Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent: Ezekiel 37: 12-14; Psalms 130: 1-8; Romans 8:8-11; John 11: 1-45
On this fifth Sunday of Lent our readings prepare for Easter by directing us to consider death and resurrection both politically and personally.
The readings are especially poignant and relevant at a time when as a people we appear to be in a cruel political captivity not unlike that of Israel more than 2500 years ago. Besides that, the loss of loved ones to the Coronavirus has brought into so many families the experience of Martha and Mary bereft of their beloved brother Lazarus who was so dear to their family’s close friend, Jesus the Christ.
Our Own Babylonian Captivity
Today’s first reading reminds us that we’re like Israel during its Babylonian Captivity. The prophet Ezekiel addresses that latter situation right off the bat. His sixth century was the saddest of times for his people – the era of his nation’s Great Exile. The Hebrews had been defeated and humiliated by Babylon (modern day Iraq). Judah’s leaders and a large portion of its populace had been abducted to that enemy state. Jerusalem lay in ruins. The exiles felt as if they had been slaughtered culturally. They were far from home, controlled by foreign masters, and apparently abandoned by God.
Like his audience, we’re undeniably in the grip of cruel masters. During the COVOD-19 crisis, our version of captivity has our “public servants” treating us as if we were aliens in a Babylon that belongs to them and their rich donors. It’s as if we were powerless defeated foreigners under their power rather than their employers. That’s shown by the fact that they’ve dealt with the Coronavirus problem not by improving the people’s healthcare system. Instead they’ve used the crisis to take care of the bank accounts of their sponsors who end up being our captors! In other words, we’re the victims of a coup by the corporate elite and their congressional minions. There seems no way out.
That’s the way Matt Stoller, research director at the American Economic Liberties Project, has described the bailout. His recent column for the Guardian is entitled “The coronavirus relief bill could turn into a corporate coup if we aren’t careful.”
According to Stoller, suddenly, under the pressure of COVID-19 congressional representatives on retainer from corporations like Boeing and Citibank found the very money they claimed wasn’t there when it came to providing for us the same healthcare that every other industrialized nation offers taxpayers. Suddenly that money materialized out of nowhere, but not to cure the failed “healthcare market,” but to heal instead their failed stock market and to save a moribund capitalism.
Predictably, they’ll use that money not principally to address COVID-19, but to eventually buy up distressed businesses and taxpayers’ homes. (Stoller warns that we may end up with just three retailers in this country: Amazon, Walmart, and Costco.) In the process, they’ll gift dividends to their investors and bonuses to their CEOs. They’ll also further consolidate their control of the nation’s and world’s economy. It’s pure Disaster Capitalism as described so well by Naomi Klein. Absolutely no one asked legislators, “How are you going to pay for the generosity you’ve just extended to your corporate sponsors?”
Meanwhile, “our” representatives have given highly conditioned, means-tested crumbs to the rest of us. It’s what the Mafia does. As Jimmy Dore says, they rip off the ones who pay them protection money all year. Then give their proteges a turkey at Thanksgiving – and expect gratitude in return.
I mean, none of what the Congress passed showed any awareness of dealing directly with the actual problems facing our nation in the face of COVID-19. They’ve done nothing to immediately address the lack or face masks, hospital beds, or respirators, — much less that universal healthcare insurance which our situation absolutely cries out for.
No, healthcare and all the rest have been left to the mechanisms of trickle-down economics and private insurance companies. The implication is that if we take care of Wall Street first, our immediate healthcare needs will somehow be met one day when private enterprise finally decides to produce what we so desperately need right now. We’ve seen this horror movie before.
And just watch the dead bodies pile up while we wait. It’s already happening. And the crisis hasn’t nearly peaked.
We are captives. We are enslaved in this New Babylon by resuscitated Robber Barons!
Nonetheless, in the face of all this, today’s readings urge us not to give up hope either in the face of seemingly inescapable exploitation nor in that of premature death. As such the readings are not just happy talk. They’re seriously calling us instead to face the undeniable fact that this too will pass. It will. And (hard as it might be to believe) what we’re promised instead is God’s Kingdom. The Robber Baron system is on its last legs.
Babylon’s empire fell; so did Rome’s. And genuine tears, compassion, and words of comfort like those Jesus shared with Martha and Mary can somehow restore life that seemed hopelessly lost. Both Ezekiel and Jesus believed in resurrection. In the present crisis, their followers are urged to do the same.
Review the readings for yourself here. What follows are my own “translations” of their content.
Ezekiel 37: 12-14 Death as a Metaphor for Political Captivity: Five hundred years before Jesus, while God’s people were imprisoned in what we now call Iraq, the Prophet Ezekiel predicted their release from captivity and return to Judah. It would be, he promised, like a resurrection from the dead. God’s people would once again experience her goodness and feel Life’s Spirit rushing through their veins.
Psalm 130: 1-8: The Spirit of God Favors Such Release: This is because when people cry out to their Great Mother, God always hears. She is completely trustworthy, kind, and above all, forgiving.
Romans 8: 8-11: And This Despite the World’s Denial: No one ever enjoys fullness of life living by the values of the world. That’s because we are not merely bodies as the world teaches. No, we are Divine Spirits who enjoy our bodies to serve the world, just as Jesus did. So, don’t worry. What the world calls defeat and death can never be final. The Divine Spirit we share will always return to life.
John 11: 5A, 26: So, those who follow the path trod by our Enlightened Master are never afraid of death. They never give up.
John 11: 1-45: A Living Parable Showing that Death Does Not Have the Final Word: Lazarus along with his sisters Mary and Martha were among Jesus’ best friends. So, the Master was heartbroken when word reached his hideout that Lazarus was deathly ill. However, his careful measures to avoid the police kept Jesus from getting to Lazarus’ home before it was too late. When he finally arrived, a distraught Martha gently scolded him for his delay. Mary was softer in her expression of disappointment. “I’m sorry,” Jesus said through his own tears, “but don’t you see that nothing in this world – not even death – is final. Life always has the last word. That’s true for Lazarus; it will be true for our suffering people.” Unconvincingly, both Martha and Mary nodded agreement. He embraced both sisters fondly and asked to be taken to Lazarus’ tomb. Once there, from his profound heartache, Jesus shouted, “I’m so sorry, Lazarus. I loved you so much, my dear brother!” And true to his words, Jesus’ grief and evident love somehow made everyone realize that he was right: death is not the end. Everyone’s sorrow turned instantly to joy. It was miraculous!
Once again, I know that in our present crisis, it’s almost impossible to take those hopeful readings to heart. It’s hard to believe that one day we’ll be released from the captivity of the rich and powerful who are using the COVID-19 crisis to even further consolidate their power over us. It’s hard in such circumstances to believe that Life and History are on our side.
But that’s what our readings today call us to. Improbably it seems, they ask us to believe that Life and Justice will eventually triumph over the ways of the world that seem so overwhelming and powerful — that seem to be winning.
The hammerlock the rich have on all of us is painful and seems absolutely inescapable. They don’t care about us and neither do most of our elected officials.
Meanwhile as we sweep up our crumbs, as we await our Thanksgiving turkey, we have to watch our loved ones die for lack of testing kits, face masks, hospital beds, protective clothing for heroic healthcare workers, and universal healthcare coverage for the rest of us. It’s all so sad. As with Ezekiel’s people in Babylon, as with tearful Martha and Mary – and Jesus – we’re hard put to believe in resurrection. But Easter is on the horizon. . .