Fifth Sunday of Lent - Year A

Paul W. Galetto, O.S.A.
Saint Rita High School
Chicago, Illinois

Ez 37: 12-14
Ps 130: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Rom 8: 8-11
Jn 11: 1-45

Stones are good things. They lend themselves to sturdy construction. They keep foundations secure amidst the storms. They hold back the torrent of water that may cause flood and destruction. Stones can be life savers. Bread, too, is good. It nourishes, it delights, it satiates. Our lives consist of both stones and bread; we can’t live without either because they both serve good and fundamental functions. However, one should not mistake stones and bread. As we wouldn’t build a house out of bread, we wouldn’t serve a stone to a hungry person.

On the first Sunday of Lent, the devil tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread. It would have been a gross violation of the natural order for Jesus to do that. Stones are stones and bread is bread. And yet that temptation occurred over and over in the ministry of Jesus.

“Jesus,” the man yelled, “You’re a miracle worker; make me whole. I gambled away all my money so let me see how powerful you are; restore my loss.” He is demanding that Jesus turn his stones into bread. “Jesus,” the elderly woman lamented, “You’re a miracle worker; take away my pain. I’m old and did not take care of myself but you can make me young again.” She wants her stone to become bread. The young boy who steals or cheats prays, “God, don’t let me get caught!” He wants a miracle to undo his bad choices.

We know from our own personal lived experience that there must have been many, many requests of Jesus to perform miracles. Human beings always want the easy way out; we want to harness the power of God for our own personal good. We don’t want to suffer the consequences of our bad choices. However, many of us acknowledge that we learn more from mistakes than success. Stones are the great teaching moments of our lives. Without mistakes, there are no foundation stones to build upon. Without learning from our errors, there are no stones to hold back the torrents that flood our lives and could sweep us away.

In today’s Gospel, it seems that at first glance Mary and Martha are on the verge of complaining to Jesus. Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would never have died.” What is Martha trying to say? The path to a personal miracle is not a one way street. The recipient, be it the person who is directly affected or that person’s loved ones, needs to come to a realization ahead of time. If we look back at the Gospels, we see a pattern of awareness, grace and dependence on God’s will. The centurion whose servant was ill (Mt 8), the synagogue leader, Jairus, whose daughter was believed to have died (Mk 5, Mt 9), and the father of the possessed boy (Mk 9, Mt 17) all came to an awareness that they could do nothing of their own accord. So too with Martha, and we come to understand her as a person of deep faith; she states to Jesus, “I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” When Jesus identifies himself as the resurrection and the life, Martha, not Peter, echoes the famous words spoken at Caesarea Philippi: “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” She is not asking that her stone become bread; rather, she chooses the path of belief over complaint.

The raising of Lazarus is no mere magic trick but truly the deed of a miracle worker. Did Jesus have the power to turn stones into bread in the desert? Of course he did; but if he had succumbed to the temptation of the devil to use his God-given gifts for his own personal use he would not be the Messiah. All the actions of Jesus are so that God may be glorified, not that he himself be glorified. The raising of Lazarus is one such instance.

The need for this kind of miracle, raising someone from the dead, no longer exists. With the death and resurrection of Jesus we now have the possibility of eternal life so that there is no need to raise someone from the dead. Lazarus, the daughter of Jairus and the son of the widow of Nain all died a second and permanent time. After the resurrection of Jesus, the possibility of a new and better life awaited them. A miracle happens when faith, grace and opportunity meet. Miracles happen at the darkest moments when logic and common practice dictate that the order and rules of this world foretell an all too familiar ending. Miracles, as we hear in today’s Gospel and in the other stories mentioned, are rare, result from faith and in the total abandonment of a person’s will to complete dependence on God.

As we draw our Lenten reflections to a close, our take-aways this weekend are several. How often have we asked Jesus to turn our stones into bread? Have we chosen to complain instead of to understand or accept? How often have we tried to avoid the consequences of our actions and sought the quick and easy solution? How many times have we blamed God when we didn’t get what we wanted? How many people stopped believing in God because they didn’t get what they wanted? We must wonder if they actually believed in the first place.

Have we undertaken the path to understanding how dependent we are on God? Have we been accepting of God’s will in our life?

When a loved one dies do we, after our initial sense of loss, thank God for the gift of eternal life as well as for the life of that person? Do we have faith in life after death and live our lives accordingly?

Today’s Gospel offers us the perspectives we need to head into the celebrations of Holy Week.