Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent , Year A 2014
Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent , Year A 2014
In the last Sunday before we begin Holy Week and follow the way of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, today’s readings look ahead to Easter in that they all deal with resurrection in some form.
In Jesus’ time medicine was so primitive that they often could not distinguish between death and a person being comatose. There were several stories of people being buried alive because of this. However, the Jews wanted to make sure this never happened and they did this by checking on the body every day for three days, just to make sure it was dead. After the third day, the body would start to decompose and smell, and so they felt it was safe to declare it dead. It is interesting to note that the point was made that Lazarus had been dead for four days. He was really dead, and wasn’t going to get up and walk around. He smelled.
His sisters would do shivah, mourn Lazarus for seven days by sitting in the house, praying, mourning and having visitors join them in this. Normally, they would not leave the house and meet a guest. An exception to tradition was made in the case of Jesus, however. Martha left the house to meet Jesus.
Now Jesus had taken his time getting to Bethany where Lazarus was, even though the sisters had sent for him and let him know about Lazarus’ illness. This seemed very planned out in Jesus mind – he informs the Apostles first that “this illness does not lead to death.” He knew that in the end, there would not be death. And he saw a greater purpose for what was to happen. The theme that good things can come from bad things happening resonates all throughout the Bible, from Abraham setting out to kill his son, to Joseph being thrown into a pit and left for dead, and to Moses being cast out onto the waters. The Church has a Latin phrase to describe this – felix culpa – happy fault, when something bad leads to something good, and applies it to Adam’s sin which causes God to send Christ to redeem us. Jesus knew there would be a happy ending to the Lazarus story and that it would also be a pinnacle of proof for who he really was – the awaited Messiah.
The disciples were just as happy that Jesus was not going back to see Lazarus because there had been trouble the last time they were in Judea and they had been stoned by people there. They try to convince Jesus not to go. If he is only sleeping, he will be fine, they say. Let’s not go. Finally Jesus has to tell them that he must go because Lazarus died. Thomas is especially unhappy about it as he states, probably sarcastically, “Let’s go with him, so we can die, too. Lucky us.”
When Jesus arrives Mary and Martha show their disappointment in Jesus when they say – “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They knew and believed that Jesus was a healer and that he could have healed Lazarus.
This allows Jesus to preach the most revolutionary teachings that he proposed so far – eternal life through Him. When Jesus tells Martha that he will rise again, she thinks he is talking about more recent Hebrew teachings that there will be a final day of resurrection for all living things, found in the Book of Daniel. But Jesus says, no, that isn’t what he means. “I am the resurrection and the life. whoever believes in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Martha has always had a deep faith in Jesus and so she lets him know that she believes this and also believes that he is the Messiah, the Son of God.
As a result of this, Jesus shocks everyone present by calling Lazarus from the tomb, and his resurrection brought about the conversion of the people who witnessed it, some of whom were presumably those who had wanted to stone him earlier from claiming to be Messiah.
The words of Ezekiel the prophet are then fulfilled in Jesus who opened up graves, and brought Lazarus up from his grave, and all knew that he was the Lord. Ezekiel was, of course, speaking about Israel’s resurrection as a nation, but read backwards, knowing what we know about Jesus, we can see that this promise of Israel’s resurrection was made concrete in the works of Jesus, the Christ.
Out of the depths (Ps 130) of Mary and Martha’s despair and Lazarus’ death, Jesus has raised a man up, and in his own death will redeem us, be resurrected and “put a great spirit within us, and [we] shall live (Ez 37:14).
From Ezekiel’s prediction that God will send his Spirit we read in Paul’s letter to the Romans today that we are “in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in [us] (Rom 8:9) and like Lazarus and like Jesus “our mortal bodies” will be given life. This promise, this knowledge, that we shall rise and conquer death is one of the most alluring, awe-inspiring, revolutionary teachings in our whole Catholic faith, and it is what we are about to celebrate in two weeks. But before that happens, there has to be the death, which there will be for all of us, the dark before the light. Beginning next week we begin to look at that dark, the Passion and the Suffering, the intense pain, the fear of death. How wonderful for the Church to sandwich all this suffering between the resurrection narratives so that we always keep in focus the Spring that comes out of Winter.
Let us this week reflect on our own deaths, our own transgressions, our own fears, but be able to see them surrounded and sandwiched by the light of the Good News of Resurrection that Christ provides for us. By really looking at ourselves and ways we need to improve ourselves and reach out to others, we can approach this Resurrection day with less fear and trembling, but with the hope that all those who witnessed the rising of Lazarus had on that day. And this is the Good News on which we need to focus on this last week of the Lenten season before Holy Week.
Bishop Ron Stephens, Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA
[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 – Teaching the Church Year”]