5th Sunday of Lent

First reading: Ez. 37:12–14

Thus says the Lord GOD: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the LORD. I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.

Second reading: Rom. 8:8–11

Brothers and sisters: Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.

Gospel: Jn. 11:1–45

Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill. So the sisters sent word to him saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” He said this, and then told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” So the disciples said to him, “Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.” But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.” So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, “The teacher is here and is asking for you.” As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him. For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him. So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?”

So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” And when he had said this, He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.

In other words 

Fr. Dante Salces-Barril, SVD (Rome, Italy)

Bethany, the village of Lazarus and his sisters, the central location of our Gospel episode, has two possible meanings: house of affliction or house of dates (the fruit, not boy and girl out together). The Bethany that Jesus visits is indeed a house of affliction… a dark place. But given the theme of the Gospel story, the first seems more appropriate.

Bethany is a place of death and a place to die. The gloominess of Bethany is anticipated by the news sent to Jesus about the illness and eventual death of his friend Lazarus. Its morbidity is accentuated when Thomas recklessly muttered, “Let us also go [there] to die with him.”

Once the story shifted to Bethany, its advertised darkness comes to the fore. Jesus, upon arriving, was welcomed by Martha with a rueful, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Something which Mary tearfully repeated a little later. The deathly atmosphere of Bethany is palpable as readers are made to see people weeping, the tomb closing, and the Jews, the ones who wanted to murder Jesus, lurking. (This probably was the reason why Martha had to inform Mary secretly that Jesus had arrived.)

Jesus was aware that pain and danger awaited him in the “house of affliction.” But he came anyway. And we witness how his presence transformed the darkness of that place into brightness, the threat of death into a miracle of life. The “house of affliction” becomes “a house of miracles” in Jesus.

My friend had a terrible accident early this year. He broke his spinal cord. And as a result, he lost all mobility. In a blink of an eye, he became a “man of affliction.” It took me a while to call because I had no idea what to tell him. But when I ran out of excuses, I hesitatingly video-called him. I expected anger, pain, and some tears. But to my surprise, I was greeted by a smiling face. Yes, there was pain in his eyes… but it made the smile more genuine and potent. He told me how grateful he is that he survived, and he shared how in the hospital he can inspire other patients like him to have faith, hope, and love. I could not believe what I was seeing and hearing. The person I thought was a “man of affliction” turns out to be a “man of miracles.”

My friend is a strong person. But what he has shown is beyond human strength. When we were about to end our conversation, he told me, “Father, before you go, can we pray?” I said, “Of course.” Being the priest, I thought I was going to pray for him. But he started, thanked God, and prayed for me! It became abundantly clear where he gets his strength from at that moment.

A “house of affliction” can be transformed into a “house of miracles.” The Bible tells us so. And my friend proves it too.

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