5th Sunday of Lent (Fr. Jaya)
New Life in Christ Jesus
We are reflecting upon the liturgy of the word of the Fifth Sunday of Lent in times of a global health crisis. The novel corona virus has put the world into lock down. It is worrying to observe how the new disease has restricted social mobility globally. In this context, the Holy Mother Church invites us to reflect upon what it means to call Jesus the Resurrection and the Life. It is impossible to speak about resurrection without giving a thought about the meaning of death. The readings of today touch the most profound of human mysteries, the mysteries of life and death.
From God’s promise of restoring life in Ezekiel, through Saint Paul’s reminder that our mortal bodies will be brought to life, to the raising of Lazarus by Jesus from death, the theme of new life resounds loudly in the liturgy of the word today.
In order to live the new life offered by Christ we need to get rid of spiritual death. What is spiritual death? An encounter between St Peter and the dead man explains clearly the meaning of spiritual death. A story told of St Peter who encounters a dead person at the gates of heaven. St Peter asks him if he loved anyone passionately. The man replies “no”. St Peter then asks him if he has encountered any trustworthy friends at any point in life. The man replies, “I concentrated only on my job which resulted in not looking for a trustworthy friend”. St Peter is really disappointed of his reply and he asks a final question, “I understand that you were preoccupied with your duties, however have you at least loved a child in whole of your life? The reply was an emphatic “no”. St Peter looks at him angrily and tells him “you are too late to arrive at the gates of heaven for you died long ago.” This story conveys the message that spiritual death is possible even when a person is healthy and fully alive. It is important to know that if we live our life meaninglessly, without deepening our relationship with one another, then most probably we go through spiritual death.
Social slavery is the first form of spiritual death from which we need to emerge victoriously. The first reading from Ezekiel describes a promise that God makes to the exiled Judean community who have lost everything: their land, their temple, their holy city Jerusalem and their monarchic leadership on account of disobeying the voice of the Lord.
We cannot forget the fact that the social slavery is prevalent even in the digital world of today: the surveillance capitalism, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, national discrimination in the name of religion are but a few examples of social slavery which need immediate attention. The good news is that to a people with little reason for hope, to a community scattered and dispersed, God promises renewal and new life through the divine spirit that will once again be breathed into a seemingly dying people. We earnestly pray that with the divine assistance we may be freed from social slavery.
St Paul in today’s Second reading speaks about another type of spiritual death: clinging on to human inclinations. He speaks of the personal renewal of each one of us that comprises of passing from our old self to the new self offered by Christ. He categorically says, if we do not have the Spirit of Christ we do not belong to Him. The spirit of Christ is an indwelling power, the gift that allows for new possibilities and turns death into life. If we want to overcome the works of the mortal flesh we need to put on a new self offered by Christ.
The third spiritual death from which we need immediate renewal is lack of faith. This aspect is clearly dealt in the gospel of today. One of the reasons why Jesus gave new life to Lazarus in today’s gospel is to teach both His disciples and the people of His time the importance of deepening our faith in God. In order to do this Jesus delays in coming to meet His dead friend Lazarus, He allows people to make comments on his ability to perform a great miracle, He compels Martha to proclaim faith statement: Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died. All these point out the fact that Jesus wants to renew the faith of the people of His time. In this time of global health crisis, we need to place our firm faith in the Lord and in the health policies of our nation.
Therefore, readings of today emphasize the role of the Spirit in times of spiritual death. Let us allow the stones that encase and entomb the spirit be rolled away so that we may allow the Spirit of the Lord to work in us. The Spirit of the Lord is a life-giving force and a transformative energy. Let us remember that no one is dead until they are dead and life becomes interesting when lived outside the box.
May God bless you!
Fr. Jaya Embeti