Fifth Sunday of Lent: Utopia… for real.
Lectionary Readings: (taken from the “Biblical Meditations for Lent” by Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP)
- Ezekiel 37:12-14. God will raise his people from the grave, place his spirit within them and settle them upon their land.
- Romans 8:8-11. The Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us and will bring our mortal bodies to new life.
- John 11:1-45. For God’s glory and for the sake of greater faith among his disciples, Jesus calls Lazarus back to life.
Thoughts for your consideration: By John Gonzalez
There are many points of reflection in this week’s long Gospel passage. What was the special friendship between Jesus and Lazarus? What role did Martha and Mary’s faith have? Why did Jesus weep? Why was he perturbed and deeply troubled? How can we relate Thomas and the pessimistic realism of the disciples? These are only a few points of interest that we can contemplate as we consider this passage. But the focus of this passage and the three readings for this weekend is the centrality of the resurrection of the dead. The resurrection of Lazarus foreshadows the cosmic resurrection that begins with Christ and becomes the basis of our Christian hope. As Paul tells us in another epistle, “if there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith” (1 Cor. 13-14). It is not important for us to know how the resurrection will take place or what it will look like. What is fundamental for our faith is to know the promise that God made Ezekiel, the promise that God has placed his Spirit in us so that we may have eternal life.
Theologian João Batista Libânio reminds us that “Humans are utopian beings.” Many political and economic ideologies promise a form of utopian social vision. João treats the resurrection and Christian eschatology within this framework of a utopian vision. Christianity does indeed offer a promise of hope and we understand the resurrection of Christ as the “firstfruits” of that promise. Christian eschatology has us living in a transitional phase where that promise is being fulfilled starting with the resurrection of Christ but eventually culminating in the final establishment of the Kingdom of God where the power of sin and death are finally defeated by the love of God. The social injustice that placed Christ on the cross is defeated through the intervention of God’s great love. For João this divine intervention is what separates the enduring Christian promise of hope from the fleeting social utopian visions. Whereas utopian visions offer a pretense of hope based on a particular social structure the resurrection demonstrates God’s promise to intervene within our social experience and to validate the social aspirations and hope of all who struggle for justice and dignity. “Through the resurrection of the dead, which is God’s fundamental act of love, the eschatological significance of God’s preference for the poor appears more clearly.”[i]
Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his second encyclical to the central teaching of Christian hope. In it he refers to the incarnation that Christ shares with all who suffer and the deeply related promise that he offers through the promise of the resurrection. The general promise that God makes to Ezekiel in the first reading is offered to us directly in our own struggles and suffering which Christ shares with us.
“God now reveals his true face in the figure of the sufferer who shares man’s God-forsaken condition by taking it upon himself. This innocent sufferer has attained the certitude of hope: there is a God, and God can create justice in a way that we cannot conceive, yet we can begin to grasp it through faith. Yes, there is a resurrection of the flesh. There is justice.” (#43)
Paul describes this incarnational experience to the Roman community in the second reading when he reminds them that the “Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.” Not only has Christ shared in the struggle of humanity but he also imparts on us the Spirit of eternal life that we witnessed in the resurrection of Lazarus and in his own resurrection. This Spirit promises to validate all our struggles in bringing the love of God into a suffering world and pursuing justice for all who are marginalized and persecuted. Sin and death will not have the final word, God has intervened in Christ, he continues to intervene through us and His Kingdom will be victorious in the end.
[i] João Batista Libânio, “Hope, Utopia, Resurrection,” in Mysterium Liberationis: Funamental Concepts of Liberation Theology, ed. Ignacio Ellacuria, SJ and Jon Sobrino, SJ, (Maryknoll, NY, Orbis Books, 1993) p. 726