Our reflection this month of April is anchored by Rev. Fr Anthony Ikechukwu Ezeogamba, a senior lecturer at Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Igbariam Campus, and a part time lecturer at both the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) in Port Harcourt and Joint Universities Preliminary Examinations Board (JUPEB). Ordained for the Catholic Diocese of Awka, Fr Ezeogamba has a number of publications in learned journals and has distinguished himself in 14 various academic leadership and 23 administrative capacities. He had served, in COOU, as the Associate Dean, Faculty of Arts; Examination Officer, Department of Religion and Society; Member Book Review and Prize Control Committee, Faculty of Arts; Member N.U.C. Accreditation/Resource Verification Committee for Faculty of Arts; among many others.
Have an Easter grace-filled reading this special season.
Fr Martin Anusi
The three readings of today are closely connected. They have a lot in common. First reading says, "The Lord promises to restore you to your original dignity by infusing you with His Spirit" (Ezek. 37:12-14). Second reading says, "Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him" (Rom. 8:8-11). In the Gospel reading Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and life" (John 11:1-45). What is common in the above three readings is the inseparability of God from human wellbeing either here in this life or in the world to come. The first reading presents us with the helplessness of mankind without God. The dry bones were vivified through the Spirit of God otherwise, the bones would have decayed and remained ruined forever. The same message is prevalent in the second reading. Those that are in the "flesh"- sarki (i.e. human nature organized outside God) cannot please God at all; the effects of the absence of Jesus in one's life is exposed. The Gospel reading presents us with a family that is in good communion with Jesus. Jesus says, "Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." This he literally fulfilled in the life of Lazarus of Bethany. This was possible because Mary, Martha and Lazarus believed in Jesus as the "resurrection and life." The effect of Jesus' presence in that family was clearly seen by all present.
Lets illustrate the above point with a story. A young man named John grew up as a member of Block Rosary Crusade and from there he became a very active member of his parish Altar Servers Association. John in his local community was academically very intelligent according to the level of all students in that local community. John's position throughout his primary school days was averagely first. He met challenges in his Junior Secondary School section as a result of meeting with pupils from other primary schools in the locality. His position ranged from 1st to 3rd. Yet he was still counted among the most intelligent in the area. John's primary ambition was to be a Catholic Priest. He was praying and asking God to assist him. After his Junior secondary exams in 1986, the then government of Anambra state introduced Special Science Schools system. John from his local environment joined other students in his area to take the exam. John passed with only 39 aggregates and was posted to study in one of the Special Science Schools. In that school they were 240 students that were taken and John happened to be one of them. John discovered that he has been a local champion all these years because he found out that he was among the lowest in grade that was posted to study in that school. To make the matter worse, classes were shared according to aggregates. The 240 students were grouped into 8 classes of 30 students each which ranged from A-H. John found himself in SS 1F. There and then John told himself that it is not true, that something must be done through divine intervention. John said, "let me face the same teachers and under the same condition with these and let's see who will blink first." John decided not to quit and return to his local environment where he remained unchallenged though some people in H, E, and even in F classes left, but John said, not me.
The students in that school were really competing among themselves and all of them knew that. John's motto was like, 'you have no business here' except to study and pass our exams.' The competition raged on. To cut the long story short, John trusting in God moved from SS1F to SS2D and from there to SS3B. This was to the extent that people started joking that if there were to be another class division, that John would have jumped into the Staff Room. To say the least, John got all his papers in GCE he took in SS2.
John entered seminary, he is today a Catholic priest. Few years after his ordination, he went for his further studies. When he came back from his studies, a university was looking for who would be able to teach two particular courses. John happened to be well groomed in those two courses and he was taken immediately. Today, John is a university professor in the country. If not God, there would not have been any Special Science School, through which John was lifted up.
The above story explains properly today's readings. In the first reading, if not for the kindness of God, the Israelites who were in exile in Babylon would have died there and been forgotten forever. Through a vision, Ezekiel saw how dry bones came back to life through the power of God and if not God, the dry bones would never have risen again. The second reading reveals that if God did not allow his only Son to assume our nature, there is absolutely no way humanity would have aligned himself to him, reconciled to him and thereby attract the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ. So ultimately, God provided us with the opportunity of being one with him and to be raised to life at the appointed time just as Christ was. Finally, if Christ were not to be in the life of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, Christ would not have visited the family at the first instance; Lazarus who had stayed for four complete days in the grave would have remained there and turned into nothingness. The God who saved John in our story, who made dry bones to rise again, who raised Lazarus from the grave is still very active in our midst today.
Another thing one learns from today's Gospels is the humanity of Christ as well as his divinity. Put simply, Jesus is truly man and truly God. Jesus like every other human being wept at the grave of Lazarus. He not only sympathized with the family but also empathized with them. It was this same Jesus that fasted for forty days and nights in the desert. After that he was very hungry and the devil capitalized on that and tempted him (Matt. 4:2-3). He visited and ate with people in their houses during his earthly ministry. Thus, he shares his humanity with us. Lazarus portrays what humans become as soon as the Divine Spark is removed from them. In that situation, Christ as God made man, intervened and returned to Lazarus the Divine Spark that previously disappeared from him for those four days. Immediately, Lazarus became vivified again. If not for the divine attribute of Jesus, this would not have been possible. If John could migrate from being local champion to city champion; if dry bones could come back to life, and if Lazarus who had remained for four days in the tomb could come back to life as a result of divine touch, why would your situation not change for good? Just wait in hope your redeemer is coming to raise you up. God says, "I will never forget you" (Isa. 49:14-15).