The WORD in other words (2023) by Fr. Dante Salces-Barril, SVD — Rome
5th Sunday of Lent / A
Bethany, the village of Lazarus and his sisters, the central location of our Gospel episode, has two possible meanings: house of affliction or house of dates (the fruit, not boy and girl out together). The Bethany that Jesus visits is indeed a house of affliction…a dark place. But given the theme of the gospel story, the first seems more appropriate.
Bethany is a place of death and a place to die. The gloominess of Bethany is anticipated by the news sent to Jesus about the illness and eventual death of his friend Lazarus. Its morbidity is accentuated when Thomas recklessly muttered, “Let us also go [there] to die with him.” (John 11, 16)
Once the story shifted to Bethany, its advertised darkness comes to the fore. Jesus, upon arriving, was welcomed by Martha with a rueful, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11, 21) Something which Mary tearfully repeated a little later. The deathly atmosphere of Bethany is palpable as readers are made to see people weeping, the tomb closing, and the Jews, the ones who wanted to murder Jesus, lurking. (This probably was the reason why Martha had to inform Mary secretly that Jesus had arrived!)
Jesus was aware that pain and danger awaited him in the “house of affliction.” But he came anyway. And we witness how his presence transformed the darkness of that place into brightness, the threat of death into a miracle of life. The “house of affliction” becomes “a house of miracles” in Jesus.
My friend had a terrible accident early this year. He broke his spinal cord. And as a result, he lost all mobility. In a blink of an eye, he became a “man of affliction.” It took me a while to call because I had no idea what to tell him. But when I ran out of excuses, I hesitatingly video called him. I expected anger, pain, and some tears. But to my surprise, I was greeted by a smiling face. Yes, there was pain in his eyes…but it made the smile more genuine and potent. He told me how grateful he is that he survived, and he shared how in the hospital he can inspire other patients like him to have faith, hope, and love. I could not believe what I was seeing and hearing. The person I thought was a “man of affliction” turns out to be a “man of miracles.”
My friend is a strong person. But what he has shown is beyond human strength. When we were about to end our conversation, he told me, “Father, before you go, can we pray?” I said, “Of course.” Being the priest, I thought I was going to pray for him. But he started, thanked God, and prayed for me! It became abundantly clear where he gets his strength from at that moment.
A “house of affliction” can be transformed into a “house of miracles.” The bible tells us so. And my friend proves it too.