5th Sunday Lent
A Homily - Cycle A 2004-2005
First Reading - Ezekiel 37:12-14
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Second Reading - Romans 8:8-11
Gospel - John 11:1-45 or 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill. So the sisters sent word to Jesus saying, "Master, the one you love is ill," When Jesus heard this he said, "This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God that the son of God may be glorified through it." Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea." The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." He said this, and then told them, "Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him." So the disciples said to him, "Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved." But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, "Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him." So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go to die with him."
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise." Martha said to him, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, "The teacher is here and is asking for you." As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him. For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him. So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Sir, come and see." And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him." But some of them said, "Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?"
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the dead man's sister, said to him, "Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they many believe that you sent me." And when he had said this, He cried out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out?" The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to the, "Untie him and let him go."
Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.
Whenever I read the story of how our Lord raised Lazarus from the dead, I think of death and dying and I am instantly reminded of my first Communion calls as a newly-ordained deacon back in 2001. I was so excited to make my rounds at Fairfax Hospital in Northern Virginia, taking the Blessed Sacrament to our infirm parishioners and so much desiring to give them my blessing as a deacon.
I'll never forget the time I took Holy Communion to a woman who was in so-so shape. We weren't quite sure if she was going to recover but she was definitely lucid and able to speak. At the end of the Communion service, you would typically want to conclude by saying, "Go in peace" or something like that. Well, I decided to get a little cute and said to the dying woman, "Well, I'd say 'Go in peace' but since I'm the one going to leave, why don't you just stay there and REST IN PEACE." By the time I realized what I had just said, it was too late. Suffice it to say that I was never invited back to see her again...
Our readings today describe God's desire to bestow new life upon his people. In our first reading from Ezekiel, we hear how God assures Israel that He will open their graves and put His Spirit within them so that they may live anew.
In our second reading, St. Paul assures the Romans that even though the body is dead or corruptible because of the effects of original sin, the Spirit is alive - the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead and the Spirit that will raise our mortal bodies in the resurrection of the dead in the life of the world to come.
And then there's today's Gospel and one of the more well-recognized miracles of our Lord - the raising of Lazarus from the dead. This miracle not only demonstrates our Lord's power over death, but it also tells us much about our individual journey from sin to virtue; from darkness into light; and from despair into hope.
St. Peter Chrysologus, a fifth century bishop in Ravenna, Italy tells us that the raising of Lazarus was different than the raising of the daughter of Jairus or the raising of the Widow's son. In these cases, Jesus raised them from the dead very soon after their deaths so that physical decay in their bodies had not quite yet set in.
In the case of Lazarus, Jesus waits for him to be dead for four days, a day longer that Christ Himself would remain in the tomb, in order to show that His divinity's power could raise someone in whom physical decay had already set-in. This points to the reality of the Resurrection of the Body and would strengthen the Apostles' faith in the Resurrection of Christ at Easter.
It should strike us as being odd that Jesus waits for two days before making the short two mile journey from Jerusalem to Bethany. In the meantime, Lazarus has died. For our Lord, however, conquering death was more important than curing whatever illness Lazarus endured. Instead of a mere cure. Christ offers new life to his friend - a much more generous gift. In waiting two days, Jesus allowed human hope to expire and human despair to set-in.
This paves the way for manifesting divine power and the strength of supernatural hope in the resurrection of the Body. Even more strange is the fact that Jesus tells his disciples that He is glad for their sake not to have been there to prevent Lazarus' death so that the disciples would believe in Him. Chrysologus says that it was necessary for Lazarus to die so that the faith of the Apostles could rise with him at Christ's command.
At the sight of Lazarus' tomb, Jesus becomes perturbed and deeply troubled. And verse 35 of this passage contains only two simple words: Jesus wept. Jesus wept! St. Augustine asks that if Christ wept over the physical death of Lazarus, how much more does He weep for our sins, which is real death? Jesus, with his truly human heart weeps so as to teach us to weep for our own sins. We ought to appreciate our Lord's tears - Jesus prays for us. He knows the depths of our humanity, save sin. He loves us as much as He loved His dear friend, Lazarus.
Finally, Jesus grants Lazarus new life. Jesus calls him by name, which suggests that although Lazarus is really dead, he has not lost his personal identity - the dead continue to exist, but in a different mode because they have passed from this life to the next.
Lazarus' coming forth from the tomb is akin to the soul's spiritual rising from the dead. Lazarus was dead and decaying, much like the person in mortal sin. Yet, Jesus calls Lazarus from the darkness of the tomb. Jesus calls us from the darkness of sin into his marvelous light, even if we are dead and decaying spiritually.
When Lazarus comes forth, he is still bound in bandages. Similarly, the sinner who comes forward, acknowledging their sinfulness, must be unbound by the priest in the Sacrament of Penance. Jesus calls us out of sin and the priest acting in the person of Christ in the Sacrament of Penance unbinds us of our sins and lets us go forth. It is no coincidence that Jesus tells the apostles on Easter Sunday night - whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth, will be loosed in heaven. This is evidence of the foundation of the Sacrament of Penance and the priest's capacity to bind and loose sin.
I was reminded recently that there's a prevailing mentality out there that as one ages, one is less-likely to commit mortal sin. Thus, the elderly rarely come to Confession because they think that as long as they don't commit mortal sin, there's no need to confess anything. This line of thinking rests on a very faulty premise. For starters, any person above the age of reason (age 7) is capable of committing mortal sin, regardless of how old they may be.
Confession of sins to a priest is not only reserved for those with mortal sin on their souls. All sins can and should be confessed. If you are just merely avoiding mortal sin, that doesn't mean that you're actually growing in virtue per se. In the spiritual life, there is no treading water - you're either swimming forward or you're getting carried away downstream. Erroneously, many elderly persons think that just because they don't commit mortal sins, they don't have to go to Confession. If you are not turning your idle time or your golden years into years of prayer and mortification, then you may be committing sins of omission and these, too, are matter for the confessional. A regular practice of Confession does not mean going once a year or even twice or thrice a year. One ought to go to Confession every month, if one is serious about getting to heaven.
Many of you will celebrate the Sacrament of Penance in the coming days. Like Lazarus before you, it is my prayer that you will earnestly heed the command of Jesus who calls out to Lazarus - to come forward and be freed of all that binds you, be it mortal or venial sin. Let us heed the words of our Lord to receive spiritual resurrection in the Sacrament of Penance so that we may experience the liberation and freedom from sin that is so freely offered to us in the tribunal of mercy - the Sacrament of Penance!
Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!
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