Sunday Scripture Readings

Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 17 Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45 OUR GOOD NEWS: Jesus calls and empowers us to arise and live, now as well as on the Last Day. "O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord." When Ezekiel first proclaimed this prophecy, God's Chosen People were "dead" - defeated in war, their territory under pagan control and partially settled by foreigners, leading citizens carried off to slavery in far-off Babylonia. Among these exiles was Ezekiel, a prophet through whom God announced hope for return and restoration. A new and second exodus like the first from Egypt was imminent. Once again the Lord would lead his people out of slavery and through the desert to their land of promise. This astounding and unheard-of miracle of Israel "rising from its grave" would show the world what her God was really like. He, rather than Babylonian deities, ruled over nations; his nature was loving and caring ("O my people!"), powerful and faithful to promises already made: "You shall know; I have spoken and will act." God's "Spirit" gives life rather than takes it away through judgment and punishment for infidelity and disobedience. This text becomes for us Christians a prophecy and promise of "the new and second exodus" when we, a community of persons baptized into the Risen Christ, will one day certainly rise with him. In today's psalm the psalmist "cries" loudly for God's attention, his sin having placed him at furthest remove from heavenly habitation. In biblical thought, alienation from God constitutes the worst possible fate. A cry for help reflects confidence that God will hear and take merciful action. But instead of specifying a request (second stanza), the psalmist - and we - humbly leave everything to the Lord. We acknowledge that no one could survive his rigorous accounting. We can only appeal to God's forgiving nature, which inspires creatures with a holy "fear" - a response manifested in awe and reverence, leading to obedience. "I trust in the Lord ... More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord." With hope grounded only upon the Lord's compassion, the psalmist patiently awaits divine initiative, sharing the expectation of all God's people. These are compared to nighttime sentries, bone-chilled and weary, anxiously longing for the first glimmers of morning light. Meanwhile (final stanza), faithful gathered in worship experience reassurance that redemption will include forgiveness of sins as well as liberation from their effects, every affliction. We can apply today's first reading and psalm to the season. The power of God's Spirit bringing life to the dead is vindicated in Jesus resurrected and in the miracle of his Church. God wants to forgive and heal us rather than punish us for our sins (Ezekiel). Alienation from God is the most painful of human experiences. Our hope in final redemption is expressed through a healthy impatience (psalm). "Lord, hear our voices!"

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