Homily for Sunday, April 2, 2017Published:
5th Sunday of Lent “A”
It seems to me that there we could find the theme of a journey to be a central motif of this Fifth Sunday of Lent.
We are journeying through Lent this year, and are coming close to the end of our journey. We have now completed more than half of Lent. Next Sunday, Palm Sunday, will begin Holy Week, during which we will sanctify this entire year by the solemn commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, our Lord and our Savior.
The Word of God, which has spoken to us today for our instruction, also speaks of journeys of various kinds. The Prophet Ezekiel is speaking to the Israelites living in exile in Babylon. They had not journeyed there of their own accord; they or their parents had been brought there as captives after the destruction of Jerusalem and of Solomon’s Temple. It was a time of unparalleled disaster in the Old Testament. Ezekiel is speaking to a people who have lost all hope, who feel God has forgotten and abandoned them. He promises in figurative prophetic language that God is surely going to raise them from the death of their hopelessness and bring them back to the land of Israel once again.
In the gospel, Jesus and his disciples journey from across the Jordan back to Bethany in Judea, Martha, Mary and the disciples have to journey from doubt to faith, and Lazarus journeys from the place of the dead back to life.
St. Paul speaks of our journey as Christians from life in the flesh to life in the spirit and very clearly sets out our journey as Christians through life and through death to eternal life: If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.
So where are we on our journeys? Could it be that, by this time in Lent, we have slipped a bit in the initial fervor that got us started? We set out on Ash Wednesday with hope on our Lenten discipline, in order, as St. Benedict says, “to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times.” The danger is for us to become discouraged and give up on this Lenten journey because we have not kept our resolutions as well as we had hoped. But our Lenten resolutions are not some marathon to see how much we can achieve. Rather, they are intended to turn us away from sin and to God. It is not about what we do, but what God can do in us. We may have done well or poorly, but there is always the opportunity to start again and set out on our journey towards Easter. The Prophet Ezekiel has spoken to us this morning as clearly as once, long ago, he spoke to the Children of Israel in exile in Babylon.
The gospel, I think, may give us the best mirror to reflect for us where we may find ourselves on our journey through life and faith, for with this journey Jesus is beginning his final visit to Jerusalem where he will face his death.
Thomas, called Didymus, and the other disciples say they are ready to go back to Judea with Jesus and to die with him, as though they are going along to support Jesus and help him. Yet we know that, when the time comes to die with Jesus, Thomas and the others run away in fear, leaving Jesus to face his agony alone. Are we like them? Do we like to think we are so strong and confident that Jesus can rely on us rather than we rely on Jesus? When we are faced with fundamental decisions in life, which force us to chose between following Jesus or following some other lord, how often have we abandoned Jesus because we were afraid? Is there a danger that instead of faith, we have instead merely a self-improvement program?
Or are we like Martha? She takes the initiative to go out and meet Jesus and speaks with him face to face, telling him, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. She gives the correct responses in her conversation with Jesus: I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day. She even professes her faith: Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world. But when the time comes to trust, to have confidence in Jesus’ and his power to save, she falters. When Jesus commands: Take away the stone, Martha objects: Lord, by now there will be a stench. He has been dead four days. How often, when faced with a decision to bet our life on Jesus and power of his resurrection – or not – do we falter as well, and shrink back from trusting Jesus as our Lord, our Savior? Our journey in faith is likely to be as halting, or more so, than Martha’s. Would that we could be more like Mary. Only when called by the Lord does she come. Unlike Martha, who faces the Lord as an equal, she falls at his feet. And if she is indeed the woman in Luke’s Gospel who washed the Lord’s feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, she merits to hear yet again today: Because she has loved much, much has been forgiven her. She speaks the same words as her sister, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, but falls at Jesus feet bringing only her tears of sorrow and her absolute trust in Jesus’ unfailing mercy. And her sorrow and trust move Jesus so deeply that he acts, and he weeps. That should be our model for our Lenten observance – to fall at Jesus’ feet with tears of sorrow and absolute trust in his mercy.
Or, finally, is our journey like that of Lazarus. He has to come back from the place of the dead in response to Jesus’ command. Is that not us? There is a marvelous illustration of this moment in the St. John’s Bible. It shows this event from the perspective of Lazarus. We are in the dark tomb standing just behind Lazarus, looking toward the brilliant light where Jesus is standing at the entrance to our tomb. We have a choice. Do we want to come out into that light where Jesus is waiting to receive us? He has told us himself: Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God. The darkness can seem so comfortable, even though we are stuck in deeds of darkness that can never satisfy our longings, locked in fear of failure, without hope that we can ever break away from the tawdriness of our sins and come to the peace of virtue.
Yet, on this day of our journey in life, the Lord speaks to Lazarus the words he so wishes to speak to each of us: Unbind him. Let him go free. Are we, who have professed in our baptism that I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world, also willing to bet our lives on Jesus, and to trust that he can unbind us from our sins, our works of darkness, our fear?
We are now arriving at the closing weeks of our Lenten journey for this year. Let us pray that God be pleased answer that prayer we made at the beginning of this Mass both for the remainder of this Lenten journey and our journey through life: “By your help, we beseech you, Lord our God, may we walk eagerly in that same charity with which, out of love for the world, your Son handed himself over to death.”
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