29 March 2020: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Those Who Believe in Me, Even Though They Die, Will Live

“Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.”  Of all the miracles Jesus did, the raising of Lazarus ranks as the most astonishing to everyone, especially to the people of his time.  [In this miracle story we see the compassion of Jesus, his love for the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, his human emotion expressed in weeping with them, his power to raise the dead, and even leading us to reflect on the Resurrection of Jesus and the Resurrection that is waiting for each one of us.]

The first most important truth today’s miracle story tells us, is that even when things look hopeless and impossible, there is no limit for God’s power.  When Martha objects to the opening of the tomb and says, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days” (John 11:39), she is expressing the common view that this is now a hopeless situation.  Every one there, including Mary and Martha, set a limit to God’s power.  This is very true in today’s context where people feel a hopelessness and helplessness in the pandemic of coronavirus.

Here comes the greatness of the miracle.  We cannot limit the power of God. God’s power goes much beyond any human imagination.  Also the story tells us that God’s time is different from our time.  We cannot put God’s timings in our human calendar or time table.  Trust in God’s time.  It is never too late for God to revive and revitalize anyone. Jesus is still, here and now, the Resurrection and the Life for every person who is dead in sin.

The second great truth this miracle story tells us is that, though God is all powerful, He gives us occasions or opportunities to cooperate with Him in carrying out His power.    To effect the miracle, Jesus issues three commands and all of them are obeyed to the letter. Let us look briefly on these three commands and the images related to each one.

  • The first one, Jesus told the people ‘Roll away the stone.’ … and they rolled the stone away.”
  • The second, Jesus prayed and he cried out in a loud voice “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out.” 
  • The third, Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.

First command, “Jesus said, ‘Roll away the stone.’ … So they rolled the stone away.”  Jesus and Lazarus could not come face to face because there was a huge stone that stood between them.  Let us ask ourselves “what are the stones that hinder us in facing Jesus face to face?”  Jesus could command the stone to roll away all by itself, without bothering the people.   Jesus wanted their cooperation.  It was their faith in Jesus that made them to move the stone.  They did not imagine what Jesus was going to do.  But still they did not ask for an explanation.  Are we ready to roll away the stone that stands between us and the light of Christ’s face?  We may need the help of others and we need to help others in rolling the stone away.  Unless we remove the stone, for ourselves and for others, we cannot encounter and experience the presence of Jesus.

The second command,‘Lazarus, come out!’ and the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.”   Lazarus in the tomb, in one way represents each one of us.  May be, we are in our own tombs, which may be made by ourselves or at times made by others.  These tombs may be of despair, hopelessness and decay, sinful habits, addictions, selfishness, hatred, jealousy, desire for worldly pleasure, lack of concern for others, and so on.  Even a man rotting away in the tomb can still do something to help himself.  Jesus stands in front of us and commands to us “come out my son, my daughter.”  Are we ready to take the first step to come out of the tombs we are in?  Or, rather, do we like to remain in our own tombs?  Unless we come out we remain dead and there will be no new life.

The third command again is addressed to the people, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Here too, Jesus could easily unbind Lazarus by a simple word.  But he wanted the people to cooperate.  Lazarus could in no way unbind himself. He needs the community to do that for him. By unbinding Lazarus and setting him free from the death bands, the community is accepting Lazarus back as one of them.  The good news of Jesus and his Church is nothing other than this, “to unbind people from all the bondages,” the bondage of poverty, of injustice, of cruelty, of ignorance, of insecurity, of slavery of any kind, or of any form of discrimination.  Sometimes we find that instead of unbinding we bind others.  Are we ready to unbind ourselves and others so that we become free and let others go free?

Jesus is ready for the miracle.  Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  Are we ready to cooperate with him for the miracle?

Therefore, let us pray:  In the present pandemic of coronavirus that has taken the lives of so many people all over the world, we pray for peace and eternal joy for all those who have died.  We pray for the healing touch of Jesus on those who are ill.  We pray for the grace that strengthens every one of us in the midst of anxiety, fear and worry.

Loving God, in today’s celebration of the Holy Eucharist, give us the grace so that we never lose hope even when situations look hopeless in our lives, give us the strength to roll away the stones that stand in front of us that hinders us to see the light of Christ’s face.  Give us the courage to come out of our own tombs of selfishness, addictions, worldliness and sinfulness.   Lord, give us the generosity to unbind ourselves and others from all forms of bondages so that everyone may enjoy the real freedom as a beloved child of God.  AMEN  

God Bless you all.

(Homily by Fr. Emmanuel, Pastor of Holy Faith Church, Gainesville)