Fifth Sunday of Lent
JN 11:1-45
March 29, 2020

The Plague, by French philosopher Albert Camus, although first published over 70 years ago, offers a very vivid description of everything humankind is living through today. Very much like today’s news reports, it is hard to read/watch but impossible to turn away from. I found one chapter to be especially unnerving, and it wasn’t the graphic description of the human suffering that a pandemic brings with it.

In the book, the priest in the fictional French city that was in strict military-enforced isolation, called for the citizens to join in a “Week of Prayer.” The faithful took this seriously, begging God to bring an end to the pandemic. At the conclusion of the week, a special Mass was scheduled. The cathedral was filled with the city’s residents. The church was also filled with all of the feelings of fear and desperation that many people around the world are wrestling with today.

The priest began his sermon to this stricken community, in need of comfort and hope, with the following words:

Calamity has come upon you…and you deserve it!

He went on to explain that the city had been punished by God because of the sinful practices the residents had fallen into. He concluded by telling the worshippers that they should be grateful for the plague, and they should see it as an opportunity to learn from their mistakes, and change their way of living.

Certainly, any preacher would be correct in saying that we very often bring “calamity” on ourselves through poor choices and bad decisions. There are always consequences. But, the suggestion that an angry and vindictive God would send a plague to punish offenders is not consistent with all that God has Self-revealed through Jesus.

God is…

kind and merciful, slow to anger but quick to forgive.

Although natural disasters and public health emergencies DO offer an opportunity for us to learn how to be more FULLY human, it very difficult to believe that God purposefully inflicts suffering on us, as a way for us to “self-improve.” God values and treasures us, and He does not wreak havoc upon us out of anger or the desire to punish us or teach us a lesson.

God’s loving and merciful nature is especially important to remember at this time of global crisis, because it is very possible that there are sermons being preached today, suggesting that Covid-19 is our “just rewards” for all the sins of the world. There is no doubt that this is a sinful world. Still, it bears repeating.

God is not punitive.

God does not send plagues or pandemics or tsunamis or tornadoes or forest fires…no matter how much we might deserve these “corrective measures.”

And the very dramatic events in the dusty little Village of Bethany validate this belief.

The story of the raising of Lazarus is one of the longer and more detailed reports of Jesus’s healing ministry. It is filled with extraordinary detail, both obvious and subtle. Possibly the most important detail for us to focus on during Lent 2020 is Jesus’s reaction to the grief that He encountered having finally arrived in Bethany. He cried!

The significance of the Lord’s expression of grief goes well beyond His empathy for His friends, Martha and Mary, at the death of their brother. His tears and anguish offer insight into how God reacts to all of our afflictions. God takes no delight or satisfaction in human suffering.

Clearly, the most memorable element of the “raising of Lazarus” is just that…THE RAISING OF LAZARUS. But, in addition to being the miraculous event that it clearly was, it is also an opportunity to learn more about our Creator. Through Jesus, God reveals that when we suffer…God weeps.

So, a major takeaway of this week’s Readings is that God puts great value on every human life… and so should we. This Lenten season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is soon coming to an end. But, it does not appear that the season of COVID-19 is. Still, we can enter the Easter season with the certainty that through Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection…Salvation has come upon you…even if you don’t deserve it!

By His Holy Cross, He has redeemed the world.