Sunday: Fifth Sunday in Lent. Date: April 2, 2017. Year: A The readings: [Ezek. 37:12-14; Rom. 8:8-11; Jn. 11:1-45 OR Jn. 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45] The message: Those who believe in me, will live. Prepared by: Catholic Doors Ministry Total words: 2469
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"Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live." [Jn. 11:25] Brothers and sisters in Christ, death shall not hold captive those who believe in the Lord Jesus. Praise God for the gift of life!
Today we are entering the fifth and last week of Lent. This will be followed by "Passion Sunday," (Palm Sunday) and finally the Holy Week that will reach its peak on Easter Sunday. The next two weeks are a very special time for our brothers and sisters in Christ who have come home through their conversion to the Catholic Faith. They are now preparing themselves to receive the Church Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. And for those of us who have already been baptized, this will be a time of renewal, when we will reaffirm our belief in the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church.
One of the beliefs that is found in our faith is that our physical bodies shall all be raised one day. Those who believe in Jesus, although they physically die, they will live. [Jn. 11:25] When departing from this world, when our physical bodies die, our souls shall rise to Heaven to await the last day of this world when all the physical bodies shall be raised from their graves. [1 Cor. 15:42-55] Since today's readings all appeared to speak of the resurrection, my sermon shall expand on the subject.
During today's First Reading from the Book of Ezekiel, [Ezek. 37:12-14] we heard of God's promise to put His Spirit within the people so they may live. [Ezek. 37:14] Prior to this promise, the prophet Ezekiel, led by the Spirit, was taken into the plain where his mission was revealed to him. There, Ezekiel was told that through his gift of prophesizing, God's chosen people that had been exiled in Babylon for some time would receive a new spirit that would rise them from their lost hope. Consequently they would be led to a new life in the land of Israel. [Ezek. 37:12]
When God promised to put a new spirit within His people, this was not a reference to the resurrection that awaits every soul on earth. It was a promise to give new life to the people of Israel. While the Words of God appeared to imply a day of resurrection, in those days, such a belief was only a concept worthy of reflections. For God's mystery concerning death, being buried and rising with Christ had not yet been revealed to mankind.
Today, we know differently. We know that the Christian life receives its vitality from the Spirit of Christ. In the flesh, we cannot please God. [Rom. 8:8] "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit." [Rom. 8:5]
Because the Spirit of Christ dwells in us, we are in the Spirit. Those in who the Spirit of Christ does not dwell, they do not belong to Him. [Rom. 8:9] What is the difference between those who belong to God and those who do not? Those who are chained to Christ have allowed themselves to be spiritualized by the grace of the Heavenly Father and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. In them is seen the fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [Gal. 5:22-3
When we remember that the Spirit of God dwells in us, we should also remember that the Spirit of God is God! As such, it is God Himself who dwells in us who belong to Christ. During today's reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans, we heard, "But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness." [Rom. 8:10] If "Christ is in you [Rom. 8:10; Gal. 1:20; 2 Cor. 5:17] literally means that Christ is in us. For the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are One God. Where the Father dwells, the Son also dwells. Where the Son dwells, the Holy Spirit also dwells. And where the Holy Spirit dwells, the Father also dwells. Therefore, in us dwells the fullness of the Blessed Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Without the marvellous indwelling of the Holy Spirit Who animates our Christian lives, our human bodies would be as dead shells, as lifeless corpses. But united to Christ, the human spirit lives, being made righteous before God by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead is the same Spirit Who dwells in us. Having raised Christ from the dead, through His indwelling, surely He will also give life to our mortal bodies. [Rom. 8:11] As the Father raised Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, so shall He raise our bodies through His Spirit. As can be perceived from the glorious resurrection, all goods things find their ultimate origin in the Father.
During today's Gospel Reading, [Jn. 11:1-45] Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life." [Jn. 11:25] In other words, He is the difference between life and death. Those who come through Him who is the "one Mediator between God and humankind," [1 Tim. 2:5] they shall share in the blessed hope that is found in the Divine Plan of Salvation.
Let us review the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus. Lazarus lived in Bethany, a small town that was less than two miles South- East of Jerusalem. Today, the location is called "el-Azariyeh," the name being an Arabic corruption of the name "Lazarus."
The name of the sister of Lazarus was Mary. This is the one that anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped His feet with her hair. [Jn. 11:2] This Mary is not the same one that anointed the head of Jesus with perfume as stated in the Gospels of Matthew [Mt. 26:6- 13] and Mark. [Mk. 14:3-9] The anointing of the head of persons was a custom in those days. But the anointing of the feet was an unheard practice. The Holy Scriptures do not explain why Mary anointed the feet of Jesus.
Anyway, Mary and her sister Martha sent a message to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was sick. Obviously they wanted Him to come and heal Lazarus for they were aware of the power of God that was manifested through Jesus. The first impression we got from the reading was that Jesus rejected the request, just as He did at Cana when He was informed that there was no more wine. [Jn. 2:4]
Responding to the request to come to Lazarus, Jesus said, "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." [Jn. 11:4] Note the Words of Jesus, "It is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it" (the death of Lazarus). This event would not lead to death, but rather to the glory of God. Just like at Cana, where God was glorified through the miracle of changing the water into wine.
And so, Jesus decided to stay another two days longer in the place where He was. [Jn. 11:6] This is not because He did not love Lazarus. The longer He stayed, the greater the glory of God would be manifested through the miracle that was to come.
Finally Jesus told His disciples that it was now the time for them to go to Judea. The disciples were concerned regarding this decision, knowing that on a recent visit, the people tried to stone and arrest Jesus. [Jn. 10:31, 39] Speaking symbolically, Jesus said, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them." [Jn. 11:9-10] How true this is! Was it not at night that some came to arrest Jesus before He was crucified? Surely, the Light was not in them. And is it not at night that most crimes are committed? Those who do not have the Light in them, they walk at night, spiritually stumbling because of the darkness within and around them.
Having said that, Jesus indicated that Lazarus had fallen asleep. [Jn. 11:11] Literally understanding that Lazarus had fallen asleep, the disciples could not see any purpose in their going to Judea. Those who sleep during an illness, do they not usually recover and awaken? Therefore Jesus made it clear to the disciples that Lazarus was dead. [Jn. 11:14] For the sake of the disciples, Jesus rejoiced at the death of Lazarus. This provided a perfect opportunity to strengthen the faith of the disciples.
At that moment, Thomas made a comment. He said, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." [Jn. 11:16] Little did he realize how true it was what he was saying. While he was speaking of the present danger that faced Jesus in Judea, we now know that we must all die with Christ in order to be raised with Him at the resurrection. This is the common destiny of all Christians!
Next we learned that when Jesus arrived outside Bethany, Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. [Jn. 11:17] In those days, there existed a Jewish belief that when a person died, their soul remained near the body for three days before moving on to the spiritual world. And, the mourning rites usually lasted seven days from the time of death. Keeping in harmony with such a custom, since Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, many Jerusalemites were present at the mourning rites to console Martha and Mary. [Jn. 11:19]
Hearing that Jesus was coming, Martha went and met Him while Mary stayed home. [Jn. 11:20] Having reached Jesus, Martha said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." [Jn. 11:21- 2]
What exactly was Martha asking Jesus? She appeared to be upset that Jesus was not present, knowing very well that had He been present, He could have cured Lazarus. But what was she saying when she said, "I know that God will give you whatever you ask of Him?" Was she asking Jesus to resurrect Lazarus? Surely, Martha recognized the special relationship that Jesus had with Yahweh.
Jesus answered, "Your brother will rise again." [Jn. 11:23] Understanding this to mean that Lazarus would resurrect on the last day alongside everybody else, Martha affirmed that she believed so. [Jn. 11:24] In those day, the final resurrection was a doctrine that was taught by the Pharisees in Judah. Jesus affirmed Martha's belief in a resurrection, adding that its power is found in Himself. He said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" [Jn. 11:25-6] Answering Jesus, Martha confessed her faith in the following Christian truths: "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world." [Jn. 11:27] As can be perceived from her words, in those days, there were some who believed beyond any doubt that Jesus was the promised Messiah.
Following this, since Jesus was still outside the village, Martha went and got Mary. The Jews who were in the house followed Mary when they noticed that she quickly left. [Jn. 11:28-31] "When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.'" [Jn. 11:32] Poor Jesus, Mary and Martha must have been trying to make Him feel guilty for being absent when He was needed. Seeing Mary and the Jews weeping, Jesus was deeply moved. He wept also. [Jn. 11:33-5] Those who saw Jesus weeping noticed how He truly loved Lazarus. While they perceived the love of Jesus for Lazarus, they had yet to realize how great a love He would soon manifest.
By then some of the Jews were questioning why Jesus had not prevented Lazarus from dying. They asked among themselves, "If He could open the eyes of the blind man, could He not have kept Lazarus from dying?" This is getting to sound like the way some people pray. Not knowing the Divine Plan of God, they deviously demand specific results during prayer. Do they not realize that God ALWAYS blesses us with more than we ask for?
Next, Jesus went to the tomb and asked that the stone be taken away from the entrance of the cave. [Jn. 11:38-9] That certainly got Martha's attention. She must have suspected that Jesus wanted to look at the features of His departed friend. But hold it here! There has to be a limit. When someone has been dead for four days, especially in the hot weather (warm country), there is a stench. This is not the most pleasant experience. And what about all the mourners around, exposing them to the stench?
Knowing that Martha still did not understand what He was about to do, Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" [Jn. 11:40] After the rock was removed from the entrance, Jesus thanked the Father for having heard His prayer. The reason He thanked the Father was for the crowd to believe that it was the Father Who had sent Jesus. [Jn. 11:41-2]
Having said this, Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" [Jn. 11:43] And then, to the amazement of all, at the voice of our Lord, Lazarus emerged from the tomb, still wrapped in burial cloths. This miracle, the resurrection of a person who had been dead for four days, is supreme proof that Jesus is Lord, that He has life giving power. This heavenly sign fulfills the words of Jesus that are found in John 5:28, "For the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice."
Today's Gospel reading sends out two messages to those who hear it. First of all, through our living faith in Jesus, all our physical bodies will be raised in the final resurrect. Secondly, especially now with the approaching of Easter Sunday, we are called to symbolically resurrect from sin to grace by partaking in the Sacrament of Confession to cleanse our souls so they may be pleasing to God, now and forever. Therefore, let us march forward faithfully in our blessed hope, knowing that those who believe in Jesus, will live.
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[The readings were taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (C) 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the United States of America.]
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"Thus says the Lord God: 'I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,' says the Lord." [Ezek. 37:12-14]
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"Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you." [Rom. 8:8-11]
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"Now a certain man, Lazarus, was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, 'Lord, he whom you love is ill.'
But when Jesus heard this, he said, 'This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.' Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this Jesus said to the disciples, 'Let us go to Judea again.' The disciples said to him, 'Rabbi, the people there were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?' Jesus answered, 'Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.'
After saying this, he told them, 'Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.' The disciples said to him, 'Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.' Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, 'Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.'
Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, 'Let us also go, that we may die with him.' When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.
Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.' Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.' Martha said to him, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.' Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?' She said to him, 'Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.' When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, 'The Teacher is here and is calling for you.'
And when Mary heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.' When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. Jesus said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said to him, 'Lord, come and see.' Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, 'See how he loved him!'
But some of them said, 'Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?' Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, 'Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.' Jesus said to her, 'Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?' So they took away the stone.
And Jesus looked upward and said, 'Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.' When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!' The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, 'Unbind him, and let him go.'
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him." [Jn. 11:1-45]
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