April 2, 2017
THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT (Year A)
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The Entrance Antiphon is a prayer of trust: “Give me justice, O God… Rescue me from the deceitful and the unjust” (Psalm 43). Do I see this happening? Judging by what I see going on in the world, does it seem that Jesus is winning or losing? Christians believe Jesus triumphed over those who crucified him by rising from the dead. Do I see any visible evidence of his resurrection around me today that encourages me to believe in his victory? Am I looking the right way?
In the Opening Prayer we ask to be like God: “Father, help us to be like Christ your Son.” We are the risen body of Jesus on earth. It is in and through us that he is winning the battle against evil today. What do I need to do in order to let him act and win through me?
Resurrection is us:
Ezekiel 37: 12-14 does not mention what God will do to his enemies or ours. Ezekiel only speaks of what God will do for us: “I will open your graves and have you rise from them…. I will put my spirit in you that you may live.” This was the way Jesus triumphed after his crucifixion: he did not obliterate his enemies; he just rose from the dead.
We know Jesus is triumphing in us, not from what we see happening in the world around us, but from what we see happening within ourselves. “I will put my spirit in you that you may live…. Thus you shall know that I am the Lord.” We know Jesus is Lord when we experience the “fruit of the Spirit” in our lives. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy and peace (see Galatians 5:22).
The Responsorial (Psalm 130) puts our focus on God as giving life, not taking revenge: “For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem” (or “fullness of redemption”). God shows his power in saving, in converting, in redeeming, not in condemning and destroying.
This is a lesson the first disciples of Jesus found hard to learn, and we do too. When a Samaritan town would not give Jesus lodging for the night, “his disciples James and John said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’” Jesus told them they were wrong and just “went on to another village” (Luke 9: 52-57). Jesus came, not to destroy but to save. If we want to reveal ourselves as his risen body on earth, we need to cultivate within ourselves, as his disciples, the same attitude Jesus had. Faced with injustice or hostility, our immediate response should not be, “How can I fight back?” It should be life-giving: “How can I help, how can I heal this person?”
Life “in the Spirit”
Romans 8: 8-11 makes clear that there is a radical difference between thinking and living in the way that seems most natural to us — the way people in our society seem to think, the way we grew up thinking, the way our culture conditions us to think and react — and the way Jesus thinks and acts. St. Paul calls the first way “living in the flesh,” following what our physical contact with others in human society has programmed us to think and do. He calls the second way “living in the Spirit,” following what our experience of the Spirit in our hearts impels us to do. Paul says, “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” They might do a lot of good things, but they can’t integrally live and impact the world in the way Jesus needs them to do if they are going to be most effective in helping him establish the reign of God on earth. “But you are not in the flesh,” Paul says to those who are living the life of grace and listening to Jesus as disciples. “You are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.”
This is the way we experience Jesus’ triumph and Jesus’ life in us: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” This is not just physical life: we will find that we “come alive” in faith, hope and love and can do Christ’s work in the world as his living body, enlightened and strengthened by his Spirit. Then we ourselves will be the visible proof of Jesus resurrection, because we will be living manifestly by his Spirit as his risen body on earth.
“Lazarus, come out!”
But we have to hear his voice. And we can. John 11: 1-45 tells us that Lazarus was four days in the tomb; nevertheless, in response to the voice of Jesus he “came out,” though his hands and feet were “bound with strips of cloth.” If we let the words of Jesus call us forth, we too will “come out” of whatever binds us and keeps us in darkness or in the death of inertia. We will experience Christ’s triumph and his “great power to redeem” through the divine life he shares with us and the action of his Spirit within us.
But for this to happen we have to hear his words. We need to become disciples, learners, and listen to Jesus. We need to reflect on his words and let them call us to life. His words open us to the Spirit, and the Spirit gives us life. “For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.” We have to believe this enough to dedicate ourselves to learning from him as committed students of his mind and heart.
Insight: Do I live more by the “Spirit” or by the “flesh”? When have I experienced the light and power of the Spirit in me?
Initiative: Read Scripture every day — even if only for five minutes — and let it challenge the attitudes and assumptions you grew up with.