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A Brief Reflection on John 11:1-45, Fifth Sunday of Lent


A Brief Reflection on John 11:1-45, Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A


A sense of despair and sadness has been pervading the world held on a standstill and lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of this writing, close to a million people have been infected with the deadly virus. More than 28,000 have already died. Their deaths were often tragic and devastating. We have seen and heard reports on patients helplessly holding on to their breath in intensive care units only to end up the next day as lifeless bodies piled up in morgues for cremation. A lot of them passed away without the presence of their loved ones some of whom are themselves under quarantine and having some symptoms. Even more devastating is that there have been a growing number of healthcare workers who in their efforts to save lives end up infected by the deadly virus. Some of them expired not because they had had prior health conditions but because they were not able to receive adequate medical interventions simply because hospitals have been overflowing with infected patients.

This scenario resonates in the Gospel Reading which narrates the death of Lazarus. The latter passed away while waiting for the Lord who knows him well and loves him as a close friend (Jn 11:3, 36). Too late did the Lord arrive; Lazarus had been buried four days earlier and was already in the state of decomposition (Jn 11:17, 39). The villagers, especially the sisters of Lazarus named Martha and Mary, were in the throes of grief.

How this despairing scenario gets transformed into a sense of profound hope and joy offers us some clues on how to overcome the pandemic. Three contributory factors in this transformation are noteworthy.

The first is that in the midst of grief, Martha and Mary as well as the rest of the villagers remain steadfastly hopeful and believing that the Lord would be able to restore Lazarus to life (Jn 11:22-32). Martha tells Jesus that she remains believing and hopeful that he can bring Lazarus back to life (Jn 11:22, 27). In turn, Mary knells at the feet of Jesus and declares her belief that her brother would not have died had Jesus been with him (Jn 11:32). So inspiring are these gestures of faith and hope that the rest of the villagers come to console and share in the sisters’ grief (Jn 11:33). These gestures can likewise inspire us to keep on believing and hopeful that the Lord shall see us through this pandemic.

The second factor is that Jesus profoundly shares in the grief of the sisters and the villagers. Upon seeing Mary and the villagers weeping, Jesus was greatly moved and then wept (Jn 11:33-35). Herein we must note that the Greek word used in describing the weeping of the sisters and the villagers is the common verb κλαίω which entails loud sobbing and wailing. But the verb used for the weeping of Jesus is δακρύω which refers to a quite manner of weeping and shedding of tears (Louw & Nida). Implied in the manner with which the Lord weeps is that the Lord’s act of sharing in our sorrows is sometimes beyond our recognition. We may not discern his healing and comforting presence in the course of this pandemic but he is silently sharing in our pains and fears. This somehow explains why despite having stormed heavens with prayers we feel as if our pleadings for the Lord to heal the infected and save us from this pandemic fell on deaf ears.

The third factor lies in the way with which the Lord brings Lazarus back to life: He cries with a loud voice ordering the decomposing man to come out of the tomb (Jn 11:43). Somewhat underscored in this factor is the creative power of God’s Word emphasized at the very start of the Gospel of John (cf. Jn 1:1; cf. Gen 1:1). Likewise intimated herein is the power of human words, which can either build up or break down relationships. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov 18:21a). In this sobering time of pandemic, we are more than ever exhorted to make the most of the creative power of our words by speaking with others and speaking about them in a kind and consoling manner. Since a lot of countries are on lockdown and we are encouraged to stay at home, we must speak extra kindly with those we live with. Not to be ignored are our engagements in social media which enable us to reach out to both friends and strangers worldwide. The use of polite and kind words in our online conversations can build up relationships. Conversely, negativities, propagandas, and expletives in defense of or against certain viewpoints or political positions can only bring about more emotional burdens and sow hatred in the already depressing world.

As followers of the Lord, therefore, we are particularly exhorted to remain hopeful and believing that the Lord who shares in our griefs and anxieties will heal and save us from the deadly and highly contagious virus. We are also encouraged to affirm each other and to offer criticisms only if requested until speaking kind words to others and speaking positively about them becomes second nature to us.


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