5th SUNDAY OF LENT (Cycle A)

Readings:
Ezekiel 37:12-14
Psalm 130:1-6b, 7b-8
Romans 8:8-11
John 11:1-45 or 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for humanity, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: New Life
God promised His Old Covenant people that one day He would send His Spirit to gather and reconcile His scattered and divided people and to transform them with new life (the First Reading), redeeming them from past iniquities (Psalm Reading).  The raising of Lazarus in our Gospel reading is a sign of Jesus' victory over death that will be accomplished in His Resurrection from the dead.  It is a sign of the hope of the promised new life that awaits all who follow Christ by submitting to re-birth through water and the Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism (the Second Reading).  It is also the promise of the bodily resurrection of the dead and the Last Judgment at the end of time when Christ returns to claim His Church (1 Thes 4:13-16; 5:23; Rev 20:11-15).  This sacred anointing comes from Christ who pours out the Spirit upon His Church to associate them to His self-sacrificial offering to the Father, and also to nourish, to heal, and to direct them in their mission to bear witness to His love and intercession for the world.  It is a promise of "new life" that St. Peter will proclaim is fulfilled on the morning of Pentecost when God the Holy Spirit fills and indwells the Church (Acts 2:17-21).  These works of God, offered to believers in the Sacraments of the Church, bear their fruit in the Christian's new life in Christ according to the Spirit.

The First Reading Ezekiel 37:12-14 ~ God's Promise of a Bodily Resurrection
The theme of the readings for this Sunday is God's gift of a spiritual awakening and transformation that leads to "new life" in an intimate covenant relationship with God. In the First Reading, God promised His people, suffering in the Babylonian exile, that one day He would send His Spirit to gather and reconcile His scattered and divided people, resurrecting them to "new life." The Responsorial Psalm continues the theme of "new life." The Psalm Reading is one of the seven Penitential Psalms in which God promises to redeem His people from their past iniquities (Ps 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 147). The Advent of Jesus Christ fulfills the Penitential Psalms. Jesus' very name in Hebrew, Yahshua, means "God is salvation;" it is a name that carries the promise that God will redeem His people from their sins and give them a "new life" through a covenant relationship with Him (Mt 1:21; Lk 1:68). The raising of Lazarus from the dead in our Gospel Reading is a sign of Jesus' victory over death that He accomplished in His bodily Resurrection from the grave. It is a sign of the hope of the promised "new life" that awaits all of us who follow Christ by submitting to a rebirth through water and the Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism (the Second Reading). It is also the promise of the bodily resurrection of the dead at the end of time when Christ returns to claim His Church and raise her to glory (1 Thes 4:13-16; 5:23; Rev 20:11-15). The prophesied sacred anointing of "new life" through God's Spirit promised by the prophets comes from Jesus Christ. He continually pours out the Holy Spirit upon His Church to associate her to His self-sacrificial offering to the Father on the altar of the Cross. Jesus kept the promise He made to His disciples in His homily after the Last Supper when He sent the Holy Spirit to His Church at Pentecost. Jesus sent the Spirit of God to continually fill and indwell, to nourish, to heal, and to direct the people of His Kingdom of the Church in their mission to bear witness to His love and intercession for the world. It is the promise of "new life" that St. Peter proclaimed fulfilled on the morning of Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21). The ministry the Spirit is active in the lives of believers in every generation through the Eucharist and the other Sacraments Christ gave His Church. God's grace continually works through the Holy Spirit to bear the "good fruit" of righteousness in the "new life" in Christ of all baptized Christians as they live, not according to the secular world, but live according to the Spirit.

God's judgment on His covenant people, who had fallen away from Him into apostasy and pagan practices, was exile from the Promised Land (Is 5:1-10).  In 722 BC the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and took the survivors into exile to Assyrian lands to the east, resettling five different pagan peoples in the Assyrian province now called Samaria (2 Kng 17).  God's judgment was delayed for the Southern Kingdom of Judah because occasionally a descendant of David would become king and call the people to national repentance.  However, in the sixth century BC, the Southern Kingdom of Judah became a vassal state of the Babylonians, and a number of the citizens were taken into exile in Babylon (597 BC), including a young priest named Ezekiel.  He became the first prophet to receive the call to prophecy outside of the Holy Land.  Later, the nation of Judah revolted against their Babylonian overlords.  The Babylonians invaded Judah and destroyed both Jerusalem and the Temple in 587/6 BC, taking the majority of the population into exile.  It was from his exile in Babylon that God first directed Ezekiel to prepare his fellow countrymen for the final destruction of Jerusalem, but after the destruction God's message changed and He ordered Ezekiel to give His covenant people His message of forgiveness and the promise of future restoration.

With the possible exception of the opening verses of the Book of Ezekiel, no other Old Testament passage is as well-known or well-loved as Ezekiel 37:1-14.  In the prophecy, God compares the exiles of Israel (from both the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah) to the bones of the dead scattered on a battlefield (Ez 37:1-5).  In verses 6-11, God brings the bones together to form corpses, but they have no life in them.  Then in verses 12-14, Yahweh promises that He will not only open the graves of the dead and flesh out their bodies, but He will, by the power of His Spirit, breathe new life into the corpses of His people so that, restored to life, He can resettle them in the Promised Land.

For Christians Ezekiel's prophecy is fulfilled in the New Covenant in Christ Jesus.  At the end of his prophetic vision, God promises a new covenant of peace that will be an everlasting covenant in Ezekiel 37:26-28 (see Lk 22:20; Heb 13:20).  The Church sees the beginning of the fulfillment of Ezekiel's vision in Jesus' Resurrection from the dead (Mt 28:5-6; Mk 16:6; Lk 24:6; Acts 2:32; 3:15, 26; 4:10; etc) and also in the miracle on Pentecost Sunday in the birth of the "new Israel" that is the Church, the earthly kingdom of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:14-15; Acts 2:1-4; CCC 877).  In that miracle, the "dry bones" or "corpses" of the Old Covenant people, represented by the 120 Jewish disciples of Jesus praying in the Upper Room in Jerusalem who did not possess the promise of resurrection or eternal salvation under the Old Covenant, were re-born when God's Spirit descended upon each person and breathed new life into them.  Their re-birth through the action of God's Spirit made them citizens of Jesus' Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, the universal (catholic) Church.  It is the Church that will gather her children from the four corners of the earth and bring them to "new life" in Christ Jesus through the Sacrament of Baptism.  The Church will also give her children the promise of the bodily resurrection promised by Ezekiel in the Second Advent of Christ at the end of time.  In that event, the dead will arise from their graves for the Last Judgment and Jesus will claim His Bride, the Church, and will accompany her to the Promised Land of the heavenly Jerusalem and to the wedding feast of the Lamb that is prefigured in every Eucharistic celebration (1 Thes 4:16; Rev 19:6-9; 20:11-15).  

Responsorial Psalm 130:1-6b, 7b-8 ~ The Lord is Merciful

The response is: "With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption."
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; 2 LORD, hear my voice!  Let your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication.
3 If you, O LORD, mark iniquities, LORD, who can stand?  4 But with you is forgiveness, that you may be revered.
5 I trust in the LORD; my soul trusts in his word.  6b More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the LORD.
7b  For with the LORD is kindness [hesed = faithful, covenant love] and with him is plenteous redemption; 8 and he will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.

The main theme of Psalms 130 is God's divine forgiveness.  It is one of the "Songs of Ascent," a psalm that pilgrims sang on their journey up to the Temple of Yahweh in the holy city of Jerusalem.  It is also the sixth of the seven penitential psalms of the Christian liturgical tradition, expressing a desire for repentance and conversion (see Ps 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 147).

With a penitent heart, the psalmist cries out to the Lord. "Out of the depths" in verse 1 could be referring to death (Ps 18:4; 69:2), or it could be a reference to the depths of the human conscience.  When we pray we do not speak from the heights of our prided but from the depths of a humble and contrite heart.  As Jesus told His disciples, "... for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted" (Lk 18:14).  Humility is the foundation of prayer.  After crying out to God, the psalmist acknowledges that every human is a sinner and that God, in forgiving sin, demonstrates His greatness to mankind (verses 3-4).  The psalmist extols the goodness of God who forgives and also expresses his complete trust in God's mercy (verses 5-6).  He has faith that God is true to His word (verse 5) and is as confident in God's forgiveness as the night watchman is confidence the dawn will come (verse 6b).  The reason for the psalmist's hope in the Lord that is expressed in verse 5 is given in verses 7b-8.  He ends the psalm by exhorting the people to also hope in the Lord (verses 7-8).  The reason for their hope is because of God's kindness (hesed = faithful, covenant love) and with him is plenteous redemption that will be extended to His covenant people, for He will redeem Israel from all their iniquities (verse 8).

Each of the seven Penitential Psalms is fulfilled in the advent of Jesus Christ.  His very name in Hebrew means "God is salvation;" it is a name that carries the promise that God will redeem His people from their sins (Mt 1:21; Lk 1:68).  The Church encourages the faithful to pray a penitential psalm in association with the Liturgy of the Mass to express trust in Christ the Redeemer.  The penitential psalm should be prayed either before Mass as the faithful are kneeling in prayer in preparation for the beginning of Mass and the Penitential Rite, and/or it is recommended a penitential psalm be offered just prior to the Eucharistic Procession to express the need for purification before approaching the altar to receive Christ in the Eucharist.

The Second Reading Romans 8:8-11 ~ Live by the Spirit
8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  9 But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness.  11 If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.

In Romans 8:1-13, St. Paul writes to the Christian community in Rome that Christ has made it possible for us to live according to the Spirit.  In Romans 8:9, St. Paul makes the powerful statement: But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  Paul is saying that only those who are reborn in the Spirit of God through the Sacrament of Baptism can truly belong to God and have the right to be called children in the family of God (Jn 3:3, 5). 

In verse 10 Paul assures the Christians of Rome that with Christ living in us the body is dead, referring to our physical bodies (see Eph 2:1-6).  The reality is that every day we are alive in our physical bodies is another step toward death.  No matter what we "invest" in our earthly bodies, it is a short term investment.  The body, because of the effects of sin, is doomed to physical death and is an instrument of spiritual death.  Yet, through the regenerative waters of our baptism, we are alive in the spirit of Christ.  He has justified (made righteous in the site of God) the believer, and we look forward to a final resurrection at the end of time when we will receive new bodies which are imperishable.  Living in the spirit of Christ, Paul says in verse 11, Christians look forward to being alive in a way that makes the present reality of life in the flesh a pale counterfeit kind of living.  Investing in life in the Spirit is a long term investment that will reap enormous benefits because God stands behind that investment.

The Gospel of John 11:1-45 ~ The Resurrection of Lazarus
1 Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  2 Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfume oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill.  3 So the sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus, saying, "Master, the one you love is ill."  4 When Jesus heard this he said, "This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it." 
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  6 So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.  7 Then after this he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea."  8 The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?"  9 Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in a day?  If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  10 But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him."  11 He said this, and then told them, "Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him."  12 So the disciples said to him, "Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved."  13 But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep.  14 So then Jesus said to them clearly, "Lazarus has died.  15 And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.  Let us go to him."  16 So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go to die with him."
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.  18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away.  19 And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother.  20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home.  21 Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  22 But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you."  23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise."  24 Martha said to him, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day."  25 Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?"  27 She said to him, "Yes, Lord.  I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, "The teacher is here and is asking for you."  29 As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him.  30 For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him.  31 So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there.  32 When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."  33 When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, 34 "Where have you laid him?"  They said to him, "Sir, come and see."  35 And Jesus wept.  36 So the Jews said, "See how he loved him."  37 But some of them said, "Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?"
38 So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.  39 Jesus said, "Take away the stone."  Martha, the dead man's sister, said to him, "Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days."  40 Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?"  41 So they took away the stone.  And Jesus raised his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you for hearing me.  42 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."  43 And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"  44 The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth.  So Jesus said to them, "Untie him and let him go." 45 Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him. 

Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and Simon the Leper all lived in the village of Bethany on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives about two Roman miles from Jerusalem (John 11:18) or about four modern miles from the current city of Jerusalem.  Scholars debate the Hebrew meaning of the name "Bethany".  Some scholars maintain the name means "place" or "house of grace": bet = place or house while heni is from the root hen, meaning "grace."  Other scholars believe the name comes from the Hebrew word anya meaning "affliction" and therefore would be "place or house of affliction" (Anchor Bible: Gospel According to John, page 422).  It can at least be agreed that when Christ was present this village was indeed a "place of grace."  The story of the raising of Lazarus is unique to St. John's Gospel.  It is the 6th of the public "signs" of Jesus the Son of God.  We do not know why the Synoptic Gospels do not recount this miracle, but John presents the resurrection of Lazarus as a historically accurate event that took place in the village of Bethany on the Mount of Olives during the last year of Jesus' earthly ministry.

Lazarus' name is literally La'zar, the shortened form of Eleazar which means "God helps" (Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to John, page 422).  The Synoptic Gospels cast more light on the special relationship this family enjoyed with Jesus.  This 6th Sign took place sometime between December and March of year 29/30AD. An earlier visit is recorded in the Gospel of Luke (see Luke 10:38-42).  Sometime after the resurrection of Lazarus, later in March 30AD, Jesus even stopped off to visit this family the night before He entered Jerusalem on the day we call "Palm" or "Passion Sunday."  The night before His entry in the Jerusalem, His friends in Bethany prepared a special Sabbath dinner for Him (Jn 12:1-3).  He also dined in Bethany one final time during Wednesday of Passion Week at the home of His friend Simon the Leper where the family of Lazarus may have been present (Mt 26:6-12 and Mk 14:3-8).  Today the town is called El Azareyeh, a name derived from the name of Jesus' dear friend Lazarus.

It is interesting that in verses 1-3 that St. John identifies Lazarus by his sisters.  The obvious reason would be that he assumes his audience is familiar with these sisters from the other Gospel accounts that mention Mary and Martha but which do not mention their brother.  In any event, in verse 3 John mentions an event that will occur in the next chapter.  It is unlikely that John is referring to the sinful woman who whipped her tears from Jesus' feet and then anointed them in Luke 7:37.  Mary of Bethany has always been a symbol of virtue in the Church and the Church Fathers did not associate her with the sinful woman in St. Luke's Gospel. 

John 11:3-4 ~ So the sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus, saying, "Master, the one you love is ill."  4 When Jesus heard this he said, "This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it." 
There is a double meaning in word-play concerning death and glorification.  Jesus will be glorified by the miracle of resurrecting Lazarus (Jn 11:4), but the miracle will enrage the Jewish authorities to the point that it will bring about Jesus' own death (Jn 11:46-54) through which He will be glorified.

Jesus' statement: This illness is not to end in death seems at first glance to be ambiguous.  Lazarus will indeed die and be entombed.  This is another example of St. John's play on words and Jesus' miracle in raising Lazarus from the dead will be another "sign" of His divine authority.  A Biblical "sign" always points beyond the miracle performed.  There are two "deaths:" there is physical death and there is spiritual death which is an eternal death.  The reason why the sickness will not end in death is because Jesus will give physical life as a "sign" of eternal life.  This sign in the raising of Lazarus will glorify Christ, not just because people will admire Him but because it will lead to another greater sign beyond Lazarus' resurrection.  The symbolic importance of this 6th sign is made clear by John from the beginning.  We were told in John 9:3 that the affliction of the man born blind was for the purpose of having God's works revealed in him.  In John 11:4 we are told that Lazarus' illness is also for God's glory.  But this glory will only be fully evident when the Son is Himself glorified in His death, burial, and resurrection. 

John 11:5-8 ~ Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  6 So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.  7 Then after this he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea."  8 The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?" 
When the news of Lazarus' illness reaches Jesus, He and His disciples are on the eastern side of the Jordan River in the area known as Perea (Jn 10:40).  The Roman supported ruler of this area is Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great.  He is the tetrarch of both the Galilee and Perea, and he is also the Herod who condemned John the Baptist to death.  John's Gospel seems to indicate that Jesus' ministry in the heavily Gentile populated Perea extended over a three month period from the end of the Feast of Dedication in December 29 AD to the week preceding the Last Passover in the spring of 30 AD.  It was in the territory of Perea on the far side of the Jordan River (also known as the Transjordan) that John the Baptist baptized Jesus (Jn 1:28).  Large crowds from this area followed Jesus (Mt 4:25).  Jesus and His disciples had withdrawn from Judea to the area of Perea after Jesus' discourse at the Feast of Dedication (Chanukkah/Hanukkah) when the authorities were even more determined to kill Jesus (see Jn 10:39 and 11:8).

6 So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.
The two days delay meant that Jesus and the disciples would have begun their journey on the third day after receiving the message.  It would have taken a day for the message to come to Jesus, then the two days that Jesus remained across the Jordan before leaving, plus the day's journey to Bethany that will account for the four days which will be mentioned in verse 17.  That He started on the third day puts emphasis on the number three as the number that indicates importance and theological significance in Sacred Scripture. 

John 11:9-10 ~  Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in a day?  If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  10 But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him. 
Romans counted the hours of the day from midnight (we keep Roman time), but for the Jews the day began at sundown with the night divided into four watches of 12 hours and the daylight hours divided into twelve hours.  Speaking of the sun, Jesus is not referring to its path in the heavens that is divided into twelve seasonal hours of daylight.  He is speaking on a theological level that is related to His statement in John 9:4-5 when Jesus said: "We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.  Night is coming when no one can work.  While I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (emphasis added).  Jesus is the true light.  So long as the disciples follow Him they will not stumble in "darkness" nor will they get lost.  The "darkness" will not come until the appointed "hour of darkness" determined by God the Father for His Son's sacrificial death and resurrection.  Until that time, it is "daytime" and the twelve who were chosen by Jesus as the spiritual fathers of the New Covenant Church can walk with Him in safety.

10 But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him. 
With the exception of the disciple who is identified by the Church Fathers as the Apostle John Zebedee, the other Apostles will all "stumble" at the "hour of darkness" when Jesus is arrested and crucified.  Only "the beloved disciple," Jesus' mother, and some of the women disciples will stand by Him at the cross (see Mt 27:45; Mk 15:33; Lk 23:44).

John 11:11-16 ~ He said this, and then told them, "Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him."  12 So the disciples said to him, "Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved."  13 But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep.  14 So then Jesus said to them clearly, "Lazarus has died.  15 And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.  Let us go to him."  16 So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go to die with him."
Jesus uses the word "sleep" to express the death of Lazarus.  In Hebrew as well as in Greek culture, "to sleep" could be a euphemism of someone's death, yet the disciples fail to catch Jesus' meaning.  In their culture "to sleep" forever was death but Jesus' expression "to fall asleep" is especially fitting for the death of a believer in Christ.  A Christian must face physical death, but for the Christian it is only a "sleep" because the Christian has the hope of "awaking" to eternal life.  Jesus tells the disciples He is glad for their sake that Lazarus has died.  The significance of the death of their friend Lazarus includes the strengthening of the disciples' faith through the miracle of his resurrection.  It is a strengthening of faith they will all need to recall in about two months when their faith is severely put to the test.

Then Thomas, known as the Twin, said "Let us also go to die with him."
The Greek word for "twin" is didymos and was often used as a proper name in Greek culture.  The word for "twin" in Hebrew and Aramaic is teoma and although there is not much evidence that it was used as a personal name it may account for our English rendering of this disciple's name as "Thomas."  The literal translation of this passage is that this man is "Thomas, called Didymus..."  In all the lists of the twelve Apostles he is always called Thomas and never Didymus.  John, however, who mentions Thomas more than any other Gospel writer, always identifies him as "Thomas, called Didymus" (see Jn 20:24 and 21:2). 

There an irony as well as a prophetic aspect to Thomas' declaration:

  1. St. Paul teaches that all Christians have died with Christ: If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him (Rom 6:8); and Paul writes: For the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died.  He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2 Cor 5:14-15).  Baptized by the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus' Resurrection, Thomas died to sin and was raised to new life in Christ.
  2. Thomas like Jesus' disciple Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and like many other believers will follow Christ in physical death.  Thomas will die a martyr's death for following His Lord and Savior, but he had the promise of his salvation and of the future bodily resurrection of the faithful. 

John 11:17-20 ~ When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.  18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away.  19 And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother.  20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. 
The detail that Lazarus had been dead for four days is significant.  It makes it clear that Lazarus was truly deceased.  According to the cultural traditions of the Jews it was believed that the soul hovered near the body for three days but after that time there was no hope of resuscitation and decay would begin (Anchor Bible: Gospel According to John, Brown, 424).

many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. 
It was then, and still is now, the custom of the Jews to bury the dead as soon as possible after death.  Those who die a natural death like Lazarus from illness would have their bodies washed in preparation for burial and would be anointed with oils and herbs and wrapped in burial cloths.  Those who died violent deaths, however, were not washed because their blood must accompany them to the grave.  Jesus will not be washed after His death; His body will only be prepared by being wrapped in a shroud and the women disciples will later bring spices and ointments for His body (Mt 27:59; Mk 15:45-16:1).  The ritual of mourning normally began immediately following the burial.   According to the customs of 1st century AD Judea, men and women walked separately in the funeral procession and after the entombment or burial the women returned alone to begin the mourning, which customarily lasted for thirty days.  This ritual included loud wailing and dramatic expressions of grief.

John 11:21-24 ~ Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  22 But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you."  23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise."  24 Martha said to him, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day." 
Martha offers a mild reproach that is followed by a statement of faith in Jesus.  She believes if Jesus had been by her brother's side before his death that Jesus could have healed him.  She also expresses the belief that whatever He asks God, the Father will grant.  But why doesn't she ask for Lazarus' resurrection at this time if she believes in the power of Jesus as the Son of God?  Some scholars suggest that her faith was imperfect but according to St. Augustine, Martha illustrates the perfect example of Christian faith.  She places herself and her brother entirely in God's hands by expressing her submission to His will.  St. Augustine writes: "...she will not say, 'But now I ask you to raise my brother to life again.'  [...] all she said was, 'I know that you can do it; if you will do it; it is for you to judge whether to do it, not for me to presume'  (In Ioannis Evangelium, 49.13).

The picture of Martha and Mary in this event compliments the portrait of them found in Luke 10:38-42.  Martha rushes out to meet Jesus while Mary is at home.  Martha is the woman of "action" while Mary is the quiet, reflective sister.  Marth's response is similar to the Virgin Mary's instructions to the waiters in John 2:5.  In each there is the same indirect expressed hope that Jesus will act despite what appears to be an impossible situation.  There is a desire and a delicate suggestion but no direct request.

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise."  Martha said to him, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day."
Martha misunderstands Jesus statement in verse 23.  She apparently thinks Jesus is offering only words of comfort affirming the doctrine of the resurrection of the body in the final judgment as He has taught and which is advocated by the Pharisees but not the Sadducees (Mt 22:23; Mk 12:18; Acts 23:8).  Martha holds the belief of a bodily resurrection, but Jesus will put her faith in a bodily resurrection in a radical new context in the next verse. The Old Testament Scriptures which refer to the promise a bodily resurrection are found in Job 19:25-26; in David's Toda [thanksgiving] psalms of Psalms 16; Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2-3; and 2 Maccabees chapters 7 and 12 and 14.

John 11:25-27 ~  Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?"  27 She said to him, "Yes, Lord.  I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."
The additional phrase "and the Life" is omitted in some MMS (ancient handwritten manuscripts) and included in others. The addition of the phrase and the Life does fit well, however, with the flow of ideas and statements that proceed and follow the phrase.  This is Jesus' 5th "I AM" statement using a predicate nominative.   All the previous "I AM" statements where Jesus uses a predicate nominative reference the themes of the resurrection and eternal life.

Jesus identifies Himself with the significant and symbolic words: I AM, ego ami, which reminds us of Yahweh's revelation of Himself to Moses three times as I AM in Exodus 3:13-14.  In John's Gospel, Jesus will use these words twenty-six times and in seven different metaphors (each used with a predicate nominative):

1. 6:35 "I AM the bread of life"
2. 8:12 "I AM the light of the world"
3. 10:7 "I AM the gate for the sheep"
4. 10:11 "I AM the good shepherd"
5. 11:25 "I AM the resurrection and the life"
6. 14:6 "I AM the way and the  truth and the life"
7. 15:1 "I AM the true vine"
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2003

St. John will also record four "I AM" statements in which Jesus will not use a predicate nominative: John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19.

The significance of Jesus' statement in light of Martha's previous understanding is that the life that Jesus gives is a present reality and not just a future promise!  There are two principal ideas here:

  1. "I AM the resurrection" is a direct answer to Martha's profession of faith in verse 24 and also tells her of the present realization of what she had only expected on "the last day."  Jesus is the resurrection in the sense that not only will whoever believes in Him come to eternal life in the resurrection at the end of time, even though that person may suffer a physical death, but there is a gift of spiritual rebirth that is offered now in this life. The believer who is resurrected spiritually in Christ, although remaining "in the flesh" for a time, already lives by the Spirit and when he dies physically he will continue to live spiritually.  That is why the Church speaks of two resurrections: one through baptism when we die to sin and are raised to new life in Christ and the other at the end of time (see Rev 20:5-6; CCC 686; 990; 999-1004; 1015-17; 1214-15).
  2. "and the Life" is a statement related to verse 26.  The believer who is alive spiritually will never die spiritually.  Whoever receives the gift of life through belief in Christ Jesus will never die a spiritual death because his/her life is eternal.  The "life" that Jesus speaks of is life that comes from "above" and is begotten through God the Holy Spirit (Jn 3:3. 5).  This new life conquers physical death as well as gives spiritual life.  However, this gift of supernatural life is not just the "Life" that will begin beyond the grave but is the supernatural life which sanctifying grace will bring to the Christian soul through the gift of Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist.  It is the promise Jesus made to all believers in John 6:54-56 when He said: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him."

 The believer in Christ has triumphed over death forever and this victory will be the sign of Lazarus' resurrection.

27 She said to him, "Yes, Lord.  I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."
Martha of Bethany is a wonderful example of the model Christian.  She responds in faith, in love, and in obedience to the teachings of Christ in her profession of faith in Him.  Her statement is one of the clearest recognitions of Jesus as the Messiah and is one of the fullest professions of faith found in the New Testament.  It has the force of Peter's confessions of faith in Jesus expressed in Matthew 16:16 and in John 6:69.  The New Jerusalem Bible translates her response to Jesus as: "Yes, Lord," she said, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world."  Other translations read: "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world" (RSV Catholic Edition).  The word "I believe" in the Greek text is the word pieteuo.   Martha has used the same word to express her belief that St. Peter used in his profession of faith in John 6:69.  The Greek word pieteuo is the root for the word epistemology which is the philosophical analysis of "how we know."   Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), in his analysis of Peter's confession of faith recorded in John 6:69, has wisely translated pieteuo as "I have come to know," which expresses the process of discovery and the growth of faith and trust in Jesus in one's journey toward salvation (The Apostles, 51).

John 11:28-44 ~ The 6th Sign: The Resurrection of Lazarus
John 11:28-31~ When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, "The teacher is here and is asking for you."  29 As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him.  30 For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him.  31 So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 
The word "teacher" in verse 28 can also be translated as "master" (Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to John, page 425).  Jesus has remained outside the town.  Martha's cautious whispering may indicate the element of danger mentioned in verse 8.

John 11:32-36 ~  When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."  33 When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, 34 "Where have you laid him?"  They said to him, "Sir, come and see."  35 And Jesus wept.  36 So the Jews said, "See how he loved him."
As soon as Mary sees Jesus she falls prostrate at His feet.  Mary of Bethany is always pictured at Jesus' feet.  Both sisters are examples of the model Christian.  Mary, like her sister, also mildly reproaches Jesus with the words: "Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died."   It is Jesus' response that has caused so much debate among Biblical scholars.  In both verses 33 and 38 Jesus exhibits a strong display of emotion.  Scholars have found the Greek in these passages very difficult to translate.  The difficulty is that what is being rendered in Greek seems to be two Semitic idioms that express deep internal emotion.  The debate is whether the emotion is sorrow, as expressed in this translation, or anger. 

It is interesting that in the commentaries of many of the early Church Fathers, who were articulate in both speaking and writing in Greek and perhaps more familiar with the Semitic idioms, they understood this passage in the sense of Jesus expressing extreme anger rather than sorrow.  Fr. Raymond Brown comments on the interpretation of the Church Fathers: "While it does not seem that Jesus would have been angry at the afflicted, he may very well have been angry at their illness and handicaps which were looked on as manifestations of Satan's kingdom of evil.  [...].  Turning to the passage in John, we find that the Greek Fathers understood it in a sense of getting angry..." (The Gospel According to John, page 426). 

We can understand Jesus' sorrowful response to the pain and suffering of His friends but what are the reasons for which He might be responding in anger?  It is unlikely that the anger is directed at Mary's mild reproach.  She does not understand that the reason for her brother's death is for God to be glorified through the miracle of her brother's resurrection.  Nor is her weeping an indication of a lack of faith since Jesus Himself cried.  A better explanation may be that that He was angry because once again He is face to face with the realm of Satan and the sin that brings suffering and death, manifestations of Satan's evil influence over creation and mankind.

Saint John Chrysostom suggests that in this passage Jesus has the same mixture of emotion that He felt in the Garden of Gethsemane as recounted in the Synoptic Gospels (see Mk 14:33) which is an emotional distress caused by the imminence of His suffering and death and the climax of His struggle with Satan (Homilies on the Gospel of John, 63.2).  Whether His emotion was anger or grief or a combination of both, this passage allows us to reflect on the depth of Jesus' human feelings, reminding us that He was both fully divine and fully human and therefore experienced of all the depths of emotion that we feel.  The Navarre Commentary suggests, if Jesus can be moved to tears over the temporary physical death of a friend and believer, what must He feel over the spiritual death of the sinner who has brought about his own eternal condemnation?  St. Augustine writes about this passage: "Christ wept; let man also weep for himself.  For why did Christ weep, but to teach men to weep" (St. Augustine, The Gospel of John, 49, 19).

John 11:37-39 ~  But some of them said, "Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?" 38 So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.  39 Jesus said, "Take away the stone."  Martha, the dead man's sister, said to him, "Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days." 
The crowd of mourners surrounding Mary and Jesus show no doubts about the reality of Jesus' miracle of healing the man born blind in John 9:1-41 (see last Sunday's Gospel Reading).  Theirs is a natural question: Since Jesus has performed such wonderful miracles why didn't He heal His friend?

38 So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. 
Fr. Raymond Brown, in his commentary, translates this verse: With this again arousing his emotions, Jesus came to the tomb (The Gospel According to John, page 421).  The Navarre Commentary renders this verse: Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb (page 157).  There is the use of the verb embrimasthai meaning "moved with deepest emotion" which is the same verb used in verse 33.

It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. 
Lazarus is not buried in the public cemetery but in a cave; it is the tomb of a wealthy man.  The poor were buried in common graves.  These rock-hewn sepulchers consisted of an antechamber and an inner or lower part of the chamber in which bodies were deposited in niches in a recumbent position. Approximately a year after the burial the bones would be collected and placed in a stone ossuary or bone-box.  According to the Jewish Talmud, the burial niches were usually six feet long, nine feet wide, and ten feet high.  The entrance to the burial cave was sealed by a large round stone that was rolled in front of the opening in a channel specially cut for the stone or was sealed by a plug-like stone (Ancient Israel, page 280).  The fact that this family could afford a cave burial site is another indication that Lazarus' family was neither poor nor destitute.  Jesus' body will also be laid in a similar cave burial cave, which was the tomb of a wealthy man who was a disciple as well as a member of the Sanhedrin: Joseph of Arimathea (Mt 27:57-60; Mk 15:43-46; Lk 23:50-54; Jn 19:38-42).

Martha, the dead man's sister, said to him, "Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days." 
When Jesus' orders that the stone must be removed, Martha makes a very practical statement.   It is now the fourth day and corruption has begun.  Decaying flesh has a very strong and repulsive odor; practical Martha tells Jesus her brother's corpse will stink!

John 11:40-45 ~  Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?"  41 So they took away the stone.  And Jesus raised his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you for hearing me.  42 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."  43 And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"  44 The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth.  So Jesus said to them, "Untie him and let him go." 45 Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him. 
Jesus prays with His eyes opened and raised to heaven, as is the Jewish custom (see Mt 14:19; Mk 6:41; Lk 9:16; 18:13; Jn 17:1).  Jesus begins His prayer by addressing God the Father as "Abba," which was Jesus' characteristic but unusual way of addressing God in prayer.  No Jew of His generation or previous generations would have addressed Yahweh this informal way.  Ab is the Hebrew and Aramaic word for 'father' while abba is more literally rendered as the affectionate address of a little child: "daddy."  In Romans 8:15 St. Paul writes: For what you received was not the spirit of slavery to bring you back into fear; you received the spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out, Abba, Father!  And in Galatians 4:6-7 St. Paul also writes: As you are sons, God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son crying, 'Abba, Father'; and so you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir, by God's own act.  Jesus' loving and intimate address to God the Father has now, through our baptism and resurrection in Christ, enabled us to go to our "Abba" in the same intimate union as a little child goes to the embrace of a loving "daddy". 

he cried out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" It is significant that Jesus calls Lazarus by name.  Although dead, Lazarus has not lost his personal identity.  Death does not end existence but transforms existence to another plane which is why Jesus stated in Matthew 22:32 and Luke 20:28 that God is not God of the death but of the living, for to him all are alive.

The dead man came out...   In this 6th sign, Jesus has given back physical life as a sign of His power to give eternal life and as a promise that on "The Last Day" He will bodily raise the dead!  In John chapter 5:28-30, Jesus spoke of a sign concerning the Final Judgment which this 6th sign prefigures.  Jesus said ... for the hour is coming when the dead will leave their graves at the sound of his voice: Those who did good will come forth to life; and those who did evil will come forth to judgment.

The raising of Lazarus is the 3rd resurrection miracle in the Gospels:

  1. The raising of Jarius' daughter (Mt 9:18-26; Mk 5:21-43; Lk 8:40-56).
  2. The widow of Nain's son (Lk 7:11-17).
  3. The raising of Lazarus (Jn 11:1-45).

The chief difference between the Old Testament resurrection miracles in 1 Kings 17:17-24 and 2 Kings 4:32-37 and the Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jarius daughter and the widow of Nain's son compared to Jesus' miracle with Lazarus is the length of time that Lazarus was dead.  The other resurrections occurred immediately after death.  It had been at least four days (verses 17 and 39) since Lazarus had died.  His body had begun to actually decay.  Jesus' resurrection from His tomb is also not like Lazarus' resurrection from the grave.  Lazarus lived out the normal span of his life after his resurrection and then physically died again, but Jesus being raised from the dead will never die again!  He has conquered sin and death!  In Romans 6:9-10 St. Paul writes: We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and will never die again.   Death has no power over him anymore.  For by dying, he is dead to sin once and for all, and now the life that he lives is life with God (NJB).

The great 4th century Biblical scholar St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, saw the resurrection of Lazarus as a sign of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Sacrament of Penance).  In Christian art found in the catacombs in Rome dating from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd centuries, there are over 150 representations of the raising of Lazarus symbolizing the gift of the life of grace which comes through the priest in this Sacrament.  St. Augustine gave a beautiful analogy comparing Lazarus coming alive out of the dark tomb to the repentant believer through confession who "comes forth" from the darkness of sin and into the light of grace: "For what does come forth mean if not emerging from what is hidden, to be made manifest.  But for you to confess is God's doing; he calls you with an urgent voice by an extraordinary grace.  And just as the dead man came out still bound, so you go to confession still guilty.  In order that his sins be loosed, the Lord said this to his ministers: 'Unbind him and let him go'.  What you will loose on earth will be loosed also in heaven" (The Gospel of John, 49.24).

Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him. 
That is the question for you today.  Have you seen and do you believe?  Are you like Martha, Mary and their friends who believed in Jesus and came into the "Light," embracing His promise of "new life;" or are you like the chief priests, Scribes and Pharisees who saw but refused to believe and remained in the darkness?  Now is the "day" of your salvation, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the way to begin to revive and reclaim your "new life in the Spirit."

Catechism References:
Ezekiel 37:12-14 (CCC 715); 37:10 (CCC 703)
Psalm 130:3 (CCC 370)
Romans 8:9 (CCC 693); 8:11 (CCC 632, 658, 693)
John 11 (CCC 994); 11:24 (CCC 993, 1001); 11:25 (CCC 994); 11:27 (CCC 439); 11:28 (CCC 581); 11:34 (CCC 472); 11:39 (CCC 627); 11:41-42 (CCC 2604); 11:44 (CCC 640)
The bodily resurrection at the end of time: (CCC 366, 997-999, 1005)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014