Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 21
John 11: 1-45
Today’s Gospel tells the beautiful story of Jesus giving new life to his friend, Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary. This miracle is told only in the Gospel of St. John and it is the last of the “signs” in John’s Gospel (there are 7 of them altogether), the defining acts of the public ministry of Jesus. This family lived in Bethany in Judea. Jesus had just left Judea a few days before when the Jews there picked up rocks to stone him to death for maintaining he was the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Jesus escaped from their power and went back across the Jordan where he was safe.
He was no sooner in safe territory when he received news that his good friend and the brother of Martha and Mary, Lazarus, had died. Jesus waited for two days and then told his disciples he was returning to Judea where they had just threatened to kill him. His disciples were amazed at his returning to Judea. It did take a lot of courage on the part of Jesus to do so.
When he arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Martha came out to meet him and told Jesus that if he had been there her brother would never have died. Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again. 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?” Then the stone was removed from the entrance to the tomb and Jesus called out, “Lazarus, come out.” Lazarus came out, “tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth.” Jesus told them, “Untie him and let him go.” Quite a story!
What Lazarus experienced was not a resurrection. It is more commonly referred to as a resuscitation or a reanimation. He was given life again and Lazarus would have to die again. This is demonstrated in the story by the fact that Lazarus was still wrapped in the burial cloths. When Jesus rose from the dead, a resurrection, the burial cloths were left in the tomb neatly folded. The story of Lazarus promises the believer that he or she will never be separated from God even by death.
Many of us have also experienced this reanimation or resuscitation from the dead, maybe not in the same sense Lazarus did, but close to it. For example, every AA meeting is full of these “miracles,” people who were “dead” to quality life and are now re-animated, given the gift of new life in sobriety. The many people who are cured of their cancer that we hear about have been reanimated from a deadly disease and given new life. People who have lived lives of darkness and sin for a long time and who are received again into the light of Christ, are reanimated. This has happened to millions of people through God’s mercy. In all of these situations of reanimation, it should be noticed, God plays an essential part. It will not happen without the gift of his abundant life. Reanimation is a common occurrence in the confessional.
Reanimation is certainly a gift from God and it gives us a founded hope of resurrection after our earthly death. If we have “risen” from the one, why not from the other? The many reanimations we experience in our lifetime all add up to a grand resurrection!
My God, how great Thou art!
Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent, March 22
Daniel 13: 1-63 – John 8: 12-20
The Gospel selected to be read in the Liturgy today is an important one for us as Jesus reveals himself as the “Light of the world.” But I think for most of us the Gospel reading will be a bit overshadowed by the first reading, a sort of detective story, from the Book of Daniel.
This is the story of the beautiful Susanna, and there is a good message for all of us in this story. Susanna was married to Joakim, a very rich and highly respected Jew. It was her custom to take a walk just about every day in the garden of their home. The villains in this story are two wicked old men who lust for Susanna and want to have sex with her. One day Susanna decided to lock the garden gate and have her maids bring water for a bath. The old fellows were hiding in the garden and when Susanna was alone they approached her and demanded she have sex with them. They told her that if she refused, they will testify that they saw her in the garden with a young man. So now it is dilemma time. Susanna is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. She refuses the old men and they opened the garden gate and started screaming bloody murder. The judges take the word of the old lechers and condemn Susanna to death.
But then it is Daniel to the rescue. He questions the old men separately, gets a different story and details from each one and they are caught and sentenced to the same fate Susanna would have suffered if she had been guilty. End of story. Needless to say, Daniel became famous for his wisdom and savvy.
The message in all of this for us is: Don’t go hollering and condemning someone until you know the whole story and have heard both sides involved. This is how gossip starts and how people are falsely condemned. Let’s all borrow a little of Daniel’s wisdom.
Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent, March 23
John 8: 21-30
“The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.” John 8: 29 – “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Mt. 26: 39. –The Third Step of the 12 Steps reads: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”
Basically, there is little if any difference between these three quotes. I should note that the first three Steps of the 12 Steps are essential to any spirituality. It’s just not going to happen without these concepts. The Third Step and the Scripture quotes from John and Matthew point out that “surrender” is essential for our relationship with God. We must turn our wills over to God. Our wills must identify with his. He is the way and the truth as we also read in John’s Gospel and we are not able to identify with his way and spirituality without this sameness of wills. This is the very essence, the whatness, of spirituality. Jesus, in his human nature, practiced the Third Step perfectly. His will and the will of his Father were always identified. Many places in the Scriptures are careful to point this out.
And so it must be for us to attain spirituality, this closeness to God, that we desire to have. I cannot attain this doing everything my way. If I want to be God-like, I must follow God’s way. That’s just plain common sense. Am I making much progress in surrendering my will to God’s?
Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent, March 24
Daniel 3: 14-20, 91-92,95. – John 8: 31-42
Both Scripture readings for today’s Liturgy, the first from the Book of Daniel, the second from John’s Gospel, reinforce what we said yesterday about surrendering our wills to God’s will. Shadrack, Meshach, and Abendego would never have made it through the ordeal of the fiery furnace if they had not been in God’s hands (another way of describing surrender).
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Freedom here means we will no longer need to be concerned about the right way to go, which truth to follow, or with having abundant peace and happiness in our lives. All these things will be there because we have surrendered to God’s will, put ourselves in his hands, given him control of our lives. The rewards of surrendering to God are many and unbelievable. It is indeed one of the main, essential properties of our spiritual well-being.
Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent, March 25
Luke 1: 26-38
Today, on this Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Nine months from today we will celebrate the Solemnity of the Birth of Christ. Both of these feasts are Solemnities, yet one is greatly and widely celebrated and the other passes like a gust of wind without hardly any notice at all.
The Solemnity of the Annunciation is not nearly as “popular” as the Solemnity of Christmas. But it should be. This is the beginning of the redemptive plan of God for the human race! The mystery begins here! Almighty God chooses a simple, ordinary woman who, unknowingly at this time; was preserved from all stain of sin, and overshadows her with the power of the Holy Spirit causing the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity to take on flesh and finally to die on a cross for all the sins of the human race and thus make it possible for us to return to our Creator! Wow! It seems to me it doesn’t get any more important than this and the Annunciation is the Solemnity that should primarily be celebrated.
Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent, March 26
John 10: 31-42
We mentioned the message of today’s Gospel from John in the homily for last Sunday when Jesus went to the home of Martha and Mary in Bethany. It was from there that Jesus had just fled when the Jews were going to stone him to death for the blasphemy of maintaining that God was his Father. Jesus, however, “escaped from their power” and crossed over the Jordan to where he was safe.
The Jewish people in this episode of wanting to stone Jesus to death for blasphemy were simply following their Law. But they had jumped to conclusions that were not true. However far fetched it may have seemed to them, Jesus was the Son of God!
How often we, too, jump to conclusions by following our mistaken attitudes and thinking we are doing the right thing. This is that ignorance we all possess and that I mention from time to time in these homilies. If only we would take the time to really figure out what it is we are doing before we go and do it. Unfortunately, attitudes are automatic triggers that do not allow for much thought before action.
Let’s pray today for the grace to be able to make haste slowly.
Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent, March 27
John 11: 45-56
The end is really getting close now. The Jews begin to plot the death of Jesus seriously and Jesus “lays low” in a town called Ephraim, where he remained with his disciples. The Jewish Passover was near and so was the Passion of the Lord.
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion and the beginning of Holy Week. This is perhaps the most sacred time of the whole Liturgical year. Jesus is about to culminate the mystery of the Incarnation with the mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. The Son of God is going to suffer and die for me and for you and for every human being who ever lived, is living now, or will live in the future. How does the very thought of this truth make you feel? I feel overwhelmed and very humbled.
Let the ritual celebrations of Holy Week make a difference to us in our journey to the Father.