HOMILY FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR A
HOMILY THEME: UNBIND HIM AND LET HIM GO!
BY: Fr. Precious Ezeh
HOMILY: It is only apt that the raising of Lazarus from the dead comes on the Fifth Sunday of Lent before the Passion Sunday, given that in the gospel of John it happens to be the miracle that led the Jews into envy and the plot to kill Jesus.
In the readings of today we hear of death and being in the grave. The bonds of death remain the strongest force known to man, both for the great and small, the rich and poor alike. Death’s hold is stronger than all. One well accepted aphorism in many Cultures holds that “Death has no cure!” Thus, the finality of death is crafted into different facets of Culture, especially in names given to people. In Igbo language, such names as Onwudinjo (death is evil) , Onwubuariri (death, carrier of sorrows), and Onwubiko (I beg of you, death) show the helplessness and hopelessness associated with the visits of death.
As much as medical science and experiential knowledge can sometimes offer explanations to causes of death, death has remained a mystery in itself, because no one has all the answers to the “whens” and “whys” of death. However, both religiously and philosophically, death can only be explained as the separation of the soul from the body.
In Judeo-Christian theology, it is acknowledged that at creation, God breathed his Spirit (“ruach” in Hebrew) into man, therefore death is as a result of the human spirit returning to its maker. Hence, since God is the giver of life, Judeo-Christian theology conceives that living one’s life without God is death itself.
The readings of today are an expression of the power of God to give life. In the first reading taken from Ezekiel, God declares the impossible, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them”, the Psalmist in Psalm 130 presents the cry of the soul for deliverance from the depths of sheol, while the gospel of John has Jesus, the Son of God actually raising Lazarus to life and declaring, “I am the resurrection and the life”.
The setting of the first reading is telling. The tribe of Judah had just experienced the second wave of deportation, which swept the young Ezekiel with many of his compatriots into the land of Babylon. It was there that he received his calling to prophesy to a people whose religious, political and social life had just gone dead.
Ezekiel 37 is of course a very popular passage. It is very important because it holds the promise of God to unbind his people from slavery, a situation as bad as being dead and in the grave. Firstly, addressing Israel as “Oh my people” already shows Yahweh’s favorable disposition towards His People. Israel’s deportation is largely attributed to their loss of God’s favour through disobedience. However, Yahweh’s anger is not forever, and with him no situation is beyond repair.
Opening their graves, raising them and returning them to Israel is full of significance. Only the dead stay in the grave, but death in this instance is a metaphor for the state of Israel as an enslaved nation because they had been stripped of every symbol of identity and life as a nation. This means that while physically alive, they are dead as a people (they were the living dead). However, by merely calling them “My People” God is already reinstating them to life since he is known as God of the living. This shows that in God being alive is not just a physical thing, one can be walking about but is dead in God, but even those physically dead could be alive in God, hence God is called the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
In the gospel, Jesus carries out in practical terms such promise as was given by the Father in the first reading. The gospel of John is known as the Book of the Seven Signs. The raising of Lazarus from the dead is only found in John and is considered the climax of the signs. It points to Christ’s final victory over death.
Lazarus had stayed four days in the tomb, exceeding the three days verification period of the Jews for the dead. This in itself justifies Jesus’s claim that “I am the resurrection and the life”. Martha’s declaration of faith was typical of the signs in John; they are meant to draw faith.
Again the anguish of Martha and Mary was tremendous. So was the anguish of Israel’s exiles. They might actually have lost some loved ones plus they themselves have been reduced to slaves.
However, what God offers to do is extraordinary. He offers life to the dead, he offers solace and joy to the broken hearted, and he reinstates the displaced.
Just as being disobedient led Israel into a situation considered as being dead and in the grave, so are we when we are enslaved by sin.
Finally, no matter how hopeless the situations we find ourselves, God is willing and ready to unbind us if only we can believe in Jesus, the resurrection and the life, as Martha did, for only he has the power to restore all the impossible losses in our lives. Let us ask God for forgiveness during this Lent and invite him in all our trials that he may unbind us and restore us to life with a fresh breath of his Spirit, through Christ our Lord, amen.