In today’s first reading at Mass (Isaiah 49:8-15; Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent), the prophet promises God’s people that they have not been forgotten. He assures them that—despite all apparent indications to the contrary—God regards them with the tender affection of a mother; he will save them, protect and provide for them, lead and comfort them. They have not been forsaken.
“In a time of favor,” Isaiah foretells, God will say to the prisoners, “Come out!” To those in darkness, “Show yourselves!”
In the most immediate and literal sense, God kept this promise. The Babylonian exiles to whom the prophet was speaking were freed and allowed to return to Jerusalem.
However, God’s tender affection did not end then and there. Isaiah’s words are true in a much more timeless, figurative sense. They apply to us today just as much as they did to the ancient Israelites.
In today’s Gospel reading (John 5:17-30), Jesus echoes the prophet’s words: “The hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. … The hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out.”
Later in the same Gospel (John 11), Jesus demonstrates that he was not kidding around. In raising his friend Lazarus from the dead, he fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy once again by shouting: “Lazarus, come out!” And when the dead man stumbles out of his tomb, wrapped up in burial cloths, Jesus tells the astonished crowed, “Untie him and let him go.”
More is going on here than a simple prefiguring of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and his promise that his disciples will share in that resurrection (though that is certainly part of it). Resurrection and new life are not only things we await while enduring the trials of this life – some kind of future prize. They also are available to us here and now – just as they were to the Babylonian exiles and to Lazarus. As Jesus says in John 10, “I came so that they [all of us] might have life and have it more abundantly.”
In one way or another, we are all imprisoned in darkness or entombed by life-stripping circumstances, attitudes, or habits. To each one of us, Jesus calls: “Sue…Gary…Richard…Alicia…Theresa…Terrelle…Michael…Candace……Come out!”
This Lenten season, here are some good questions to ask ourselves: “Do I hear his voice? Am I willing to step out of the darkness and into the light—into life? Can I not only respond to the voice of Jesus calling, but also allow others to untie me and let me go—so that I, in turn, may then do the same for the other Lazaruses of this world?”
As St. Paul writes (2 Corinthians 6:2), “Now is a very acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.”