Our reflection for the fifth week of Lent, 6 – 12 April, is written by Fr Elphège Quenum SJ, who runs the Jesuit Centre for Research, Studies and Creativity (CREC) in Cotonou, Benin.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die…”
The gospel of 6 April, the fifth Sunday of Lent (Jn 11:1-45), shows us that Jesus has power that goes beyond disease – he has power over death itself. He had healed sick people before but today He raises people from the dead. He gives life back to those who have died and to humanity through absolute love. Faith in Him brings new life and leads to a life without end.
Meditating on this gospel from St John, I couldn’t but think of Evelyne, a woman who came to confide in me about five months ago.
Evelyne was physically in good health; comfortably plump, her appearance gave nothing away. After the sacrament of confession, she asked if we could meet to talk. When we met, I learned that she is HIV-positive and has a HIV-negative daughter. Her husband died some two or three years ago. She said she was infected more recently, but didn’t elaborate. Evelyne did not go with another man after her husband’s death. Recently, however, she formed a friendship with a man and, before things went any further, she wanted them to do an HIV test. It was when she went for this test, to many different places, that she discovered her status. Evelyne is inconsolable because her HIV-negative friend has abandoned her and no longer responds to her pleas. Those who know about her status avoid her. Evelyne’s biggest question is the source of her infection. In search of healing, she went to consult traditional healers “reputed to heal HIV-positive people”. But no miracle happened. Finally, she turned to an NGO, and is receiving care and follow-up.
It is the isolation and solitude she has been plunged into, more than the presence of HIV in her body, that are eating away at Evelyne. She wants healing that can take her back to the way she was before, to a normal life, blossoming, fearless and without the nightmare of a virus that is destroying her. Can she listen to Jesus who affirms that “this illness does not lead to death” (Jn 11:4)? Can she understand Jesus, who allows His friend Lazarus to die of illness only to resurrect him afterwards?
If Jesus did not heal but resurrected Lazarus, he did so to highlight the nature of the life He gives us in overabundance, an eternal life that is not limited to our days on earth. He chooses to resurrect rather than to heal Lazarus to invite us to care for one another, to be intermediaries of his love to people shaken not only by disease but also by rejection, like Evelyne. Today, it is through each one of us – the Good Samaritan that we are called to be – that Jesus wants to heal our neighbour, not only from physical ills, but also from spiritual and relational woes. It is up to each one of us, through our care and service, to show people like Evelyne that God loves them with the virus and that He promises them eternal life that HIV/AIDS cannot impair.
Despite the evolution of information about HIV, discrimination has not disappeared. We can make a difference by being closer to people living with HIV through simple attention, simple listening, simple presence. And this is how we accomplish our Christian vocation: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). As Pope Francis said in his explanation of the gospel of the first Sunday of Lent: “The definitive victory is the victory of love.” It means living love by knocking down walls and going the distance, by sharing the fate of the other.
If you want to read this reflection in French, please go here.
To read the rest of the reflections in this Lent 2014 series, please go here.