March 24, 2023

Fifth Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Ezekiel provides the first reading for Mass this weekend. Even a quick reading of the history of ancient Israel shows that there were precious few periods of prosperity and calm. Indeed, only the reigns of David and Solomon might properly be considered as truly good times.

Some times were more trying than others. Certainly, generations endured miserable times in Babylon, confined in wretchedness, taunted and abused as a minority. Understandably, the Jewish exiles yearned for the day when they could return to their homeland.

Ezekiel built upon this theme of hope and expectation. As did all the prophets, he saw a release from Babylonian bondage not as an accident or a happy turn of events. He saw it as a result of God’s mercy and of fidelity to God. Thus, in this reading, the Lord speaks, promising to breathe new life into the defeated, dejected people.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans furnishes the second reading. Rome was the absolute center for everything in the first-century Mediterranean world, the political, economic and cultural heart of the vast, powerful empire. It was a sophisticated city.

Rome’s inhabitants came from everywhere, having brought with them a great variety of customs and beliefs.

Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, among whom eventually he would die as a martyr. Many of them also would be martyred.

This reading stresses two spiritual realities. The Christian is linked with God in Christ. So, the Christian possesses the life of the Holy Spirit, a life that will never die.

For its third reading, the Church this weekend presents a passage from the Gospel of St. John. Jesus went to Bethany—then a separate community, now a part of greater Jerusalem—summoned by Martha and Mary who were anxious about their brother Lazarus, the Lord’s friend.

When Jesus arrived, Lazarus was dead. In fact, he had been dead for several days. Putrefaction had begun. Responding to the sisters’ faith, the Lord restored Lazarus to life.

Several important themes are present in the passage. First, of course, is the active, life-giving love of Jesus. In the mystery of the incarnation, Jesus felt and expressed human love. Secondly, the faith of Martha and Mary is unqualified.

John saw a parallel between the resurrection of Jesus and the restoration of earthly life to Lazarus. In each account, mourning women are essential parts of the story. A stone closed the tomb. The body was dressed, and a face cloth (customary in Jewish burials of the time) covered the face. Finally, in each story, faith and human limitation had important roles.


Next week, on Palm Sunday, the Church will invite us to learn and to worship in the most intense liturgical days of its year. Calling us to Christ, and with ancient drama and the most compelling symbolism, it will proclaim Jesus as Savior and as Risen Lord.

This weekend, the Church prepares us for this experience, giving us the beautiful and wondrous story of Lazarus.

Echoing the Lord’s own resurrection, today’s message is clear. If we are united with Jesus, as Lazarus and his sisters were united, then, in God’s power, we will have everlasting life.

However, this eternal life will occur only if we seek Jesus, and if we seek Jesus with the faith uncompromisingly displayed by Martha. Nothing daunted her faith.

The other readings reinforce this theme. Life can be taxing for everyone. Death awaits all. Ezekiel assures us that God will give us true life. It will be a life of joy and fulfillment, a life that never ends.

St. Paul insisted that this divine, unending life abides only in Jesus. So, lovingly, as Lent progresses, as Lent anticipates its culmination, the Church calls us to Jesus, the Lord of life. †

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