” You Shall Live . . . ” – Fifth Sunday of Lent 2020
With COVID-19, we are living through a crisis that the world was not prepared for. We couldn’t have done much to guard against this, though you can be certain that some politicians and others will name an easy solution, such as shutting out immigrants and refugees.
COVID-19 is not confined to one region or one group of people or one language. Borders don’t keep it out, especially in a world that has become so interconnected. We are witnessing leaders receiving the greatest test they have ever faced.
Some are showing the gifts they have within them. Others have shown the opposite; they are revealing their ignorance, stupidity and lack of compassion.
It’s my opinion that we are blessed with strong leaders in Canada. There has never been a more important time to keep them in prayer – for their health and safety, for them to be wise and compassionate, for them to be steady guiding sources of hope and sanity.
Are the scripture readings for the fifth Sunday of Lent able to offer any wisdom and solace for us? Our first reading from the Prophet Ezekiel includes the promise from God that I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live. It’s important for us to hold to that sense of God with us. It’s when we are most aware of our brokenness and despair that God is most needed. The poor and those in need have a special place in God’s heart.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll be saved from getting the virus God expects us to use reason and common sense, not naïve faith. The faith that we need to be rooted in must be a realistic faith. That means practicing all of the measures that health experts explain to us, while also placing ourselves in God. Having that spirit in us strengthens us, so that we can face anything. We’ve all faced challenges before, perhaps not as severe.
The second phrase in that line from Ezekiel tells us that we will live. That is not an assurance or vaccine from God that will protect us. Rather, that life we are promised means that we won’t let ourselves become despondent and give in to death, rather than celebrating life.
I may be in self-isolation, but I can still choose life in all the decisions I make. To give in to fear means that I have made a decision – conscious or unconscious – to be fearful.
Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians also reminds us of that Spirit of God dwelling in us. We know that that Spirit is one of strength, not cowardice.
I’ve always been intrigued by a line from Thomas in the story of Lazarus: Let us also go, that we may die with him (John 11:16). Thomas says this after Jesus agrees to return to Judea to see Lazarus. Some commentators raise questions about whether the pronoun (him) refers to Lazarus or Jesus. It likely refers to Jesus.
The disciples are fearful of returning to Judea, precisely because they have a sense of what Jesus could face in Jerusalem due to the growing resistance to him from the religious authorities.
Bethany is just a short distance from Jerusalem. The spread of the news about the raising of Lazarus serves to strengthen the crowd’s belief in Jesus as the Messiah and the resolve of the authorities to do something about Jesus.
In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI said that the story of Lazarus shows Christ’s absolute power over life and death and reveals His nature as true man and true God and that Jesus’ lordship over death does not prevent him from showing sincere compassion over the pain of this separation.
It is in this account that we get the famous line: Jesus wept. He was often moved with compassion. Perhaps it is that compassion of Jesus (and, therefore, our acts of compassion) that is most needed in our world right now.
Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and our entry into the most sacred days of the Church year, even though we won’t be gathering in person this year. This year’s Holy Week may well be one of the most significant most of us have encountered in our lives.
Perhaps the words of Thomas help us to ponder whether or not we are ready to go and be with Jesus. If not, what is still necessary for us in the Lenten season? It’s never too late.