TEXTS: EZEK 37:12-14; ROM 8:8-11; JOHN 11:1-45
JESUS CHRIST THE LIFE GIVER
BY REV. FR. PAUL DANBAKI JATAU PHD
The three readings of today fit beautifully together as they tell us of death yielding to a new way of life. The first reading from Ezekiel describes the event of God sending his spirit and pouring his life into the dry bones. The passage refers to the Babylonian captivity that left the city of Jerusalem in ruins and the people were taken into exile. God promises them a new life and they will be filled with the spirit of God.The prophet Ezekiel tells the people that God’s life giving breath will restore his people as a group and will give them his own life in resettling them upon their own land. For the Jewish community this action of God of recreating, restoring and rising up is giving them a new life and new spirit.
Paul continues the theme of Resurrection which is common to other two readings. Here Paul contrasts between two widely contrasting kinds of life, namely, the life of the flesh and the life of the Spirit. Flesh for him meant something similar to what Ezekiel said about the dry bones and the graves. The life of flesh is dominated by self which has no future. It is self-destructive and is the way to death. People who are living according to the spirit live a life of grace. They have God as their centre and are spiritually alive. They have a future and have a path of true life and they believe in God the giver of true life. Therefore Paul says that those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.Because the Spirit of Christ dwells in us, we are in the Spirit. Those in who the Spirit of Christ does not dwell, they do not belong to Him. The Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead is the same Spirit Who dwells in us. Having raised Christ from the dead, through His indwelling, surely He will also give life to our mortal bodies.
Today’s gospel text is about the restoration of physical life to Jesus’ “friend”, Lazarus, after four days of his death. The main message of this text is that Jesus is the source of supernatural life or is the supernatural Life-Giver to those who are spiritually dead. It points out two of the ironies in John’s gospel: (1) The Life-Giver himself is going to give up his life on the cross, in order to give eternal life to all those who believe in him. (2) By raising Lazarus to life, Jesus takes the risk of facing his own death through which he will attain his glory. John states it clearly that from the time of Lazarus’ coming back to life the chief priests and the Pharisees “planned to put him to death”. Further, Jesus’ very claim, “I am the resurrection and the life” that provokes the Jewish authorities to plan his death.
Secondly, the evangelist presents this episode of raising Lazarus from death as a symbol for freedom from the bonds of spiritual or eternal death for those who put their trust in Jesus and his word. For believers, this trust becomes the gateway to experience full blossoming of eternal life received in rudimentary form at baptism, and the hope of the final resurrection of the body. Lazarus is presented as the one whom Jesus loves and as his “friend”, probably to tell us that he represents all those whom Jesus loves, all those who are his friends, including his present disciples.
Another irony is that Jesus purposely delays his visit to Bethany in spite of knowing that Lazarus is seriously ill. In spite of his special love and friendship with Lazarus and his sisters, he allows him to die “for their sake”. He wants to use Lazarus’ dying and rising as a sign to tell them that he himself is going to die and rise soon. Now Jesus is going to reveal God’s glory by giving life to the dead person (Lazarus) out of his love for him to symbolize his own plan to give glory to God by his death and glorification. This again symbolizes his power to give life to all those who are counted, like Lazarus, to be his “friends.”
There is a condition put by Jesus to Martha to be fulfilled: “Do you believe this?” Faith in Jesus creates such a close communion with him that divine life which is in him flows into believers. And physical death cannot cut off that life. Since the believer is in close union or intimacy with Jesus who is the Life, how can this spark of divine life be extinguished with death? One who has faith lives even after death, in fact never dies in spirit.
1. The gospel texts of all the three Sundays of Lent this year deal with three spiritual truths: the third Sunday that identifies Jesus as living water points to our spiritual thirst for God and his love, the fourth Sunday that identifies him as the Light of the World points to our spiritual blindness to our sins and to recognize Jesus, and today the fifth Sunday that identifies him as the Resurrection and the Life points to our spiritual death which separates us from God; St. Paul describes it as “being alienated from the life of God” (Eph 4:18) or lacking his life.
2. As we move towards the celebration of Easter, we are called to symbolically resurrect from the tomb of sin to a life of grace through repentance and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus comes to unbind the forces of sin, evil, death and decay, and sets us free, just as he told them to unbind Lazarus. This is the story of the power of faith over the forces of death, or the victory of life over death. Let us submit ourselves to his power to free us from three negative forces that can chain us – of sin, evil and death.
3. Jesus invites us to decide which power determines our existence here on earth – whether God’s life-giving power in Jesus or the power of death. If the former is true, then how we live our lives is more important than how we are going to die.
In this new month, may the Lord come and set us free from the bondage of sin and death so that we can live with Him forever and ever. Amen.
Happy new month!