Homily: 5th Sunday of Lent – Cycle A
I for one am continually impressed by the incredible technological advancements that human beings have made, especially when we see how they have been applied for the good and well-being of human persons, such as is done in the medical sciences. I am amazed to fathom the complexity of treatments that now exist to treat even our most difficult illnesses. The precision and accuracy with which medical professionals attack diseases such as cancer is truly a thing of wonder. Even still, the fact that such advanced medicine doesn’t relieve everyone reveals how much farther yet we have to go.
One of the downsides of these great technological advances is that we tend to put our hope completely in science. As a result, it seems that many of us have become afflicted with a peculiarly modern disease known as “doubt”. When one becomes afflicted with doubt, he or she comes to stand on the principle that “if you can’t prove it scientifically, then it’s probably not reliable.” In other words, “don’t believe it if you can’t see it.” Now, the core tenets of Christian faith (you know, those things that we profess in the Creed?) are undetectable by our senses and so, for those afflicted with doubt, faith seems to be “fuzzy” and therefore “unreliable”.
In the Letter to the Hebrews in the Bible, however, faith is defined as “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Did you hear that? Faith, it says, is evidence! Thus, according to this, faith is not fuzzy at all, but rather it is evidence that there can be (and, in fact, there is) something beyond our ability to detect it with science. Given this, it seems like the doubt that we are afflicted with these days is not so much a doubt of the objects of faith—that is, those things that we believe in—but rather a doubt of our own human ability to know that there is something true and real beyond our ability to detect it.
The truth that ancient peoples weren’t as afflicted with this condition is seen in our readings today. In our first reading, the prophet Ezekiel is speaking to the Israelite people during the Exile. For the ancient Israelites, being taken from their land was tantamount to saying “your God doesn’t exist!” Thus, the words of the prophet were for them a thing of great hope. The word of the Lord that Ezekiel speaks today is a description of the proof—that is, the empirical evidence—that God will give his people so that they will know that he is the Lord: “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 will know that I am the Lord…” But the assurance that he gives them is a call to know that he is Lord now: “I have promised,” he said, “and I will do it…” “Have faith,” in other words, “and know that I am Lord now.”
Saint Martha, of course, had great faith and so she could say “I know…” multiple times in our Gospel reading today. First, we see that she had faith in Jesus’ power to save a person from death, for she said to Jesus “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” In other words, “I know he would still be alive if you had gotten here before he died.” Second, we see that she also had faith in the resurrection: for after Jesus assured her that her brother would rise, she said “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” But what she didn’t yet have faith in was Jesus’ command over death itself. Jesus, therefore, assures her “I am the resurrection and the life…”—in other words, “I am Lord of the resurrection and so can make it happen whenever I wish.” Martha, perhaps shocked by this statement, but nonetheless moved by faith, then confesses to know Jesus’ divine power to bring life, even after death: “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe [that is, I have come to know] that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” For this confession of faith, she (along with her sister) saw the glory of God when her brother, at Jesus’ command, rose from the dead.
Thus, we see today the culmination of these last three weeks. In the story of the Woman at the Well, we saw how Jesus possesses a supernatural knowledge of the Samaritan woman’s life. In the story of the Man Born Blind, we saw how Jesus possesses power over physical infirmities. And now today, in the story of the Raising of Lazarus, we see that Jesus even possesses power over death itself.
It is in this context that we also culminate the scrutinies for the Elect who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil. This Sunday we will invite them to scrutinize their lives to see how, because of sin, they have, in reality, been dead; and, thus, to leave their sinful lives behind because Jesus is calling them out of their graves to be unbound from the burial cloths of death and set free to a new life in him through baptism. Faith—which has brought them to this point—is the evidence that assures them that new life awaits them on the other side of the baptismal font.
As we travel with our brothers and sisters through this time of preparation, we too are called to scrutinize our own lives to see how sin has left us bound, once again, by the burial cloths of death and the darkness of the grave; and to see how Jesus never ceases to call us out of these graves to live once again unbound from sin. By faith we know that God never tires of saving us from these bonds of death—our sins—and so we boldly approach him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation so as to be renewed in the grace of our own baptisms.
My brothers and sisters, this great promise of a life freed from the bonds of death is a promise that has already been fulfilled in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Let us, then, be courageous and face our death with faith in Jesus’ power to give us life, even after we’ve died; so that, on Easter Sunday, we might say, like in that great hymn, “What joy the blessed assurance gives, I know that my Redeemer lives!”
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – April 5th & 6th, 2014