Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A
Holy week is only one week away. It is important that we persevere in the Lenten proposals that we made on Ash Wednesday. The current and unprecedented crisis caused by the coronavirus provide multiple challenges for us to deal with daily. This Sunday’s liturgy provides profound spirituality and motivation that will help us not to become discouraged and to keep moving forward.
Because of the climate of the Holy Land, burial followed death as quickly as possible. By the time Jesus walked the earth, the Jewish funeral rite had become corrupted. The funeral had become exceedingly costly. The finest spices and ointments were used to anoint the body. The body was clothed in the most magnificent robes and all kinds of valuables were buried in the tomb along with the body.
Naturally, no one wished to be outdone by his neighbor. A funeral had become an intolerable burden that no one wanted to change, until the famous Rabbi Gamaliel, mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, ordered that he was to be buried in the simplest possible linen robe and thus broke the extravagance of funeral customs.
As many as possible attended a funeral. Everyone joined in the procession. At the tomb, memorial speeches were sometimes made. Everyone was expected to express their deepest sympathy.
In the house of mourning there were set customs. So long as the body was in the house it was forbidden to eat meat or to drink wine, to wear phylacteries, or to engage in any kind of study. Moreover, no food was to be prepared in the house and when food was eaten, it was to be eaten in the presence of the dead person.
On the return from the tomb, a meal was served which friends of the family had prepared. The meal consisted of bread, hard-boiled eggs and lentil beans. Deep mourning lasted for seven days, of which the first three were days of weeping. During these seven days, it was forbidden to work, wash and even put on shoes. The week of deep mourning was followed by thirty days of lighter mourning.
Within all these ancient Jewish customs enters Jesus.
Martha and Mary are different from all the other Jews that accompanied them for the funeral of Lazarus. Martha, Mary and Lazarus were friends of Jesus. When Martha met Jesus, her heart spoke through her lips. She spoke partly with reproach and partly with a faith that nothing could shake.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, but even now I know that God will grant whatever you ask of him.” (John 11: 21-22)
After Jesus reassures her, Martha makes her remarkable and profound act of faith:
“Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world” (John 11: 27).
On this Fifth Sunday of Lent, we find ourselves on our journey towards Easter Sunday.
Each of us is faced with many struggles and challenges, especially now during the unprecedented time of history that we are going through.
The same Jesus who spoke to Martha, who was so afflicted by the death of her brother, speaks to each of us today: “I am the resurrection.” “Do you believe this?”
Do you believe that God is always with you?
Do you believe that he is the solution for every problem?
Do you believe in his saving power?
Do you believe that he speaks to you through his Word?
Do you believe that he is truly present in the Eucharist?
Do you believe in eternity?
Do you believe in his final victory?
“I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though he dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11: 25-26)
With Jesus, we know that we are journeying, not to the sunset, but to the sunrise. We enter a new relationship with God when we really believe that God is as Jesus told us that he is.
We become absolutely sure of his love. We become absolutely convinced that he is above all else a redeeming God.
The fear of suffering and death vanishes, for suffering and death means going to the one God who is the awesome God of love. Our lifelong journey is a journey to the eternal Easter in heaven.
When we truly believe, we enter a new relationship with life itself.
When we make Jesus our way of life, life becomes new. Life is clad with a new loveliness, a new light and a new strength. When we embrace Jesus as our Lord and Savior, when we develop a personal relationship with him, we realize that life does not end, it changes and it goes from incompletion to completion, from imperfection to perfection, from time to eternity.
When we truly believe in Jesus, we are resurrected in this life because we are freed from the fear that is characteristic of a godless life; we are freed from the unhappiness of a life filled with sin; we are freed from the loneliness of a life without meaning.
When we walk with Jesus and follow his way, life becomes so powerful that it cannot die but must find in death the transition to a higher life.
Therefore we must never fear failure. At the beginning of every day, Jesus gives us a blank piece of paper to write out the history of another day. Nevertheless, we must always keep in mind that this life was never meant to be easy. Jesus gives meaning to our suffering and gives us the ability to carry our difficulties with patience, love, and joy. When we think that Jesus is far from us, it is then that he is always the closest.
“Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb; it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer. I knew that you hear me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, so that they may believe it was you who sent me.’ When He had said this, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.'” (John 11: 38 – 44)
Are you in a tomb? What is your tomb? There are many different types of tombs.
There is the tomb of spiritual death, the type of death caused by mortal sin. Are you in the tomb of spiritual death? When you go to Confession, Jesus will stand before your tomb. He will call your name and cry out “Come out!”
Are you in the tomb filled with negative feelings such as worry, fear, resentment, hatred, and guilt? If you are in that tomb, let Jesus stand before you and cry out “Come out!”
Are you in the tomb of selfishness? Are you so self-absorbed that you are dead to the needs of others? Are you ambitious, trying to get ahead at any cost? Are you the king of your own island? If you are in that tomb, let Jesus stand before you and cry out “Come out!”
Are you in the tomb of sloth? Sloth is a disease of the will. Are you too lazy to live out the demands of the Gospel? If you are in that tomb, let Jesus stand before you and cry out “Come out!”
Pope Francis once said: “Christ is not resigned to the tombs that we have constructed with our choices of evil and death, with our mistakes, with our sins. He is not resigned to this! He invites us, almost orders us, to come out from the tombs into which our sins have plunged us. He calls us insistently to come out of the darkness of the prison in which we are enclosed, contenting ourselves with a false, selfish, mediocre life. ‘Come forth!’ He says. ‘Come forth!’
It is a beautiful invitation to true freedom, to allow us to grab onto these words of Jesus that he repeats to each one of us today, an invitation that allows us to free ourselves from the “bands,” from the bands of pride. Because pride makes us slaves, slaves of ourselves, slaves of so many idols, slaves of so many things.
Our resurrection begins here: when we decide to obey the commands of Jesus to come into the light, to life; when the masks fall from our faces — so many times we are masked by sin: the masks must fall! — and we rediscover the courage of our original faces, created in the image and likeness of God.”
My dear friends, this Sunday we hear these words from the first reading: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people” (Ezekiel 37: 12-13).
Lent is a time for conversion. Conversion must be a continual process. We turn away from sin and all the attachments that cause us to sin, and we turn towards God, the only source of peace and happiness.
My dear friends, when we make Jesus our friend, just as Martha, Mary and Lazarus had done, we will no longer be dead, but alive; we will no longer be in darkness, but in the light; we will no longer be slaves, but be free.
“The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.'”