being swallowed up by the glory of Christ.
– Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet’s painting shows all the drama of the crowd at the tomb of Lazarus.
– János Vaszary has an striking arrangement of the figures in the scene.
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
Over this coming week, mull about how you let negativity deaden your life.
Watch your thoughts and see what things you repeatedly think about: are they good thoughts leading to love and life, or negative thoughts leading to the deadening of your life and criticism of others. As you watch your thoughts, notice what patterns dominate at this time in your life.
Mull over that pattern and wonder how you could turn into something positive. If you think negatively about yourself, praise God for the blessings you have been given. If it is criticism of others, pray for them. Be like a marital arts expert and turn an attack of negativity into a place of God’s grace.
Ask Jesus to be with you bringing you into the fullness of life.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Sit quietly with your God, resting in the divine love.
Imagine how Jesus was friends with Martha, Mary and Lazarus: the way they could relax together, joke, feast and share the deepest desires of their hearts. Let your mind rest in the ways they could relate together.
Now speak with Jesus about your friendship with him: how you relax together, joke, feast and share the deepest desires of your heart. Rest there for awhile.
If there is any area in your life where you feel awkward with Jesus, ask him to come and call you: “Come out, live in my love.”
Rest in his love.