April 6, 2014 – The Fifth Sunday of Lent
St. Paul tells us in the second reading from his letter to the Romans that “You are in the spirit, if only the spirit of God dwells within you.” It is this Spirit, which was placed in each of us at our Baptisms, and reinforced through the Sacraments throughout our lives, which flows through all the readings for this Fifth Sunday of Lent.
As we have prepared and continue to get ready for Easter, part of our objective should have been to seek the spirit within us, and to make and endeavor to have that spirit come alive within us in reflection of Christ. Each of the readings identifies and acknowledges this inner spirit we possess.
Knowing a little about the Prophet Ezekiel is helpful in understanding both his prophecies and the historical context within which they were made. Around 600 BC, at a time when the Jerusalem was occupied by the Babylonians, the people of Jerusalem rebelled. Not only was the rebellion suppressed, but most of the Judean leaders were taken into captivity and marched to Babylon where they were basically made slaves. Ezekiel was one of those taken.
What he saw and experienced during the forced march is reflected in today’s first reading. Ezekiel had a vision of a mass grave in one valley where hundreds of victims were thrown into a pit. This “valley of the dry bones” is the basis for his prophecy in the reading. He is careful to point out the difference between these skeletal bodies and the spirits which dwelled within them. Ezekiel wants us to know that God’s spirit is at work within us, and if we cling to that, we will have life. Lent, as we said, is a time to seek that spirit.
Not surprisingly the theme of the second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Romans, is exactly the same. St. Paul declares, “You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit.” Again Lent is an occasion when we make the try to reduce the “flesh,” and to emphasize the spirit. Just as Ezekiel indicated, Paul, too, makes it clear to us that God dwells within us. He also reveals to us that we must strive to live in God, just as the Lord’s spirit is in us. It is a mutual occupation. “Although the body is dead, the spirit is alive.”
Jesus, our Lord and Savior, always makes these connections most clear. The Gospel reading from John, the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead, may actually prevent us from making the connection pointed out in the first two readings because we tend to focus on the miracle. Recall that the Gospel of John is basically the last three weeks of Christ’s physical life on earth. Bethany, where this story occurs, is only a few miles from Jerusalem. Like the Lord, we are on that same journey to Calvary, to the Resurrection, to Easter.
This story prompts us to remember that it is never too late for us. Lent may be more than half over, but we can still find the spirit within us. Lazarus’s spirit has not died, and to make a point, Jesus reunites it with the body. The Lord says, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” This is what makes us hopeful, and this is what will make us joyous at Easter. Now is the time though to incorporate our faith, our hope, into our daily lives. One of the most basic ways of doing that is to adopt stewardship and discipleship as a way of life.