March 29, 2020 — Fifth Sunday of Lent
At this point in our Lenten journey, it is tempting to grow weary of the spiritual disciplines we have taken on. Today’s readings inspire us to remain faithful, in grateful response to a God who loves us so much. What’s more, these readings give us wonderful guidance on just how to make this grateful response.
In our first reading, from Ezekiel, the prophet speaks God’s own words to us. “I will put my spirit in you that you may live… I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.” Our God wants only goodness for us. He wants to be so closely united to us that we are one with Him. And He has promised He will do it.
But only if we allow Him. He will not force His way into our lives. That would not be loving and God is Love itself. We must invite Him in. We must make room for Him by making Him THE priority of our lives. Putting God first is a grateful response that is very pleasing to Him.
How can we please God by putting Him first? Our second reading, from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, gives us good instruction. “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh… you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.” To be “in the flesh” means that we allow our own selves — our whims, our pleasure, our comfort-seeking — to determine our daily decisions. To be “in the flesh” is to spend our time, talent and material gifts primarily on ourselves. When we are in the flesh, we leave no room for the Spirit of God to fill our thoughts, our hearts and our souls.
The disciplines of Lent and the disciplines of a stewardship way of life are wonderful gifts that free us from too great an attachment to “the flesh.” The sacrifices we make in a particular way during this holy season, and every day when we truly embrace a stewardship way of life, are not meant to restrict our freedom and joy. Quite the contrary — they are tools to help us find the real freedom and joy that only come when we make room in our lives for God. In fact, the more we allow God to take over every aspect of our lives, the freer and more joyful we become.
And our loving God is always ready to renew His Spirit within us whenever we find ourselves led astray by the temptation to selfishness. Today’s Gospel passage from John recounts Jesus’ raising of His friend, Lazarus, from the dead. In Jesus’ poignant reaction to the death of Lazarus and the grief of his sisters, we see once again how closely our God identifies with us and all of our sufferings and burdens. His tenderness and compassion teach us that we can safely surrender our lives to Him knowing that He will care for us. His raising of Lazarus from the dead demonstrates His power over all things, even death itself, reminding us that it would be foolish not to surrender to such an awesome God!
As we journey ever closer to the powerful days of Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, let us intensify our Lenten resolutions and our stewardship way of life. Let us invite the Holy Spirit to take over more and more of our lives. By Easter, we will be freer to rejoice in Him and truly pleasing to God.