Home Homilies Michael Whelan SM, PhD Gospel for Fifth Sunday of Lent (6 April 2014)

Gospel for Fifth Sunday of Lent (6 April 2014)

The sections in brackets – [ ] – may be omitted when the Gospel is proclaimed.

 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. [So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”] The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

[When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.] Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. [When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”]

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt 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 came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”][Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.] (John 11:1-45 – NRSV)Introductory notes

1.   “The account as we have it no doubt developed in the pre-Johannine storytelling tradition …. But in its present location and literary shape ‘the miracle has been made to serve the purposes of Johannine theology’ (Raymond Brown)” (Francis Moloney, The Gospel of John, The Liturgical Press, 1998, 324.)

2.   In verse 4 we read: “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Jesus, as the Messiah, is the Presence of God in the world. The Glory of God is in him and shines through him. We have already a had glimpse of this with the Transfiguration. All the miracles are “signs” of this Glory. Francis Moloney writes: “During the account of the celebration of Tabernacles the narrator told the reader that the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified (7:39), and later Jesus told ‘the Jews’ that the Father would glorify him (8:52-54). As Jesus’ ministry comes to an end a number of themes are gradually being drawn together. Jesus’ words about his ‘hour’ (2:4; 7:7-8, 30; 8:20) and his being ‘lifted up’ (3:14; 8:28) suggest that his glorification will be linked with his death. If this is the case the events surrounding Lazarus will set in motion the glorification of the Son of God (v.4).” (Op cit, 325)

3.   This central theme of “the glorification of the Son of God” is supported by two other major Johannine themes repeated in this text: light v darkness and believing v non-believing. “The Jews” are central to the explication of both themes.

4.   There is a strange moment in v.5-6: “ …. though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” We are forced to consider why it is that, if Jesus loved these people, why does he not go to be with them when they need him most? There are other places in John where a similar “contradiction” arises – see 2:1-12 (the wedding at Cana); 4:46-54 (Jesus declaring that a prophet is not accepted in his own country); 7:2-14 (his going to the festival of booths after saying he was not going). We must shift gears, as it were, and think in terms of God’s will unfolding – this may cut across human expectations.Our text

“Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

There are two things happening here, each complementing the other. Firstly, Lazarus, shrouded and entombed, is called forth by Jesus – “Lazarus come out!” – and secondly the community is called forth – “Unbind him, and let him go”.

We are all, potentially at least, tomb-builders. Through our resentments and grudges, our greed and our selfishness, our addictions and compulsions, we progressively build tombs in which we then pretend to “live”. We seldom are aware that ours is a shrouded and entombed life because everyone else around us is living a similarly shrouded and entombed life. It seems normal!

Jesus is repeatedly saying to us all, “Come out of there!”, listen to and face those tombstones and that shroud of death you have created for yourself!

The call of Jesus is complemented by – must be complemented by – the love of the community – “Unbind him/her! Set him/her free!” The implication is that my freedom is not the result of personal effort – I must be loved into freedom.

One contemporary author writes: “The power and the threat of Jesus lie in his capacity t call the true self of each of us out of repression and hiding. The whole thrust of his life and death is to awaken us, his brothers and sister, to the place in ourselves which is open to the living God, with all the surprise and unlearning that awakening entails. In the extreme case this self has been so long and fled from that it has become the enemy. Ego
is all and nothing must disturb its supremacy. Short of this tragic extremity the self as lover nonetheless, and in the same way, invites the ending of reliance on carefully constructed ego-survival techniques, often compulsively sustained. Something has to give as crisis-point is reached.” (Nichlas Peter Harvey, Morals and the Meaning of Jesus: Reflections on the Hard Sayings, The Pilgrim ress, 1993, 104)

The moral vision of the Christ life might be summed up as follows: As you have been loved into freedom, be in the world in such a way that God may love others into freedom through you.

Michael Whelan SM


“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they were sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. …

“The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life. He may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation, he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.” (Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Hodder & Stoughton, 1974, 65 & 67)