Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent, March 26, 2023. Gospel of John 11:1-45. Theme: Come to Believe and Be Unbound!
The Raising of Lazarus was Jesus’ premiere miracle but it was also His most expensive one because it cost Him His very life! You see, it was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” as far as the Pharisees were concerned. From that day forward, they became more determined than ever to put an end to this mysterious man from Nazareth Who lowered their prestige in the eyes of the people and threatened their position of power. In addition, Jesus’ opponents had to deal with the problem of Lazarus himself because he was literally living proof of Who Jesus was and What He could do. And so, they decided to also silence him permanently.
Today’s Gospel makes a point of telling us that Jesus intentionally permitted his good friend Lazarus to fall into the sleep of death so that this miracle could take place. Christ saw it as an unforgettable opportunity to deepen people’s faith in Him and in his mission. But He also intended that the raising and unbinding of Lazarus should convey a two-part message. First, that physical death is not an end to our existence, but only a kind of sleep from which we will awaken to live a glorious eternal life. And second, that Jesus has the power to set us free to live a new life, not just at our future resurrection from the dead, but right here and right now. It all depends upon our faith, our trust, in Him. Which is precisely why He gave us the miracle of Lazarus.
The Scriptures proclaim that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. So what this means for us is that if Jesus can unbind and set Lazarus free in the past, then He is also able to do the same for us here and now in the present. He can liberate us from any and all kinds of death, not just the physical. I think many people forget, and perhaps some have never been told, that there is more to us than just our mortal bodies. We also possess spiritual souls and so there is the real possibility of suffering spiritual death. We can look and feel great physically with a strong beating heart, healthy lungs and vibrant blood coursing through our veins…and yet we can be spiritually dead inside, really only half-alive.
We can walk this earth as part of the “living dead”, that is, as people who are enclosed in tombs, not made of stone but built of our own making. We can be all bound up like a mummy because of destructive choices we have made and buried in such spiritual graves as losing our direction in life, being trapped in habits of sinful behavior, shackled by various addictions, struggling with obsessions or being consumed by the lure of materialism. And if we wonder how Christ reacts to seeing us trapped in these self-made tombs, all we have to do is look at today’s Gospel and see that He is deeply distressed and weeps over our condition as He did for Lazarus.
But He says to us the same powerful words that He spoke to Lazarus, “Come forth! Be unbound!" He calls us to come forth from the tomb of sinful behavior and be unbound from spiritual slavery. To come forth from the tomb of materialism and be unbound from the deception that we are only worth what we look like and what we possess. To come forth from the tomb of isolation and be unbound from loneliness. To come forth from the tomb of anger and grudges and be unbound from broken relationships. To come forth from the tomb of anxiety and panic and be unbound from fear and worry. To come forth from the tomb of addiction and codependency and be unbound from self- destruction.
Now, if we’re not totally sure that we have the faith it takes for us to come forth from our tomb and be unbound, we can draw hope from the example of Lazarus’ sister, Martha. Did you notice that St. John tells us that she had to “come to believe” that Jesus was Who He said He was? Those three words “come to believe '' should give us great encouragement! They tell us that Martha was still growing, open to Jesus and willing to trust him, but yet not quite there. And I am sure the same can be said of us. Perhaps we are “not quite there” yet. Perhaps some of us have more to absorb, more to experience about Christ so that we can “come to believe”. But that doesn’t mean we lack any faith or any hope whatsoever. It simply means we’re not quite there but we’re on the way. And Jesus can and will work with wherever we are in our relationship with Him.
Martha shows us that we can begin to trust in Jesus’ power even before understanding fully who he is; even before really grasping the extent of what he wishes to do for us. She demonstrates that faith grows as our experience of Jesus grows. She shows us that our relationship with Christ, like all relationships, is a dynamic ever-deepening reality. She never gave up growing in her understanding of Jesus and she reached the goal. She was able to finally proclaim, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God.”
And now through this gospel she invites each one of us to come to believe as well. She invites each one of us to reach out to Jesus and trust in Him. All we need to do to come forth from our tomb and be unbound is to acknowledge our need, ask Him for this grace and then take the first steps forward in faith. And as we emerge from the cold darkness of our tombs, the trappings holding us bound will become loosened and begin to fall off one-by-one. Gradually, grace will flood our lives and we’ll discover that we are beginning to live a new life, free and reborn from the inside out.