The 5th Sunday of Lent, Gospel of John 11:1-45. Came to Believe…
In today’s Gospel, St. John takes to the village of Bethany, to the tomb of Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus. By placing this Gospel on the 5th Sunday of Lent, the Church asks us, as Easter gets closer, if we really do believe that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Those of us who have been regular participants at Sunday Mass are quite used to professing this belief. We do so week after week when we recite in the Creed that we believe in the resurrection of the dead and in life everlasting.
Perhaps we’ve gotten used to reciting this Creed out of habit, as if on auto-pilot. But at times such as these- when disease and thoughts of our mortality are in our ears and on our minds - it’s as if a bucket of cold water has been thrown upon us, jolting us out of our comfortable routine faith. However, this can be for us an opportunity to discern if we really have hope that these words of the Creed are true.
And I do not mean hope as in “maybe” or “I sure hope so”. Christian hope is built upon faith, which is an inner conviction that is grounded in trust. It is the faith that grew inside of Martha when she heard that Jesus had arrived in Bethany. I say that Martha’s faith grew because if you notice by “reading between the lines” of our Gospel story today, Martha did not always have this level of hope rooted in faith. The translation of Scripture which we use at Mass tells us that she came to believe. Did you notice those words “came to believe”?
Those words – “came to believe” - remind us that our faith relationship with Jesus is a dynamic process. And each one of us are most likely at different stages of that process. You see, some people think that in order to have a genuine faith in God, we have to know and believe everything about him. Then, and only then, they say, can we truly believe. But Martha shows us another way, the way of the Gospel.
She shows us that we can begin to trust Jesus before even really understanding who he is; before ever really grasping what he wishes to offer us. Martha demonstrates that faith and hope grow as our experience of Jesus grows. She shows us that our relationship with Christ, like all relationships in our lives, is a dynamic ever-deepening reality. The more we get to know him, the more we find ourselves loving and trusting him.
I think it helps us to see that in her friendship with Jesus, Martha was still growing, open to Jesus and willing to trust him, but not always yet quite there. She had more to learn, more to absorb of her own experience of Jesus. And I am sure the same can be said of us. Perhaps we are “not quite there”. Perhaps some of us have more to absorb, more to experience about Christ. But that doesn’t mean we lack faith or hope or trust in him. It simply means we’re not quite there, we’re on the way. Again, let’s look at Martha.
She never gave up growing in her understanding of who Jesus is and fortunately, she reached the goal. She passes through the door of suffering and arrives at the conviction that Lazarus will, indeed, rise up and live again. She can profess this conviction because she has indeed come to believe, which means to trust. She has genuine hope in the reality of Jesus as Resurrection and Life.
And now through this gospel she invites each one of us to come to believe, to trust and have a solid hope. She invites each one of us to walk with Jesus no matter what stage of the relationship we are at with him. She encourages each one of us to trust in Jesus. Through the pages of the Gospel she urges us to believe that while disease and death are indeed enemies of human life, they do not have the last word, they do not wield the ultimate power over us. In Jesus, who is truly the Resurrection and the Life, we shall overcome even death, because it does not end our life but rather simply changes our mode of existence.
This was the faith Martha. This is the trust she placed in Jesus. This was the hope that she had in Jesus. Let's strive very hard to come to believe, to learn to trust. No matter where we might be in the process of our relationship with Jesus, He offers us his hand and wants to accompany us along the pathways and experiences – both good and bad - of life.
So, let's live with Christian hope during these days of warnings and confinement, of disease and the threat of death. Let’s not give in to the doomsday attitudes and the panic born of fear. Let’s have the confidence to proclaim with Martha: Yes Lord, I have come to believe, I have come to trust, that you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God, he who was to come into this world as the Resurrection and the Life.