Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, April 10, 2011, 5th Sunday of Lent, The Raising of Lazarus, Fr. Kenneth Hughes, SJ
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St. Mary of the Angels 4/10/11

Sunday Lent V A

Ezechiel: 37:12-14; Romans: 8:8-11; John: 11:1-45

Two Sundays ago, with the story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well, Jesus let us know that to those of us who are thirsting for understanding, for faith, for love, He comes as living water.

Last Sunday, with the story of the Man Born Blind, Jesus let us know that to those of us who walk in the darkness of confusion, of uncertainty, of helplessness, He comes as Light.

Today, with this story of the Raising of Lazarus, Jesus lets us know that to those of us who experience death and dying in ourselves, in our loved ones, in our Church and nation, He comes as the Resurrection and the Life.

Dare we believe in the promises of the One who is living water, light, resurrection and life itself?

As we listen to today’s story, you may want to close your eyes and see with the eyes of your imagination the scene and the story as it unfolds. Afterwards, I will dwell briefly on just two aspects of this profound and beautiful drama: 1) Friendship, and 2) Faith.

As we look at friendship we might ask: how does Jesus express friendship with Lazarus, Martha, Mary, and with you and me?

As we look at faith we might ask: why does Jesus sometimes delay if we are, indeed, his friends?

[Gospel Story: John 11.1-45]

Friendship.

Did you hear those words: "The one you love is ill." "Jesus loved Martha, and her sister and Lazarus." Jesus calls Lazarus, "friend," And later, when Jesus weeps, the people say, "See how He loved him."

In John’s Gospel, this is the first time Jesus calls anyone his friend. Later, at the Last Supper, He will call his disciples, friends, because He has shared with them everything that He has heard from his Father.

What must Jesus have shared with Martha, Mary, Lazarus?

We have seen the love between Jesus and Martha. She is the one who welcomes and provides. How gently Jesus leads her, here, to profess her faith in Him.

We have seen the love between Jesus and Mary. She is the one who sits at his feet and listens. And here, it is her tears that call forth Jesus’ tears.

But Lazarus? We have no picture of Lazarus? He seems a shadowy figure in the background. Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche communities for the handicapped, suggests that Lazarus was handicapped. After all, the village is called the village of Martha and Mary, -- no mention of Lazarus. Is this why Martha and Mary are not married, -- devoting themselves to their brother? Are not the handicapped, whether physically or psychologically, sometimes considered nobodies in our society? Just ask yourself: Who will suffer most from the deeply slashed federal budget? Lazarus, like the people of the L’Arche communities, had nothing to offer Jesus except affection and love. And that affection and love drew Jesus to his side. Love now brings Him to the tomb. For Lazarus, Jesus will lay down his life. "No greater love does one have than to lay down his life for his friends." As we will see in the coming week, Jesus lays down his life for you and for me too. We, too, are his friends. Has He not shared as much with us as He did with Martha, Mary, Lazarus, his disciples? Does He not speak to us, too, in the gospels?

Faith:

Why did Jesus delay for two days when He knew that Lazarus was dying?

Why didn’t He at least send word that He would come but would probably be too late?

Why didn’t He at least send a note of comfort? After all, these were his friends!

Scripture scholar, N.T. Wright suggests that Jesus delayed because He had to pray. This was a critical moment for everyone and especially for Lazarus and himself. He had to know what his Father wanted. What would it mean for Lazarus to return from the grave? Would it mean more suffering? Would Martha and Mary have to grieve again? And knowing that bringing Lazarus back to life would undoubtedly mean his own death, what further burden of grief, even guilt, was He laying upon all three friends? Could He ask them to hold his own suffering and death in the very near future? It took two days for Jesus to know what his Father wanted for his friends and for himself. And, if He was to raise Lazarus from the dead, He must have asked his Father to preserve Lazarus’ body from corruption so that life could flow again.

Notice what happens at the tomb. Jesus asks them to take away the stone. Martha objects, "There will be a stench; he has been dead for four days." They take away the stone. But there IS no stench! And that is when Jesus, in front of everyone, thanks his Father for hearing him: "Father, I thank You for hearing me," He says. He knows that He now can call Lazarus forth and does so. Faith needs prayer and prayer needs time. If Jesus prayed for two days to understand, we should not be surprised if it takes weeks or months of prayer for us to understand what God wants of us in the challenging situations, both personal and communal, which we face.

The death-drama of Lazarus stopped at the tomb where death was turned back into continued life. The death-drama of Jesus that will soon follow will pass through the tomb into eternal life. I wonder if Lazarus at the threshold of that eternal life did not return and live the remaining years of his life more freely and joyfully. And did Martha and Mary discover more freedom and joy too? Is that why Mary could so lavishly anoint Jesus with precious ointment? How free she was! I suggest that all of us, at one time or another, face such a death-drama moment in our own life when we glimpse something of what eternal life is about and are given an opportunity to live that eternal life more freely and joyfully in the present moment. Eternal life is believing in Jesus, believing in the resurrection, and bringing the spirit of future resurrection into the present and living it daily in greater freedom and joy. Amen.

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