Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year A)

First reading                       Ezekiel 37:12-14

Responsorial Psalm          Psalm 129(130)

Second reading                   Romans 8:8-11

Gospel                                   John 11:1-45

Mourning and weeping are very common occurrences in the Scriptures. Without naming all the examples, it suffices to remember that Jesus declared blessed those who mourn in this world because of the consolation they shall receive in the life to come. Indeed, Jesus himself embodies this blessed mourning. There are three instances in the Bible in which we hear of Jesus weeping. The letter to the Hebrews points out that while he was in the flesh Jesus was “offering up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.” In such suffering for the love of God his humanity was perfected, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all who would in turn follow him in obedience (Heb 5:7-9). Hence, Jesus tells us on several occasions that we too must take up our cross and follow him (Matt 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk 9:23). But there are two specific occasions on which Jesus weeps, and both of them happen in great proximity to Jerusalem and to the looming shadow of Jesus’ own death. The first happens in the Gospel passage we’ve just heard, in which Jesus goes to Bethany near Jerusalem to raise up his friend Lazarus. This happens not long before he finally enters Jerusalem for the Passover which would be his last. The second time Jesus weeps is in Luke’s Gospel, after leaving Bethany and being welcomed into Jerusalem on the back of the donkey. As he drew near and looked upon the city of his death, we are told, “he wept over it, saying, ‘if you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side… because you did not recognise the time of your visitation from God’” (Lk 19:41-44).

So, on both occasions Jesus weeps near Jerusalem, before the Passover and in proximity to his own death. His weeping is part of the offering of his own life. But why does he weep? What could possibly make God weep? In the Gospel today it is often assumed that he was overwhelmed with emotion at the tears of his friend Mary, or sad for the death of his friend Lazarus. The Gospel tells us, at least, that this was the opinion of the people who witnessed it: “See how much he loved him”, they observed. But then, some remarked, “he opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death?” Now, this is a very astute and ironic remark and I’ll tell you why in a moment. But first, let us consider, is Jesus weeping because he’s sad about Lazarus? I don’t see how this could be. We were told at the outset that Jesus purposely delayed coming to Lazarus when he heard of his illness and that he declared to his disciples that this illness would not end in death but in the glory of God (Jn 11:4-6). So, the Gospel tells us Jesus is here acting intentionally and has a certain control of the situation. Furthermore, Jesus declares “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25). How could Life himself be troubled by the death of a friend when he alone has the ability to bestow life? So, if he is not weeping over the death of a friend, why does Jesus weep? 

Well, the text gives us some clues: At the sight of Mary’s tears, and those of the Jews who followed her, “Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘where have you put him?’” Again, after the remark about Jesus opening the eyes of the blind man, the text says Jesus was “still sighing” as he reached the tomb. In fact, the sighing we hear about is more than a sigh. The Greek term embrimáomai (ἐμβριμάομαι) denotes indignation and anger. In the Gospels it usually means to warn or admonish someone. Jesus is certainly upset, but the Gospel indicates that he was upset not because of the death of Lazarus but with great frustration at those who were weeping and wailing. Why? Not because sadness is prohibited, but because they clearly have no faith in him! Mary and Martha are among Jesus’ closest friends, and even they, though they admit he could have prevented Lazarus’ death, don’t have faith enough to trust that he is the resurrection and the life. Though they love him, they are blind to who he really is. Hence the great irony in the Jews’ comment, “he opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death?” – Indeed, he opened the eyes of the blind man but still those closest to Jesus remain blind! This is the very reason Jesus would later weep at the sight of Jerusalem: “if you, even you” he says, “had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes…” He points out that Jerusalem will be destroyed because “you did not recognise the time of your visitation from God.” Blindness and faithlessness.

My dear friends, Jesus wept on our behalf because of our blindness and lack of faith. And thank God for that! Thank God that he wept for us, because each teardrop was enough to baptise us and wash away both our ignorance and our unbelief. Each teardrop of our Lord contained the grace to implant in our hearts the gift of faith, which indeed happens at Baptism. Because Jesus wept for us in our blindness, before we even had the self-awareness to weep for ourselves in our sins, the blessedness of those who mourn is opened for us! We are blessed because Jesus mourned! Brothers and sisters, as the shadow of Jesus’ death looms over us, now is the time to cling to his word: “if anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” To believe is not just to accept a truth. Here we are talking about having faith in Jesus, trusting in him fully, hanging our lives upon him. In other words, “living” in him, as he says. Whoever “lives and believes in me…” Brothers and sisters we are in Jesus already because of our baptism. However, we must safeguard that life and come to live in him ever more intentionally, ever more selflessly, ever more sacrificially, ever more spiritually and ever more faithfully, if our faith is to become pure and sufficient enough to render us immune to the sting of death, as the Lord says. With such faith can we become Lazarus and not be swallowed up by the dead-end darkness of the grave. Motivated, then, by the tears that God shed for us in Jesus, let us take up the Lenten call to repentance, while it is still daylight!


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