Fifth Sunday of Lent (A)

As we fast approach the end of the season of Lent, it is worth recalling the Sunday gospel readings of the past five weeks before we celebrate Palm Sunday next week because they provide us with a certain direction as to what the spirit and journey of Lent has been all about.

On the first Sunday of Lent, it was the account of the temptation of Jesus; it was followed by the Transfiguration. It was then Jesus and the woman at the well and last Sunday the healing of the blind man. Today we have the account of the raising of Lazarus. There is a constant theme that runs through these weeks and as I reflected, the word ‘encounter’ ties them together.

It begins with Jesus’ encounter with the devil immediately after His baptism at the river Jordan; the encounter with Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration. We then have Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well and followed by his encounter with the blind man. Today it is the encounter with Lazarus which includes Martha and Mary. Lent is indeed a time of ‘encounter’ because we began with the invitation to rediscover ourselves in relation to God when we heard the words, ‘Come back to me with all your hearts’ (Joel 2:12) on Ash Wednesday.

The dictionary translates the word ‘encounter’ as an unexpected meeting. No one expected Jesus the Son of God to be tempted by the devil and neither did Peter, James and John expect to see what they saw at the transfiguration. The Samaritan woman went to the well at an hour not expecting to see anyone and the blind did not expect that it would be possible to see again. Martha and Mary least expected Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead for they were hoping that Jesus would prevent him from dying (‘if only you had been here’). Yet these unexpected encounters leave behind life-changing consequences on not only the persons who were with Jesus but also in the life of the early Church. Perhaps none of them understood how, what, and why these things happened but only one thing is certain, that the ‘unexpected meeting’ (encounter) made them believe in Jesus.

The question that Jesus puts before Martha is a life-changing question: “Do you believe this?” Perhaps it was easy for Martha to say, “Yes Lord I believe” after having heard the assuring words of Jesus about the resurrection but one also should remember that Mary had stayed at home, refused initially to come out to meet Jesus when He arrived as she may have been angry with Jesus for not coming earlier and could have prevented the death of Lazarus.

For most of us, we find it easy to put our faith and trust in God when life sails smoothly on this river of life… when life’s journey is as clear as crystal. However, we seem to stumble and doubt when we realise that life isn’t anything like steering a boat on a calm river; rather it is more like white-water canoeing… some rough patches along the way. Encountering God is about meeting Him in moments that we least expect and seeing Him even in the most difficult or helpless situations. There are times when faith does not provide all the logical answers… it is not always two plus two equals four (2+2=4) in the realm of faith. We look for certitude in the field of science but in the realm of faith, it often does not follow a logical pattern that many people are used to.

It is here that we need to encounter God – an unexpected meeting that puts before us the question, “Do you believe this?” Amid all the confusion that the world puts before us every day, in the pain and suffering that we sometimes have to bear in our lives, in situations that do not make sense or makes us question God, the question put before us is “Do you believe?” Or can we take it a step further by asking, ‘do others believe in God because of me?’ The passion and death of Jesus that we have been reflecting up to now, calls us to see beyond… there is something more than pain and suffering. There is the resurrection… the very thing that made Martha say, “Yes Lord I believe”. This is what we need – to have faith even when the world may say it is foolish to believe that which you cannot see and does not make sense. In the words of St Augustine, “faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” As we walk with Jesus in His passion and death this Holy Week, may we learn to believe that which we do not see and begin to see that which we believe!

Image: Mausoleum Stained Glass. Calvary Cemetery, East Los Angeles.