Fifth Sunday of Lent

Sunday, March 29

Fifth Sunday of Lent


Liturgical readings are available here.

A man was ill. This simple introduction into the gospel does not disclose immediately that the whole humanity is ill. That’s at least how we feel these days, with regular updates about constantly growing numbers of sick and deceased. We feel overwhelmed: when is this going to end and what turn is it going to take? Yet, amid the masses, there are always individual human fates and lives.

Even the Bible gives this ill man a name (Lazarus) and family: Lazarus from Bethany… Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill.

The situation always gains a different perspective if we think of individual people amongst our relatives and friends. I do not wish it to anyone, but at times it feels, we only start taking it seriously if someone from the family dies. If nothing else, this crisis should teach us to value individuals: those in the front lines who put their life in danger, but also those who remain anonymous, behind the scenes and yet are indispensable for the functioning of the society: workers in grocery stores and gas stations, medical professionals, police officers, cleaning personal and janitors…

Now, when Jesus engages with people, he always challenges them to make one more step, to go further in their faith. There is always the danger of complacency in us; we believe we already know how to do things. Yet, there is always something new to learn.

Jesus encounters Martha before her sister Mary.

  • Martha is quick to express her faith in Jesus as a miracle worker: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
  • She attempts to tell him the true meaning of the resurrection from the dead: I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.
  • She continues in her arrogance telling Jesus that she has believed for some time: I have come to believe.
  • In the past, she came to a certain understanding of Jesus, and she has not moved from the belief that Jesus is the Messiahthe Son of Godthe one who is coming into the world. All of these titles look and sound nice, we think, but in reality, they only copy statements of others who fell short of the true faith.
  • The first disciples in John’s gospel, as well as the Samaritan woman called Jesus the Christ. Yet, the disciples were corrected by Jesus who promised them the sight of greater things. And the Samaritan woman was asked to reach beyond her messianic hopes and see Jesus as the Savior of the world.
  • Nathanael called Jesus the Son of God, the king of Israel, but Jesus tells him: You will see greater things than this.
  • The crowds confessed that Jesus was the one who was coming into the world, but Jesus fled such acclamations.

Martha has limited faith matching that of the disciples, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, and the crowds, who used traditional Jewish messianic expressions to voice their faith in Jesus. But Jesus wants more.

Martha talks to her sister Mary: The teacher is here and is asking for you. Jesus talks as the shepherd who calls his sheep by their names and invites them to fulness of life. In contrast to Martha who takes initiative at every turn, Mary is called forth by the word of Jesus and responds. She falls to the feel of Jesus and makes unconditional confession: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Mary states her trust in the power and presence of Jesus.

The example of Martha and Mary shows us that even in the area of our faith, we need to step outside of our comfort zone and be open for the voice of Christ, the good shepherd. If Christ does not disturb us by his words, we are either not listening, or feel over confident.

The teacher is here, asking for you!

These days offer us many possibilities to rediscover the practice of personal and familial reading from the Bible, meditation, and sharing. The Bible is not just an ancient document, but the word of Christ who talks to us. The Church teaches: Christ is present in his word since it is himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. (SSC 7) In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children and talks with them. And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life. (DV 21)