God will open the graves and restore the people of Israel.
With the Lord is forgiveness and mercy.
The Spirit of God dwells in you.
John 11:1-45 (shorter version John 11:3-7,17,20-27,33b-45)
Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.
Background on the Gospel Reading
Our Gospel on this day, the fifth Sunday of Lent, is again taken from the Gospel according to John. The reading from John continues the break from Cycle A’s focus on the Gospel of Matthew. Today’s Gospel reading recounts another sign, or miracle, found in John’s Gospel, the raising of Lazarus. As our catechumens move closer to the celebration of their Baptisms at the Triduum, today’s reading invites us to reflect upon what it means to call Jesus the Resurrection and the life.
The context for the story of the raising of Lazarus is the Jewish leaders’ growing animosity toward Jesus. Jesus has been in Jerusalem, taking part in the feast of the Dedication, which we have come to know as Hanukkah. The people have been pressing him to declare plainly whether he is the Messiah. Jesus tells them to look to his works, which testify to his coming from God. Many do not believe Jesus, however, and some try to stone him for blasphemy.
Into this scene of confrontation, Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, send word to Jesus that his friend is ill. Jesus is said to love Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, but he delays his journey for two days. The delay heightens the drama and shows Jesus’ obedience to God, who is to be glorified through Lazarus’s resurrection. When Jesus finally declares that he will journey to Bethany, his disciples fear for his life. Thomas declares that he and the other disciples should prepare to die with Jesus.
The scene described at Bethany is a sad one. Martha meets Jesus weeping and saying that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus would not have died. Yet she remains confident that God will do whatever Jesus asks. Martha affirms her belief that there will be a resurrection of the dead in the last days. Then Martha’s sister, Mary, comes to Jesus with the same confidence, saying that Jesus could have cured Lazarus. Jesus asks to be brought to Lazarus’s tomb where he prays and calls Lazarus out from the tomb. At this sign, many come to believe in Jesus, but others take word of the miracle to the Jewish authorities, who begin their plans for Jesus’ death.
Set against the backdrop of Jesus’ impending death, many elements of the raising of Lazarus foreshadow the good news of Jesus’ own Resurrection. Jesus, facing the conflict with the Jewish authorities, acts in complete obedience to God. In raising Lazarus, Jesus shows his power over death so that when Jesus dies, those who believe in him might remember that and take hope. Just as Jesus calls for the stone to be rolled away from Lazarus’s tomb, so too will the disciples find the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb.
With our catechumens preparing for their Baptism at Easter, the Gospel today calls us to reflect on Baptism as a dying and rising with Jesus. In Baptism we die to sin’s power over us, rising as children of God. In Baptism we join ourselves with Christ, who conquered death once and for all so that we who believe in him may have eternal life. With Martha and Mary, we are called to profess our belief that Jesus is indeed the Resurrection and the life.