By PATIS MUNGCAL
Faith Witness and Service, NCCP
Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Death, brokenness and lament are overwhelming themes that surround the 5th Sunday of Lent. And these are part of the growing crescendo of spiritual disorder as we approach Easter, coming from themes of thirst and blindness. But, spoiler alert, there’s an invisible string that ties the different stories of death, brokenness and lament across our scripture. That invisible string is the promise of life and resurrection.
Brokenness, death and lament were emotionally exemplified in today’s Gospel through the story of Lazarus. The dramatic scene starts with brokenness quite literally as the Gospel of John enters with its first sentence, “Now a man named Lazarus was sick.” Jesus delayed his response for two days, but then decided to go back to Judea. His apostles tried to stop him for his safety, with Thomas even bravely and bluntly saying, “go and die with him” – dramatic start, right? Even with the threat to Jesus’ safety, he went back and sought the family in distraught.
The story continues with important encounters and confrontations with Jesus and the two sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Both of them, blaming Jesus for their brother’s death believing that Jesus didn’t respond to their plea on time. But there were two striking declarations made in this gospel. First, Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.” And Martha’s profession of faith: ” Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
The drama heightens as Jesus begins to weep for Lazarus! He approached the tomb, and ordered the stones to be removed. He thanked God, and called for Lazarus to come out. Lazarus was untied from his binds, and set free. For those who have been there, it must have been a sight to behold!
From my perspective and reflection, this gospel illustrated very clearly the pain and suffering in loss, and I am awestruck with the strong sense of community in this gospel, especially amid death and mourning. From the very start, Mary and Martha was there for their brother when his condition was deteriorating. They advocated for him. Even if they know the risk on Jesus’ life, they were still determined. Second was how Jesus responded. He knew the threat to security that he had to face. He knew that he would be risking his life to go to Lazarus, and he was determined to take that risk still. And there was a strong sense of community in mourning Lazarus’ death. Jesus joined that communal mourning and wept with them. It is actually remarkable how the shortest verse in the Bible could reveal so much Jesus’ compassion and sense of community. Jesus wept!
For me, this is the perfect illustration of compassion. Compassion literally means “to suffer together” or have a “shared suffering”. In this moment, Jesus was not just in solidarity with those who are mourning, but he really joined them in their anguish.
Our journey through Lent is a call for greater compassion. We are being invited to weep with all the troubles and despair of our community. We are being shown how to respond to them, and advocate for our siblings who are deteriorating physically and spiritually. This call for greater compassion arrives at the perfect time for us when week after week, there’s a crisis that arises. There have been a series of crises on food and basic needs – such as with sugar, rice, onions, even oil and transportation. People are bleeding themselves dry, trying to make ends meet in today’s economy. And as if it isn’t enough, we are being threatened from all sides with the impending revision of our 1987 Constitution, that would allow greater powers to the corrupt and greater foreign ownership to our land. There’s also a growing threat to our security: in our waters in the West Philippine Sea and in our land through the threat of more US military bases. Right before our eyes, our soil is being sold away. We are slowly becoming a people in exile, in our very own land. We are in a “Valley of Dry Bones” as prophet Ezekiel has put it.
In this season of anguish and despair, we are being called be like the women of faith, Mary and Martha, who advocated for their brother. Let us also advocate for our siblings. Just like Christ, let us weep with them and feel their suffering. Let their suffering, be our suffering as well.
Thankfully, in the Valley of Dry Bones, Ezekiel has shared with us a prophecy, a promise to hold on to: There will be redemption. A life-giving breath will be breathed into our land. We shall reclaim the land that is ours. We shall, too, be called to rise from the dead. But for now, the call is clear. There is a call for greater compassion. There is a call for a greater community. So, let us strengthen our ranks as church people, and immerse ourselves in the plight of our communities. This shall be our response today. Let us build a greater community who will share each other’s struggles and who will advocate for each other’s welfare. In this Valley of Dry Bones and season of mourning, let us respond to the call for greater compassion and be steadfast.
Struggle through because the hope of Easter, the hope of our victory, is in the horizon. Praise God!
Balik-Tanaw is a group blog of Promotion of Church People’s Response. The Lectionary Gospel reflection is an invitation for meditation, contemplation, and action. As we nurture our faith by committing ourselves to journey with the people, we also wish to nourish the perspective coming from the point of view of hope and struggle of the people. It is our constant longing that even as crisis intensifies, the faithful will continue to strengthen their commitment to love God and our neighbor by being one with the people in their dreams and aspirations. The Title of the Lectionary Reflection would be Balik –Tanaw , isang PAGNINILAY . It is about looking back (balik) or revisiting the narratives and stories from the Biblical text and seeing, reading, and reflecting on these with the current context (tanaw).