Fifth Sunday of Lent

March 26, 2023

Sister Ana Cloughly, OSB shares a reflection on the scripture readings: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

“And Jesus wept.”

In the English translation of St John’s gospel it says, “Jesus was perturbed…”. Some scholars suggest that the Greek word is better translated as deeply frustrated. Have you ever been so frustrated that you’ve wept? Can you even imagine how Jesus felt?

Let’s put this part of the story into its emotional context. Jesus receives the message that Lazarus is dying. He waits for two days to pass while his friend, whom he loves, is dying. It is only when Jesus knows that Lazarus is dead that he sets off to Bethany. He knows that Martha and Mary, whom he also loves, are suffering greatly. He tries to explain the situation to his disciples and is met with naive questions and valid concerns for his safety. Returning to the area around Jerusalem is dangerous.

When Jesus is approaching Bethany, Martha and then Mary meet Jesus. They say the same thing, “If you had been here…” Their grief is authentic and Jesus must have felt it. Jesus also hears some people saying, “He opened the eyes of the blind, could he have not saved the life of his friend?” He must have felt their cynicism keenly. And finally, he must have known that this next act of God’s loving kindness, showing the glory of God by raising Lazarus from the dead, would be answered by the Jewish leadership conspiring in an effort to kill him. All of this took its toll on Jesus’ emotions. Knowing who he is and knowing the purpose of his coming quelled his fear, but it could not block his emotions. In the fullness of his humanity, how could Jesus not weep with deep frustration?

Yet, this is the gospel, the good news. So, what am I to take from this narrative?

In the mystery of our baptism, we share in the fullness of life in Christ, his death, and his resurrection. Jesus told his disciples that those who believe in him will do the things he has done and greater things too. The key is being like Jesus, loving God with our whole being, steeping ourselves in prayer and through that prayer, conforming our will to the will of God. 

Of course, this isn’t some foreign idea. We pray for it every day, several times a day in the monastery, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Mystics call this process of aligning our will with the will of God through deep prayer Union with God. In Orthodox Christianity it is called Theosis. Union with God, as I understand it, opens us to the possibility that God’s will can be accomplished in whatever situation God desires in which we are willing to believe and cooperate. The good news of today’s reading is that God cares. God cares enough to weep in frustration over us and still show us the loving kindness of loosening the bonds of death that limit us.


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