Fifth Sunday of Lent
Today’s gospel proclaims the truth that Jesus is the lord of life. He has power to call us out of our tomb. We do not have to be physically dead in order to be raised up. We can be dead in the midst of life when we remain indifferent (‘globalisation of indifference’ as Pope Francis called it) to the plight of other people and unable to weep with them. Is this not like living in a tomb? Jesus’ voice calls us all away from making the tomb our natural habitat.
Death takes many forms, as does life. Ezekiel addresses a people who are as good as dead - a shattered and captive nation exiled in Babylon. Death was their companion. People in that same place, modern Iraq, have found death a constant companion as have the people in Yemen, Palestine (Gaza) and Syria. Death has a constant companion of people who live with poverty and natural disasters. Death has been a companion of people who were sexually and physically abused as children living with their ‘secret’ until opened up. Death is a companion when people are victims of human trafficking, slavery and other forms of injustice. Death is a companion when gossip kills peoples’ reputations, devaluation, prejudice, negativity, meanness, ignorance, homophobia, racism, sexism, etc. There are people who have stopped living because they have stopped being for others or caring for themselves. Jesus’ voice in the gospel calls us all away from making the tomb our natural habitat.
Ezekiel has coined a very political metaphor of God’s ‘raising the dead’ in referring to Israel’s impending liberation from despair during its Babylonian Captivity. This metaphor reappears in John as depicts the story of Jesus raising Lazarus (dead already for three days) from the grave.
When Mary says to Jesus, ‘the one you love is ill’, we must ask who is the one who is ill. It is not just one person but a church and society that continually rejects people on the margins. What a challenge to us as all of us together face the ravages of Covid-19 and people in power have nothing but warnings for us and others hoard as if they are the only ones that matter!
The situation of Israel seemed hopeless as it had been defeated and humiliated by Babylon (modern day Iraq) with its leaders and a large number of people abducted. Not only was their death and killing but also a cultural slaughter being far from home, dominated by foreigners and feeling abandoned by God. I can feel for the people right now who are far from home in many ports and cities unable to return because attempts stem the tide of Covid-19. Not sharing the people’s despair, Ezekiel coined the idea of resurrection to regenerate hope. For Ezekiel, resurrection was a political metaphor that promised a new vital future despite appearances to the contrary. It was about choosing how to respond to one’s situation and doing life differently. He said that Israel would be liberated from Babylon, return home and experience rebirth. They would come back to life. Does not that life mean to love one another, to see each other as God’s beloved as we have been reminded in recent weeks? Does not that life express itself in the attempts to find justice, harmony, and reconciliation in our Church with all its complexities, full of beautiful and broken people? Does not our hope include moving towards a more loving, vulnerable, and authentic community that cares for each and every part of Christ’s Body?
Pope Francis embraced both Ezekiel’s spirit and the raising of Lazarus from the dead in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (JG). He has rescued Jesus and the Gospel from a version of Christianity that has held centre stage for almost 40 years. Pope Francis strongly implies that this version has metaphorically killed the Jesus of the Gospels, who proclaimed the imminent arrival of God’s Reign - a Reign that belongs to the poor, and not those who prioritise the prosperity gospel. Both Ezekiel and Jesus proclaim life when all appearances indicated that Israel is dead and seemingly unable to escape the heel of the Romans. Jesus described a horizon of hope that enlivened the spirits of the poor who had been crushed by the Romans and rich Jewish collaborators in charge of the temple establishment.
In the face of this hopelessness, Jesus proclaimed an upside down future as characterised by the Beatitudes and Mary’s Song (the Magnificat) where the poor would be in charge; the last first; the first last; the rich made poor and the poor well fed. The powerless and gentle would have the earth for their possession. In his parables, he said that the Reign of God was unstoppable as with the leaven in bread which is unseen but active and transforming; like the mustard seed that sprouts up everywhere impervious to all efforts of eradication; like the precious pearl discovered in a rubbish bin; like a coin a poor woman loses and then rediscovers.
Pope Francis has implied that socio-economic conservatism has killed or hidden the Jesus of the gospel. As much of the world is now living with Covid-19 the same can be said of our capitalist systems that have prioritised the needs the rich and wealthy and powerful over the poor and vulnerable. In both cases, we have lived with this loss in the church and in society because of a subtle and other times a blatant ‘preferential option for the rich’ that embraced free-market capitalism, meritocracy, trickle-down theory of wealth that never occur, cut-backs in social welfare, health care in many places and education. This ‘preferential option for the rich’ is also present in tax avoidance and tax cuts for the wealthy and now health care restrictions to people who are poor living under the threat of Covid-19. Yet, there is enough to enrich the military industrial complex!!
Jesus awakens us to be revolutionary in our fight for the dignity of every person; to be a beloved friend that loves so deeply that is capable of weeping at the deaths people face every day. We have found, as with the abuse of so many innocent children and vulnerable people, many afraid to open the tomb because of the heaviness of the stone or fear of the smell or having to deal with what is inside the Church.
Pope Francis has in The Joy of the Gospel made clear that we cannot claim to follow Jesus when people neglected. The Pope is calling the church back to life from the tomb and shows us the Jesus who calls us to welcome the stranger, respect all people irrespective of gender or sexual orientation, that lives with reality and respects diversity and though all fail, hear that they are loved by God. Pope Francis is calling us back to life as church. It is a completely pro-life vision: overcoming hunger, promoting nonviolence and peace; ensuring full employment for people; providing universal health care, making affordable housing accessible and protecting God’s Earth.
The readings carry a message of hope and rebirth. We are invited to be not onlookers or spectators at tomb but to join Jesus and Pope Francis in making resurrection happen by taking away the stone and unbinding people and freeing them. This is our part in the creation of a world of life. In a time of anxiety as we are experiencing now, let us free each other from fears and doubts about death.
Compiled by Claude Mostowik, msc
Director, Missionaries of the Sacred Justice and Peace Centre
President, Pax Christ Australia
Convenor, Pax Christi Australia [NSW]