Bible Group

Mass Readings for Sunday 25th March
The 5th of Lent year A
Saint Paul’s Bible Group, Paphos, Cyprus

This Sunday’s theme: Jesus is the source of life for our bodies and our souls. Moreover, read in the context of the current global crisis, the Mass readings gain tremendous significance and power … with God, there are no coincidences.                                                                                          

First Reading                 Ezekiel 37:12-14

“The Lord says this: I am now going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. And you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people. And I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live, and I shall resettle you on your own soil; and you will know that I, the Lord, have said and done this – it is the Lord who speaks.”

Commentary

God is describing a new “creation,” a new Israel which begins with the remains of the old Israel: “From your graves,” from a totally hopeless situation. This new Israel is radically different, it is a people guided by the Spirit of God. This passage is not presented here in the context of the resurrection of the bodies, but the doctrine is foreshadowed, which makes it appropriate for this Sunday’s topic with Easter so near.

I shall put my Spirit in you: The Hebrew word used here for Spirit, rûah, has several meanings:

  • Wind: An invisible physical energy, sometimes destructive, sometimes invigorating. In baptism, the Holy Spirit “destroys” the old man and invigorates the new one.
  • Spirit: A powerful force which gives vision and insight. In Baptism we receive the gift of faith, which gives us access to the things of heaven.
  • Breath: A physical energy that restores, quickens, and gives new life. To “come out of the grave” we must combat against sin, this will require a strength which only God can provide.

Responsorial Psalm  Ps 129

Response     With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.

  1. Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
    Lord, hear my voice!
    O let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my pleading.               Response
  2. If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt,
    Lord, who would survive?
    But with you is found forgiveness:
    for this we revere you.                      Response
  3. My soul is waiting for the Lord,
    I count on his word.
    My soul is longing for the Lord
    more than watchman for daybreak.
    (Let the watchman count on daybreak
    and Israel on the Lord.)                  Response
  4. Because with the Lord there is mercy
    and fullness of redemption,
    Israel indeed he will redeem
    from all its iniquity.                Response 

Commentary

This lament (of unknown authorship), called the De profundis (out of the depths) was one of the Psalms sung by the Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem, most likely composed during the Babylonian Exile. It talks about how suffering brings the people to confess their guilt kindling in their hearts hope and trust in God’s mercy and his Redeemer, leading to better knowledge of God.

The depths: Sheol, here, is a metaphor for total misery. Deep anguish makes the psalmist feel “like those descending to the pit” (Ps 143:7), hence it is often used in funerals and it can be placed on the lips of the deceased or of the mourners as well, like Lazarus and his sisters. Reciting this psalm, the Church can make her voice heard calling for God’s mercy upon mankind.

Second Reading            Romans 8:8-11

People who are interested only in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God. Your interests, however, are not in the unspiritual, but in the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has made his home in you. In fact, unless you possessed the Spirit of Christ you would not belong to him. Though your body may be dead it is because of sin, but if Christ is in you then your spirit is life itself because you have been justified; and if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.

Commentary

To better grasp St. Paul’s teaching here, it helps to understand the meaning of unspiritual and spiritual. Today, many people claim to be “spiritual” but not “religious.”

In no. 89 of the Catechism we read: “… if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith.” When the apostles talk about “spiritual,” they have in mind the gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord, which in turn will give the fruits of the Holy Spirit: Charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity. Simply put, those who have no interest in these, are the unspiritual which St. Paul is talking about.

Gospel  Acclamation   

Glory and praise to you, O Christ !
I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord,
whoever believes in me will never die.
Glory and praise to you, O Christ !

Gospel                           John  11:3-7. 17. 20-27. 33-45

The sisters Martha and Mary sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill.’ On receiving the message, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.’

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he learned that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judaea.’

On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days already. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’ ‘Your brother’ said Jesus to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know, he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’

Jesus said: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? ‘Yes Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’ Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ They said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But there were some who remarked, ‘He opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death?’ Still sighing, Jesus reached the tomb; it was a cave with a stone to close the opening. Jesus said, ‘Take the stone away.’ Martha said to him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day.’ Jesus replied, ‘Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus lifted up his eyes and said: ‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer. I knew indeed that you always hear me, but I speak for the sake of all these who stand round me, so that they may believe it was you who sent me.’

When he had said this, he cried in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, let him go free.’

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what he did believed in him.

Gospel

Last Sunday, our Lord claimed to be the “Light of the world” as he healed a man born blind; today, He is the “Resurrection and the life” as he raises his friend Lazarus from the dead. Our Lords miracles were meant to support his teachings and his claims, so that people might come to believe in him.

Lord, the man you love is ill: This phrase is particularly rich and deserves special consideration as it has several degrees of signification:

  1. The obvious: Our Lord’s friend Lazarus is dying and his sisters intercede for him. This is very important given the current situation with the pandemic; Christians must continually elevate supplications to our Lord that He may come to the help of suffering humanity.
  2. The spiritual: Humanity is truly loved by God, but it is also truly ill, sin and its consequences can be felt throughout history, but Christ is the king of the universe and of history, just like he restored the natural life of the dead Lazarus, he can give new spiritual life to those who believe in him and follow him.   

Hence, our Lord’s saying: “This sickness will not end in death,” also gains tremendous significance for us today. 

And again: “Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart”: In the original Greek, “sigh,” or ἐμβριμάομαι means roughly to snort out of indignant displeasure. God is expressing his indignation at what sin has done to man: “Where have you put him?”

There are also parallels between this story and Luke’s parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus (Lk 16:19–31). In both a man named Lazarus dies; in Luke, there is a request that he return to convince his contemporaries of the need for faith and repentance, while in John, Lazarus does return but only a few are convinced.

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In your prayers, please keep the intentions of the priest’s at St. Paul’s.

For this pandemic crisis to pass soon.

For mankind to turn to God for help.

For good to come out of people’s hearts during this time of trial.

For all to better appreciate the gifts of God.

For Christians to grow in faith, hope, charity, holiness and unity.

For the eternal repose of those who have died.

For the recovery of those who are sick.

For the wellbeing of those looking after the sick.

For God to illumine the minds of scientists looking for a cure or vaccine.

For those who are affected in anyway, especially the poor.

For harmony among all the families as they go into lockdown.

For the needs of our parish, material and spiritual.

For the conversion of sinners.

We commend ourselves to our Blessed Mother, may she intercede for us during these difficult times.