A reading from the Prophecy of Ezekiel
The Babylonian Exile (597 BC to 538 BC) was a terrible period in the history of the Jewish people. After a war in which forces of the Neo-Babylonian Empire sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple of Solomon, a large number of Judeans were taken captive. Amid this tragedy, the prophet Ezekiel preached hope. Ezekiel lived in exile in Babylon which for thousands of Israelites was a grave. But Ezekiel has a message from God: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord…. “I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land…. I have promised, and I will do it.”
Ezekiel wasn’t preaching false hope. After the Persians conquered the Babylonians, King Cyrus freed the captive Israelites and sent them home to Jerusalem. In times of disaster, there are true prophets, sent from God, and false prophets. Sometimes, it is hard to tell the difference unless we listen to the Spirit dwelling within us and all around us.
“With the Lord there is mercy and the fullness of redemption.” Mercy is a key word for Pope Francis. He feels he experienced God’s mercy in a powerful way when he was a bishop in Argentina in a period of political strife and violence. It changed his life forever. He encourages us to seek God’s mercy throughout our lives.
A reading St. Paul's Letters to the Romans
Paul tells the Romans, “You are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you…. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”
As you know, Paul was not always a believer in Jesus, but once he “got it” he was all in. He experienced the Holy Spirit in him, and he knew the power it gave him to face adversity, torture, and even death. He believed that his mortal body would be given a new life after death. Jesus died and will live forever, a seeming contradiction but not for Jesus and not for us, because God’s Spirit lives in us.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
Let us try to really get into this beautiful story: “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Yes, Jesus loved everyone, but he was also fully human and had an especially deep friendship with this family. So, you would think that when Jesus heard that Lazarus had died, he would have rushed to comfort the family. No! “So, when he heard that (Lazarus) was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.” Then finally he said to his companions, “Let us go back to Judea.”
Of course, by then Lazarus was not only dead but already entombed. “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you…. Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will live forever. Do you believe this?’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord….’”
So, Jesus went to the tomb and “cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” John ends the story by telling us, “Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what had been done began to believe in him.” Still, many more did not, just as many today who are Christians doubt that we will also be resurrected. Yet, there are only two choices: believe in resurrection or there is nothingness. I am going with Jesus and the promise of resurrection. How about you?
Painting: The Raising of Lazarus" by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). Galleria Sabauda, Torino, Italy. This image is reproduced here under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International .
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.