March 7, 2008

Fifth Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionOne of the major Hebrew prophets, Ezekiel, provides this Lenten weekend’s first biblical reading.

Ezekiel lived and wrote during the period of history called the Babylonian Captivity. Many Hebrews who had survived Babylonia’s conquest of the Holy Land were living in exile in Babylon, the imperial capital, located in today’s Iraq.

While these exiles were not enslaved, life for them was miserable. They yearned to return to their homeland. Years passed. Four generations passed, and their exile did not end. Their yearnings grew in intensity. Surely, many prayed for relief. Likely, many others scorned God for not rescuing them.

Speaking for God—and calling the people to renewed devotion to and trust in God—was no easy undertaking for Ezekiel. Nevertheless, he promised the people that if they were faithful to God then a new day would come for them.

In this reading, Ezekiel uses the imagery of death and resurrection. He equates life in Babylon with being in a grave. He describes God’s rescue as opening the graves and bringing the dead back to life.

Ezekiel forcefully declares that God will rescue the people. God will be true to the Covenant, as always.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the source of the second reading.

Paul wrote this letter to the Christians of Rome. When he wrote it in the latter part of the first century A.D., Rome literally was the center and heart of the western world. Its population then is now estimated to have been at least 1 million people, a number far exceeding any other community then known to exist.

It was the world capital. The emperor resided in Rome. The governments and major courts were seated in Rome. It was the world’s commercial center. It was also the center of the pagan Roman religion.

Christians in Rome had to face challenges rushing at them from all sides. Paul encouraged them and urged them to be even more loyal followers of Christ in the midst of all these challenges.

In so doing, Paul reassured the Roman Christians that earthly life passes. Only the spiritual endures. Paul urges them to be strong now and earn an everlasting reward.

St. John’s Gospel tells the story of the Lord’s visit to Bethany.

In the first century A.D., Bethany was a community just a few miles from Jerusalem. Now it is a community completely enveloped by metropolitan Jerusalem.

The Synoptic Gospels often present Jesus as the healer. Here the Lord confronts death. His friend, Lazarus, has died.

Martha, the sister of Lazarus, tells Jesus that had the Lord been present earlier then Lazarus would not have died. Seeing her faith, Jesus restores Lazarus to life.

The death of Lazarus, the faith of Martha and the final raising of Lazarus by Jesus are the key parts of the story. Jesus controls all things, even death. He offers life. However, humans, such as Martha, must respond by giving themselves fully to Jesus in faith.

To accept Jesus is to accept God. To be with Jesus is to be with God.


Next Sunday, the Church will celebrate Palm Sunday then lead us into Holy Week, commemorating the Last Supper, the Passion and death of the Lord, and the Resurrection.

However, these events are much more than anniversaries or memorials. Jesus lives! He is in our lives now if we permit him to be with us. The Church calls us to allow the Lord into our lives.

The Church invites us to participate in Holy Week with great personal commitment. Using Paul’s lesson to the Romans, it calls us to realize that all that is earthly will die. Earthly life will end. But we can live if we truly accept Jesus.

The model of faithfulness presented by Ezekiel, as well as Martha’s example, teach us what we must do to attain life in Christ. †

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