A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy
BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 16)
5th Sunday of Lent, Year A – March 13, 2005
“I Am the Resurrection and the Life”
Ez 37:12-14 // Rom 8:8-11 // Jn 11:1-45
I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS
The missionary tale in MARYKNOLL magazine (December 2004, p. 5) narrated by Joseph G. Healey, M.M. is about a little girl who escaped the clutches of death and lived. This interesting story of a Tanzanian girl’s rescue gives us a glimpse of the marvelous work of Jesus in saving his beloved friend, Lazarus from death and bringing him back to life.
One morning when Father Joseph Brannigan went to say Mass at a mission chapel in Shinyanga, Tanzania, he discovered an inert baby lying in front of the altar. The mother, explaining that the little girl was dead, asked if the priest could say Mass for her. Just then, the bundle moved. “She’s still alive,” Brannigan declared. “But she’s sick and I have no money for medicine. She’ll be dead soon anyway,” the mother replied. Giving the mother 10 shillings, the missionary sent her to the hospital with the baby. Seven years later a woman stopped Brannigan on the road. Breathlessly she explained, “My little girl lived. Here’s your 10 shillings. I’ve spent a long time looking for you.”
On this fifth Sunday of Lent when the Church celebrates the third scrutiny of the “elect” catechumens, the powerful and intense account of the raising of Lazarus to life (Jn 11:1-45) is proclaimed anew in the liturgical assembly that is journeying progressively towards the great feast of the Easter Triduum. Lawrence Mick gives us a synthetic insight into this classic baptismal pericope: “This last of the great signs in John brings us to the brink of the passion of Christ and thence to his resurrection. On the two previous Sundays, Jesus has proclaimed himself to be the living water and the light of the world. In this passage, he makes an even greater claim: He is the resurrection and the life. His actions prove him to be the Lord of life and prepare us for his own resurrection to new life. As with the Man Born Blind, Lazarus also represents every Christian. This makes the story especially powerful for the elect who celebrate the third scrutiny today. They will soon be freed from the power of death and given new life in baptism.”
In the context of the evangelist John’s effort to present a series of miraculous acts of Jesus as “signs” of his forthcoming paschal glory, the “seventh sign” of the raising of Lazarus to life – the last in the series – is the greatest for it demonstrates that the Father has given power over life and death to his Son Jesus. The power manifested by Jesus at the wedding of Cana, where he changed water into wine (the “first sign”: Jn 2:1-11); the cure of the nobleman’s son, who was ill at Capernaum (the “second sign”: Jn 4:43-54); the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethsaida (the “third sign”: Jn 5:1-15); the multiplication of the loaves at the shore of the lake of Galilee (the “fourth sign”: Jn 6:1-15); his prowess as he walked on the waters and pacified the raging waves of an evening storm at the lake of Galilee (the “fifth sign”: Jn 6:16-21); the cure of the man born blind at the pool of Siloam (the “sixth sign”: Jn 9:1-34); and above all, the resurrection of the dead man, Lazarus, who was decaying in a tomb in Bethany (Jn 11:1-45) are geared towards the ultimate and radical “paschal sign” of Christ’s victory over death dealing situations through the saving event of his passion, death and resurrection.
The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 2, comment on the various signs in the Gospel of John: “In John’s Gospel, as in the Lenten Lectionary of Year A, the raising of Lazarus is the last sign that Jesus works in order to manifest the glory of the Father and announce his supreme personal glorification at his Passover (Jn 11:1-45). For John, Jesus’ miracles – and his works in general – are signs. For, while glorifying the Father, these actions give us intimations of the true identity of the one who does them, and as a consequence, they aim at enkindling faith. We have here genuine theophanies that point to the supreme manifestation of the cross, the glorification, the elevation of the Son of Man (cf. Jn 12:23, 31), From his open side will gush forth blood and water, signs of the fecundity of Christ’s death, which is the source of life for those who, lifting their eyes to him, believe like John, the faithful witness (cf. Jn 19:34-37).”
Indeed, in the case of Lazarus, since death had already exerted its full power over him, the sign of resurrection shone out in all its fullness. The “sign” of Lazarus is an epiphany for it reveals Christ’s messianic and divine identity as the resurrection and life. The theological center of John’s account of the resurrection of Lazarus is found in Jn 11:25-26: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live; and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
The biblical scholar, Eugene Maly gives a profound insight on this passage: “When Jesus says, I am the resurrection and the life, he is not referring simply to his own resurrection from the dead. He is talking about resurrection and life that he will bring to those who believe in him. Such people will be raised from the dead; they will have life. But there is more. He does not mean only the resurrection to life on the last day. (That is implied in verse 24 when Martha expresses belief in such a resurrection.) He means, also and especially, a new kind of life that is already shared here and now. This is indicated by another remarkable statement, whoever is alive and believes in me will never die. This kind of life is what has traditionally been called the life of grace. It is a life that puts one in intimate relationship with the Father, Son and Spirit. And it is a relationship that may never cease. Thus, even though physical death will intervene, the union with God will continue. When Jesus, therefore, says that he is the resurrection and the life, he is saying that those who believe in him, who surrender in faith to his Lordship, not only will be raised from physical death on the last day but also will enjoy a special kind of life here and now.”
The raising of Lazarus to life not only prefigures Christ’s death and glorious resurrection, but also points to the Christian disciple’s paschal resurrection. This dynamic grace-filled process of moving towards the fullness of life is given powerful impetus at baptism, in which the believer dies to sin and rises to new life in Christ. Through the sacrament of baptism, the baptized is given the power to live a life of grace and to act under the promptings of the Holy Spirit in order to carry out the divine saving will. Having been reborn into a new life and as a new creature, the baptized person belongs no longer to himself, but to Jesus Christ who died and rose for all. Indeed, through a paschal transformation and in living out a holy life in the Spirit, the Christians in today’s world become a powerful “sign” concerning the truth of Christ’s affirmation: “I am the resurrection and the life … everyone who lives and believes in me will never die…” (Jn 11:25-26a).
II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART
A. In what ways are we experiencing the morbid realities of sin and death? How do we deal with these painful and grievous situations?
B. What is our response to Christ’s faith assurance: “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25)? Do we believe that in Christ we will see the paschal triumph of life and the glory of God?
C. Are we willing to be a “sign” of resurrection in the death-dealing situations of today’s wounded world? As baptized Christians, are we powerful witnesses that we have truly died to sin and risen to new life in Christ? Do we look forward to the final and eschatological resurrection?
III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD
(Adapted from the Rite of Scrutiny)
Leader: Father of eternal life,
you are God, not of the dead, but of the living:
you sent your Son to proclaim the good news of life,
to rescue us from the kingdom of death
and to lead us to resurrection.
Free the “elect” catechumens and all your baptized people
from the power of the evil spirit who brings death.
May we receive new life from Christ
and bear witness to his resurrection.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Leader: Lord Jesus,
you raised Lazarus from death
as a sign that you had come to give us life in fullest measure.
Rescue from death all who seek life from your sacraments
and free us from the spirit of evil.
By your Holy Spirit fill us with life;
give us faith, hope and love that we may live with you always
and come to share the glory of your resurrection,
for you are Lord forever and ever.
IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD
The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.
“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live; and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26)
V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION
A. ACTION PLAN: Pray that we may be receptive to God’s gift of life and the daily miracle of resurrection and victory over death-dealing situations. Participate in Operation Rice Bowl, the Catholic Relief Services’ Lenten program. Give some of your time to visit the website: www.catholicrelief.org to learn more about the work that the Catholic Relief Services is doing on our behalf around the world. The works of mercy in the fifth week of Lent are aimed at helping the poor in Egypt. Pray for families in Egypt who are working together to bring clean water to their communities. Pray for the many people in other countries who seek refuge in Egypt to escape being nailed to the cross of oppression. Give the money you saved by fasting and eating simply to Operation Rice Bowl on behalf of the people of Egypt.
B. ACTION PLAN: That we may truly be united with Christ, our life and resurrection, and in view of a more meaningful Year of the Eucharist, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Visit the PDDM WEB site (www.pddm.us) for the EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR (# 16): A Weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.
Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang PDDM
PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI
SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER
60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323