March 29, 2020 – 5th Sunday of Lent Year A
Click here for the readings (http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032920.cfm)
Who among us who have not yet felt or experienced disappointment? Or a failure or a heartbreak? Surely, most of us have these experiences in one way or another. There might be some of us as well who also experienced being humiliated, oppressed or abused.
With the global health crisis that we are facing now, Pope Francis in his message at his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and to the world) tells us how
“we find ourselves afraid and lost, caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm, and realized that while we are on the same boat, all of us are fragile and disoriented.”
Indeed, these realities tell us of our suffering. These realities make our day turn into darkness, our bright tomorrow into hopelessness and make our life bitter and horrible. Again, Pope Francis also affirms this as he says,
“think darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void…”
With this, I would like to tell you the story of Nanay Celia. I met her in Cebu City 11 years ago. She suffered and died of breast cancer. But before she died I had a deep conversation with her. She told me that her husband left her for another woman. Her two sons forgot about her and abandoned her when she got sick and was diagnosed of stage 4 breast cancer. She was all alone. She began to be angry with everything and everyone. She even got angry with God and cursed God for such suffering she endured. Life was so bitter, she wanted to end everything. She was hopeless.
But not until a group of missionary sisters found her in her house. She was brought to the sisters’ institution. And it was in that institution that I met her. She knew that she was about to die but before she died, something has changed. The darkness of being abandoned turned into light. Her hopeless life turned into a life filled with hope. Her anger, disappointment and loneliness were all lifted up because she found love, acceptance and forgiveness through the people around her in that institution.
This story is not far from our readings today that concretely portray these human realities of failure, disappointment, heartbreak, fear, and even of being helpless and hopeless. This was how the people of Israel felt at the time of Prophet Ezekiel. The Hebrew people were exiled. They were in a land they did not know, where there was no Temple and no God. As a people they were humiliated by their foreign captors. They had no identity and were doubtful of God’s presence in their life.
This feeling has been expressed in the Psalm, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice!” It is a lament of a person who is in great misery, who felt that God seemed to be deaf of his/her pleas, who felt of a God who seemed so indifferent to his/her horrible situation.
This is what we find also in the Gospel. Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, were in great misery. They were inconsolable and heartbroken over the death of their brother. That is why Martha, in her sorrow said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died…” It was a statement of disappointment and even of anger. It was actually a statement of blaming God for not doing anything.
But our readings also today reveal something very important to us. The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel conveys God’s promise of salvation where the Lord shall open the graves and shall have them rise as a people and will be restored to their homeland Israel. Our Psalm also says, “With the Lord, there is mercy and fullness of redemption.” It means that God is indeed faithful to his promise. God is faithful to the covenant. God will never betray us. God will never abandon us because God is forever with us and for us.
These characteristics of God are most evident in our Gospel. Jesus reveals not just to Martha and Mary but also to you and to me today, that God is never indifferent to our misery, to fears and anxieties, to our feelings. Jesus reveals to us that he is a loving God and a merciful God. He is a God who feels like us who also feels lonely, feels afraid and even worried, anxious and sad.
In the Gospel Jesus was described twice to have been perturbed, he was distressed and troubled because something happened to his dear friend Lazarus. When he saw the dead Lazarus lying on the grave, Jesus wept! He cried like us. He feels sad like you and me.
What does that mean now? It means that our God is not a God who is so far away who cannot hear our cries or deaf to our prayers. God is not indifferent to our suffering, to our questions and doubts. God understands how it is to lose a loved one, or even to be humiliated, to be lonely and alone. God cries with us when we too are in deep trouble.
This shows, then, the immensity and the greatness of God’s love for you and me. Jesus prayed to the Father to bring Lazarus back to life. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” What do these words mean to us now? Jesus also wants us to come out from our own graves. That we too will be healed from our own experiences of pain, of bitterness, of hopelessness and loneliness where we too seemed to be lifeless in many ways as expressed in our relationships with others. Coming out from our own graves also means being freed from our own selfishness, arrogance and addictions that come in many forms.
We will only be able to come out from our own graves and lifeless situations when we become like the sister of Lazarus, Martha. Jesus asked her, “Do you believe that I can bring your brother back to life?” Mary indeed believed. We too, each of us is being asked by Jesus, “Do you believe in me? That I am the resurrection and the life?” It is only when we come to realize and believe in the goodness and love of God that God also works wonders in us. As Pope Francis says also, “the call to faith, is not so much about believing that God exists, but coming to God and trusting in God.”
It is only when we come to believe that God is the author of life that we also will value more our life and the lives of others. It is only when we come to believe that God is the God of our life that we also see the many good things we enjoy in this life despite the many difficulties and hardships we encounter. When we truly believe that God is the resurrection and the life that we begin to become true Christians who see light in the midst of darkness, who find joy in the midst of sorrow, who capture a smile in the midst of pain, who embrace hope in the midst of impossibility, who find healing in the midst of so much sickness and who find life in death. Hinaut pa.
Jom Baring, CSsR