Browsing Homilies

Fifth Sunday of Lent (Third Scrutiny, Year A)

Ez 37:12-14 | Ps 130 | Rom 8:8-11 | Jn 11:1-45

Jesus came primarily as a warrior whose final enemy is death. It’s easy to domesticate Jesus, presenting him as a kindly moral teacher. But that’s not how the Gospels present him. He is a cosmic warrior who has come to do battle with those forces that keep us from being fully alive. Not one of us is here to simply exist—but to live and have life to the full.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus deals with the effects of death and a death-obsessed culture: violence, hatred, narcissism, exclusion, false religion, phony community. But the final enemy he must face down is death itself. Like Frodo going into Mordor in The Lord of the Rings, Jesus has to go into death’s domain, get into close quarters with it, and take it on.

Coming to Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus feels the deepest emotions and begins to weep. It’s the shortest line in all of Scripture: “And Jesus wept” (Jn 11:35). This is God entering into the darkness, confusion, and agony of the death of sinners. He doesn’t casually stand above our situation, but rather takes it on and feels it at its deepest level.

It’s important for us to remember (especially when we’re grieving) that Jesus didn’t come to this earth as a human being to eliminate suffering, but rather to enter into it fully. This, of course, is what we will hear in the Passion proclaimed one week from today on Palm Sunday and again on Good Friday.

The question naturally arises in the mind—why did our Lord weep at the grave of Lazarus? He knew he had power to raise him, so why should he act the same as those who mourn for the dead?

Jesus wept from spontaneous tenderness: from the gentleness and mercy, the encompassing loving-kindness and exuberant fostering affection of the Son of God for his own work, the race of man; of humanity.

Their tears touched him at once, as their miseries (and ours) is what brought him down from heaven in the first place. His ear was open to them, and the sound of weeping went at once to his heart.

“I will open your graves and have you rise from them” (Ez 37:12). “I will put my spirit in your that you may live” (Ez 37:14a). These words both comfort and challenge. To experience new life we have to do what Jesus did: go to the tomb and face the stench of whatever is deadly for us. By facing our darkness, sin, and death we can find light, forgiveness, and life. When we are willing to name and claim these realities, we invite Jesus to come and say, “Come out!” and go free.

It takes a willingness to reorient our lives to the Spirit of God who dwells in us. The first step is honesty about our fears, frustrations, and faith like Martha and Mary, and a willingness to be misunderstood as Jesus was when he wept.

When you and I can be vulnerable and honest about the darkness of sin in our lives, Jesus shows us a way to freedom and fullness of life. His Spirit works within us and in the community; he who necessarily sees us differently, to untie us and let us become new.

You and I don’t ever need to say, “Lord, if you had been here,” like Mary and Martha. He is here! He comes to us in prayer, word, and sacrament, and in his living body: saying to each one of us, “Come out and be free!”


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