Fifth Sunday of Lent
April 2, 2017
Reading 1EZ 37:12-14
Responsorial PsalmPS 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
- (7) With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
Reading 2ROM 8:8-11
Verse Before The GospelJN 11:25A, 26
Homily— April 1 & 2, 2017
The Prophet Ezekiel gives us hope when we hear the words of the Lord God say “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them. . . I will put my spirit in you that you may live.”
The victory is indeed won, but the battle is not yet complete. Death’s agents are still at work in the world, gnawing at every human heart and threatening every human community. Many of us entomb ourselves—often with a significant investment of time and energy—in materialism, vanity, pride and lust.
We can get caught in the trap of wanting what other people have when we cannot afford it and then get ourselves into a debt with interest that keeps us oppressed. Jesus says to come out of that tomb! We get caught up in vanity and spend too much in trying to look good and to look younger and try to change our appearance with investments of time and money. Jesus says come out of that tomb, I love you the way you are! Sometimes we become focused on what other people think of us and we want to be in first place and become upset when someone else is more successful than us or gets a raise or receives the position that we wanted for ourselves. Jesus Christ says to us come out of that tomb and be humble. I only want you to use the talents you have and to use them well. I don’t want you to be better than someone else—just be yourself. We live in a world that often uses our sexuality instead of appreciating the gift of our sexuality and the blessing of being a man or a woman. When we lust we make our desire a god, an imaginary pleasure, that cannot be sustained. We cannot allow our desire to become a “god” with a small g but we must love for what we can do for another and not for what we are going to get from another. Don’t let the illusion of pornography pervert the wonderful gift of our sexuality. Jesus says come out of the tomb of your self-centeredness and develop healthy relationships with the people in your life.
Leaving our tombs through confession and reconciliation we can encounter the same new life that gave such dynamism to the first disciples. We might not embody this new life with such Christ-like perfection that we can raise the dead, but we can reveal the new creation in other ways. As Jesus raised up Lazarus, so we must raise each other. Filled with his new life and with a heart like his—both broken and loving—we seek out those in the tombs and cry out to them, “Come forth!”
The story of the raising of Lazarus is designed to lead us to examine our own faith as disciples. Raising someone from the dead is the greatest feat of our scriptural tradition, it only happened about 10 times. But in the story of Lazarus the miracle and even Lazarus himself gets less attention than Jesus’ interactions with the disciples. Lazarus gets only 7 of the 45 verses of this passage. In John’s telling, discipleship was more important than Jesus’ wonder-working, and while miracles are always a nice surprise, growth in faith usually involves significant struggle.
The first phase of the challenge for the disciples comes when Jesus says he is ready to return to Judea—the area they had just left because people were preparing to stone him. Thomas speaks for the group saying in effect, “Are you stark raving mad?!! Jesus responds in a way that says “When you walk by the light of the world you won’t stumble, but if you walk on the dark side, the light is not in you.”
By inviting the disciples to go with him, Jesus is effectively saying that when they walk in his way his own inner light will dwell in them.
The second phase of the discipleship challenge came with Martha’s interaction with Jesus. While the Gospels don’t underline the fact, it’s usually women who push Jesus to more. In this incident, both Martha and Mary let him know “If you had been here, our brother would not have died.” But Martha didn’t stop with what hadn’t happened, she added her own open-ended request: “I know that God will do whatever you ask.”
Jesus had told Thomas and friends that with him, they could walk in his light, which meant that they could be with him in facing down death. Jesus wanted Martha to go a step further, to realize that God is the God of life. Death does not exist for God, at least not as tragedy, not as the defining limit of life, not as punishment, and therefore, not with the meaning the world gives it.
Jesus said that perceiving the light of the world opens us to allowing that light to live in us, so too he tells us that we who believe, even if we die will live, and the life he gives can never be touched by death. Knowing Jesus as the resurrection and the life changes everything. Discipleship is a journey we’re invited to take in the light of the God of life. Jesus offers us his very life. What do we give Jesus?