Fifth Sunday of Lent – Year A “Solidarity Sunday”
[Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45]
In early February, we all received the heartbreaking news of the terrible earthquake that rocked Turkey and Syria. Many thousands died, and thousands more were left homeless. Catholic organizations rushed to give assistance to the suffering people. Among them was the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. As a member of the international Catholic aid network Caritas Internationalis, Development and Peace worked with Caritas partners in both Turkey and Syria to deliver the financial assistance donated by people like yourselves and many others throughout the Archdiocese and the rest of the Church in Canada.
I bring this to mind because on this day we call Solidarity Sunday, the Church in Canada focuses upon the good work of Development and Peace, and invites all her members to offer their support so as thus to stand in effective solidarity with the poor and needy of the world. The biblical imperative to this solidarity pervades the entire Bible. Today, the text we hear from Saint John’s Gospel grounds our understanding and conviction that works of charity and advocacy for justice are constitutive elements of our lives as followers of Jesus Christ.
Saint John recounts the astonishing account of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. As we ponder this story, we can appreciate how Lazarus represents symbolically the plight of the countless people today who suffer from various forms of injustice. The narrative also helps us to see that the unique power of Jesus to restore people to life is now active in and through his Church.
Let’s begin with Lazarus. He is dead, bound, and buried. This is reflective of the plight of much of humanity today. We have already recalled the need to respond when people are literally entombed in rubble caused by natural calamities. We can think, too, of the innumerable men, women, and children of our day bound tightly in shrouds of injustice or buried under the weight of oppression. Furthermore, we might also recognize ourselves in the people gathered with Jesus outside the tomb of Lazarus. They wanted to help but knew they were powerless to restore Lazarus to life. Here we see reflected our own incapacities in the face of the enormous problems endured by the poor of the world today. Like the people in the Gospel, our desire to assist is met with the stark reality of limit, even impossibility. But as the Gospel also shows, desire confronts limit only until it meets Jesus Christ. In that encounter, the impossible becomes possible, and people are set free.
The unlimited power of Jesus Christ is on full display in the event recalled by the biblical text. At the word of command uttered by Jesus, Lazarus is restored to life and comes forth from the tomb. The impossible is rendered possible. Here is manifested the fullness of divine power at work in the human body of Jesus. Following his resurrection and by the gift of the Holy Spirit, that same power is at work in his Mystical Body, which is the Church. Now, as Saint Paul teaches, it is the power of his death and resurrection, what we call his Paschal Mystery. This power reaches us in the sacraments, calls us forth from the tomb of sin, and liberates us to love God and serve our neighbour. Transformed and strengthened by the Lord’s life-giving power, we now hear addressed to us the command Jesus gave to the onlookers outside the tomb of Lazarus: “Unbind him. Let him go free.” The duty to which we are summoned as followers of the Lord is to draw near to people who suffer with the good news of God’s love, and help them receive that love as the power that frees them from all that holds them bound.
In Catholic Social Teaching, the word we give to this is “solidarity”. We stand in solidarity with others in need when we recognize our common humanity under God, give them concrete assistance, and work side by side with them in the pursuit of justice and peace. As members of the Church, we do not do this as if we were part of just another NGO. No, we do so as followers of Christ, impelled by the Lord’s love for all, especially those in need, and aware that his love is powerfully at work in and through us to call people to life and set them free.
Confidence in the power of God’s love to effect change and give hope was the motivation behind the establishment by Canada’s Bishops of Development and Peace. It remains the reason that members of this Catholic organization continue to partner with Caritas Internationalis to give emergency relief throughout the world, and with a variety of other partners in the Global South to stand with the poor and advocate on their behalf. I witnessed personally much of this good work when, a few years ago, I visited the country of Haiti. It is replicated in many other parts of the world and relies upon our support.
Our greatest reliance, of course, is upon Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen Lord. In solidarity with his wounded and suffering people, he, the Son of God, became one of us in the Incarnation. In fulfillment of the Father’s will to unbind us and set us free, he gave his life on the Cross and rose from the dead. That very same self-gift, once offered on Calvary for all, is rendered present here on our altar, to fill us with the grace of liberation and peace. Empowered by this wondrous sacrament, may we go forth as followers of Christ to bring the Lord’s own solidarity to anyone in need, and share with them his love, which frees them from all that holds them captive and summons them to new life.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Saint Edmund Parish
March 26th, 2023