Fifth Sunday of Lent reflection by Barbara Silva
By way of virtual Masses, video faith groups, and private Scriptural reflection, Catholics this weekend encounter stories about resurrection, about the power of God over death. Resurrections is, of course, a profound and fundamental aspect of our faith. But today, what interests me most is Jesus’ own state of mind and heart as he calls Lazarus out of the tomb in the Gospel reading, and what this tells us about our God.
We commonly think of Jesus as a charismatic leader, a radical teacher, a compassionate healer, but how often do we think of Jesus as distraught? Can God even be distraught? As we see in today’s Gospel, the answer is yes. When Jesus hears that the friend he loves is ill, he goes to him immediately. He meets Martha who tells him Lazarus would have survived had Jesus been there – not an easy welcome for Jesus. He then meets Mary who repeats this, weeping with her companions. In bearing witness to their grief Jesus becomes “perturbed and deeply troubled.” And he weeps. God in the flesh weeps.
Sit with this image for a moment. Jesus calling Lazarus forth from the tomb, his eyes red, his face blotchy from the tears shed for his friends, perhaps wrestling with the guilt that he couldn’t get there sooner.
What does it mean for us that we have a God that is so deeply troubled by the death of one human being, by the mourning of his friends? I am reminded of a prayer by Bob Pierce, the founder of the NGO World Vision: “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” It is a sentence never fails to challenge my understanding of who God is, because it reminds me that God’s relationship to each of us is always evolving, meeting us where we are. It is never distant or theoretical. Jesus’ response to his friends mourning and to his own grief comes from an indescribably profound empathy, an intense understanding, a knowing that flows from the encounter between Creator and creature.
This intimacy is a tremendous comfort, particularly in an environment as tense as the one in which we’re living now. But it is also a challenging reminder: as Jesus loved (and loves) Lazarus, God loves each and every human being. This reality adds immense depth and scope to our mission to love one another as God has loved us.
“Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” Before all else, this prayer asks us to experience one another as God does, to feel for one another as God feels for each of us. In our daily routines and in our consumption of the news, as statistics of illness and death overwhelm our screens and our minds, how often do we viscerally feel something for strangers? When might our instinct toward self-preservation de-sensitize us to the needs and experiences of others? We need only consider those who cannot afford to stockpile supplies wandering through empty grocery store aisles this week. How can we recognize when emotional distance has been created between ourselves and other human beings? How can we bridge that distance, even while remaining physically apart? How do we begin to comprehend the infinite value in one another that God recognizes in each of us, and then act upon it?
We can look to a God who mourns. There is no illusion of stoicism or emotional distance at the resurrection of Lazarus. In this encounter, we are taught not only to believe in the power of God over death but also to emulate the kind of bonds we witness among Jesus and his friends in life. In these moments of trial when we feel hemmed in by restriction and uncertainty, we remember that our God remains close, experiencing with us, even crying with us, embodying a presence of compassion and understanding that we too are called to emulate with one another.