Msgr. Joseph Prior

(Readings of the Holy Mass – Fifth Sunday of Lent)

Our journey through Lent continues toward its end when we celebrate the great liturgies of the Triduum. The journey is one whereby we take up the discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as a means to deepen our faith in Christ Jesus.

In the past two weeks, we have proclaimed the gospel readings from the Gospel According to John. Those passages invited us to reflect on an encounter with Jesus which resulted in faith.

Two weeks ago, we heard Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well. In the end of the engagement, the woman tells the townsfolk about Jesus and they come to belief as well saying: “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.” Last week, we heard Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind. His journey in faith is contrasted with the Pharisees who obstinately oppose Jesus. The man born blind comes to faith and eventually professes: “‘I do believe, Lord,’ and he worshiped him.” This week we will hear the account of Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead. Once again, as we ponder this reading we are called to be renewed in faith.

The Gospel According to John is divided into two main sections: “the Book of signs” and “the Book of Glory.” The “Book of Signs” corresponds to the public ministry of Jesus. The “signs” are miracles that Jesus does accompanied with a teaching. The first “sign” was the changing of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. Last week, we heard another “sign” in Jesus’ gift of sight to the man born blind.

This week we witness the great sign of Jesus’ restoration to life of his friend Lazarus. The “Book of Glory” covers the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord beginning with the events of the Last Supper. One way of seeing the “Book of Glory” is that it is the “greatest” of the “signs” of Jesus. All through the gospel, Jesus encourages people to believe – to put their faith in Him. The “signs” are done as to foster faith and to help it grow.

Jesus was friends with Lazarus and his two sisters: Martha and Mary. Earlier in the public ministry, Jesus visited their home. You may remember that Martha was upset that Mary was not helping with hospitality but sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to Him. When Martha asked Jesus to tell Mary to help, He replied: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:41-42) I mention this as the friendship Jesus shared with this family is important for when Jesus gets the news of his illness, he waits for two days before returning. When word was brought to him that Lazarus was ill, he says: “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Lazarus’ death will provide the opportunity for a great “sign” by which Jesus, the “Son of God,” will be “glorified,” or in this case, made manifest.

The “sign” that will be accomplished is Lazarus’ being restored to life. This will be the greatest “sign” that Jesus provides up to this point in the ministry. By the time he returns to Bethany it is certain that Lazarus has died. Before they depart, He says to his disciples: “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.” Again, He is pointing to Lazarus’ death as an opportunity for faith. Later, when Jesus orders the stone rolled back from Lazarus’ tomb, Martha comments: “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” But Jesus says: “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”

The faith that Jesus seeks is tied to life. His restoration of Lazarus’ life is a “sign” of life – particularly Jesus’ relationship to life, He is the source of life. Elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus will say, in one of the famous “I am” statements: “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” When Jesus is nearing Bethany, Martha goes out to meet him. She regrets his not being there to save Lazarus. Jesus replies: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Then he asks the all-important question: “Do you believe this?”

Jesus is clear in his intention and thoughts about Lazarus’ death. He is also greatly moved by sorrow and grief. When Mary joins them, she is weeping, along with all those who accompanied her. At this point, we are told that Jesus “became perturbed and deeply troubled.” He is sharing in their grief – and He weeps. This prompts some of those gathered to say: “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” And once again, the focus shifts us back to a sign being offered as an opportunity for faith; so that those who are in doubt might believe.

Jesus arrives at the tomb. He asks that the stone be rolled back. He calls out: “Lazarus, come out!” And he does. He is restored to live. He is now alive so Jesus says: “Untie him and let him go.” The final words of the passage tie it all together with regards to faith: “Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what he had done began to believe in him.”

Lent provides us an opportunity to deepen and renew our faith. The catechumens are in their final preparations for baptism, where they will receive the gift of life through a sacramental union with Christ Jesus in His death. We have been walking with them on their journey and as we see their faith grow, we are renewed in our faith.

As we approach Holy Week, we reflect on Jesus’ “signs” as an invitation to believe. Pondering them is a reminder that He is the Lord of Life. Not only has life come through Him (“all things came to be through Him, and apart from Him nothing came to be” John 1:3), but he has embraced human life in Himself so that no human experience is beyond Him.

We are reminded today that he takes on sorrow and grief so that we might know He has a share in them; and that we are never alone in those experiences.

We are reminded that he leads us through them to a better place.

We are reminded that he has taken us and will take us from death to life. Now we are afforded the opportunity to hear Him ask once again: “Do you believe?” and to respond, as Marth did: “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.”


Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.