There is Mercy and Fullness of Redemption

March 26, 2023 – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Who among us here who have not yet felt or experienced disappointment? Or a failure or a heartbreak? Well, definitely, most of us have these experiences in one way or another. There might be some of us who have also experienced being humiliated, oppressed or abused. Or perhaps who are ill at the moment, or in trouble at work, perhaps lost a job, failure in business or failure in a relationship or having an overwhelming family problem, or who are in great sorrow for losing a loved one.

These realities cause a person to suffer and make our day turn into darkness, our bright tomorrow into hopelessness and our life bitter and horrible. This was the case of Nanay Celia whom I met in Cebu City when I was in the college seminary. She suffered and died of breast cancer. But before she died I had a deep conversation with her. She shared that her husband left her for another woman. When she got sick and she was completely abandoned. She was all alone. She began to be angry with everything and everyone. She got angry with God and cursed God for such suffering she endured. Life was so bitter. She wanted to end everything because she was hopeless.

Yet, not until a group of missionary sisters found her in her house. She was brought to the sisters’ institution. It was in that institution that I met her. She knew that she was about to die but before she died, something 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 gone because she found love, acceptance and forgiveness through the sisters.

This story is not far from our readings today that concretely portray to us these human realities of failure, disappointment, heartbreak, doubts, and even of being helpless and hopeless. This was how the people of Israel felt at the time of Prophet Ezekiel. The Hebrews 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.

The same expression was presented to us in the psalms. “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 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. This is entirely connected to our psalm that says, “With the Lord, there is mercy and fullness of redemption.” It means that God is indeed faithful to his promise, he is faithful to the covenant. God will never betray us. The Lord 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 to us, not just to Martha and Mary but also to you and to me today, that God is never indifferent to our misery, 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. Yes, in the Gospel Jesus was described twice to have been perturbed. He was distressed and troubled because something happened to his dear friend Lazarus. And when he saw the dead Lazarus lying on the grave, (what happened to Jesus?), Jesus wept! He cried like us. He feels sad and in grief 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, bitterness, 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 sins 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. 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.

It is only when we come to believe that God is the author of life that we will also 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. Kabay pa.

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