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Fifth Sunday of Lent reflection 2020

For the past two Sundays, the Lectionary gave us glimpses into the lives of people with whom Jesus has an encounter. To recap: two weeks ago, Jesus converses with a Samaritan woman and invites her to a new way of living. Last week, we heard about the man born blind – more than, his blindness was healed in this encounter. Today, we encounter Mary, Martha and their late brother, Lazarus. All three stories share a commonality in that we encounter people who come to understand who Jesus is. All three show us how to be “artisans of hope in our blessed and broken world.”

In today’s gospel, we hear of the great promise embedded within a question, “I am the resurrection and the life ... Do you believe this?” Etty Hillesom, a young Dutch-Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz wrote, “There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there too. But more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. Then he must be dug out again.” 1

Through Jesus, the “stones and grit” blocking the flow of life can be removed from our hearts. Standing before Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus commands, “roll away the stone,” to let fresh air in and let something new happen! How often in our emptiness and despair does a compassionate hand reach out and lift us up? How often when we are down does a compassionate voice give us the courage to go on? As those entrusted with the evolving mission of Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, this gospel reminds us that because of our baptism, we are asked to be courageous and “to be more open to the transforming work of the Spirit in us and in the world.”  (Being Artisans of Hope in Our Blessed and Broken World, p.13)

As a baptized people, what does Jesus’ question mean to us? In what ways and to what extent is Jesus really “my life?” I like to think of myself as a person of faith, yet sometimes to remain in the tomb with Lazarus is much more comfortable. In circles that tend to be more secular, whenever I am asked what I do for a living, the feelings arise of wanting to crawl back into a tomb and hide. I entertain negative self-talk: they won’t like me, they will stop talking to me and move on to the next person because I am a person of faith, they will think I am a priest and change their demeanor, etc. How can my baptism bring forth a courageous young man who can find opportunities for growth, instead of remaining with Lazarus in the tomb passively waiting for the call to “come out”?

Through Lazarus, we see that Jesus can raise up anything, no matter what it may be, even raising faith in the hearts of all people. Yet, faith is something that one must come to on their own terms; faith cannot be forced. It often arises because of the example of others, through kinship, not solely by memorizing doctrine or facts. The Spirit given to us is the source of that new life, allowing us to live into that kinship/discipleship.

“We cannot change our character as easily as we change our clothes,” Madeleine Sophie once said, “It is the work of a lifetime. It is achieved with the grace of God and constant effort.” So, too, is faith.

As I write this, our world is experiencing skyrocketed anxiety and fear, and a heightened sense of being finite due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes the Paschal Mystery more palpable this Lent. News outlets by the minute invite us to contemplate mortality. Yet, juxtaposing the news with this gospel, let us remember the fruit of Jesus’ contemplation on his friendship with Lazarus – the human emotion of sadness: “And Jesus wept.”

In my prayer these days, I imagine Jesus and his emotions in light of this pandemic. I see the look on Jesus’ face as he wants to share his healing touch with those in isolation and quarantine only to be brushed aside because of an “abundance of caution.” I imagine Jesus in hospitals sitting next to medical researchers, encouraging them as they analyze the virus and seek out cures, while praying in his heart, “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.”

We often lament to God, “Where are you? Are you forgetting us? Are you listening?” And in our hearts – through God’s word and through the people of God – we can gain an insight. Because through God’s grace, the “stones and grit” of our lives are taken away. God is right there in the struggle and giving us strength, leading us to find meaning in suffering and bringing us the courage to walk in life again. It is in this pain that we discover a God who can force open our tombs and allow us to step out.

We have our whole lives to answer Jesus’ question, “Do you believe?” “Day by day we write the story of our lives; no day in our life is without influence on the last, for ourselves as well as others,” wrote Janet Erksine Stuart, RSCJ. Our answer is ritually embodied when we approach the Lord’s Table, where bread and wine are given new life as Jesus’ Body and Blood courageously shared for the life of the world.

As the end of Lent draws near, and as communities celebrate the Elect of God the Third Scrutiny, the question of Jesus is one that remains at the heart of our faith. And so, do you believe? If we boldly answer, “Yes,” let us pray for a renewal of our hearts to Christ, who truly is the resurrection and the life.

Reflection: John Michael B. Reyes, Educator at Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton, California
Image: photo by Maria Krasnova

 Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1996).