Reflection on the Gospel-5th Sunday of Lent Year A (John 11:1-45) -Veronica Lawson RSM
Sunday’s readings touch into the most profound of mysteries, the mysteries of life and death. To hold a newborn child or to see the sick restored to health is to experience the wonder of life. On the other hand, sudden death can bring unimagined grief and pain. The recent earthquake in Türkiye and Syria brought sudden death to tens of thousands of people and an extraordinary outpouring of grief. This unexpected tragedy has come at a time when thousands are dying every day in the world’s major conflict zones and when extreme weather events continue to bring death and destruction and species loss. Death brings tears, even anger. Little wonder that “life” becomes a metaphor for transformation and new beginnings or that “death” so often signifies deprivation and loss.
The gospel reading is about the death and restoration to life of Lazarus, “the one whom Jesus loved”. It is the last of the seven “signs” in John’s “book of signs” that reveal the “glory” of God. It is also the greatest of Jesus’ signs. It functions as a catalyst for the events that lead to his death: “…from that day on they planned to put him to death” (11:53). It provides the occasion for Jesus to assert “I am the resurrection and the life” and to invite assent to that revelation of his identity. It reveals the compassion and tender heart of Jesus who weeps at the grief of Mary his friend and at the death of her brother. It also reveals the goodness in the hearts of those “Jews” who share her grief and who come to faith in Jesus who raises the dead to life.
Though the story revolves around the plight of Lazarus, Martha and Mary are the characters who, with Jesus, occupy centre stage and into whose faith journey we are invited to enter. Martha and Mary are identified as “sisters” who live in Bethany. Are they blood “sisters” or sisters in their love of Jesus and the community around him, or both? Lazarus is Mary’s sick “brother”. Martha will later claim him as her “brother”. Might they all be part of a little faith community in Bethany rather than biological siblings? A brief notice alerts the reader to the imminent death of Jesus: “Mary is the one who anointed Jesus with perfumed oil and wiped his feet with her tears”. The reader will later discover that Mary’s anointing of Jesus is “for the day of [his] burial”.
As so often in John’s gospel, misunderstanding and irony function to bring the actors in the drama, and to bring us as actors in the theatre of life, to new levels of understanding and faith. Right now, in the aftermath of earthquake and in the face of ongoing conflict, we are called, as sisters and brothers across the globe, to open our hearts and share our resources so that some measure of “life” might be restored.