Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Quare Credis Hoc?
Lectio Quinta [1]

Instruction for the Fifth Sunday of Lent
10th of April, 2011

Parish of Saints Peter and Paul
Rev. Mr. Michael Taylor

·         First Sunday of Lent: Concerning the knowledge of good and evil
·         Second Sunday of Lent: Concerning the call to holiness
·         Third Sunday of Lent: Concerning why hope is necessary
·         Fourth Sunday of Lent: Concerning what is pleasing to God
·         Fifth Sunday of Lent: Concerning why our faith is salvific
·         Sunday of Our Lord’s Passion: Concerning how to be a martyr

Jesus said to her: I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, although he be dead, shall live: and every one that liveth and believeth in me shall not die forever. Believest thou this? She saith to him: Yea, Lord, I have believed that thou art Christ, the Son of the Living God, who art come into this world.[2]

Why do we go to Church? Why do we believe in one God, three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Why is the sign of our faith the sign of our cross? Why believest thou this faith? It can be easy to get caught up in the routine of our faith. Sunday arrives, and we head to mass because that’s what we did last week and it’s likely what we’ll do next week. We’re Catholic because our parents were Catholic in turn because their parents were Catholic. Today’s gospel becomes a reminder for us, and it is no coincidence that it appears immediately prior to the culmination of Lent which is Holy Week. In this passage, all the promises of the gospel are mentioned and the hope of their fulfillment is foreshadowed in the coming death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is important to note that in Saint John’s gospel, there are only seven miracles explicitly mentioned. While other miracles are referred to, John the Beloved only mentions seven of them, the last of which is the raising of Lazarus from the dead. For John, miracles are a sign to a greater mystery. What then is the meaning of this mystery?
Within the gospels, there are three instances where Jesus raises the dead to life. Now we know the wages of sin is death,[3] and thus, we have three types of sin where Jesus overcomes the penalty for these sins. Now in Matthew, Jesus raises the little girl of the ruler, in Luke he raises the widow’s son, and in John, Jesus raises Lazarus. The little girl in Matthew is described as having been laid out in her family’s house. This is a metaphor for a sin of the interior. These are those sins which lie in our minds which never see the light of day, yet still poison our souls. These are the ninth and tenth commandments of Moses, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house; nor his house, nor his field, nor his servants, nor his ox…nor anything that is his.[4] For Jesus speaks about this, when he preaches, you have heard that it was said to them of old: thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart [5] and again, this people draws near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. [6] So the little girl is still within the house, which is the Church. No one knows of her sin, yet it has still poisoned her unto death. But Jesus says, the girl is not dead but is asleep.[7] Not all sin is mortal, and the sin of the interior is easily resolved, if we will it.[8] Note what Jesus does. Jesus sends everyone from out of the room, leaving just him and the girl. A conversion of the mind requires us to present ourselves before Jesus alone. Against him alone have we sinned, and He alone can save us. We must push all the distractions that other people present to us, and return ourselves to the heart of Christ. For this reason, Jesus is able to raise the little girl to new life.
The second restoration to life by Jesus is where Christ raises the widow’s son. Now here, the body has been placed outside the city walls. This is a metaphor for sin which has been made manifest. We have thought of sin, and we have done the sin. Sin removes us from the community. Does not Christ say that if a man will not repent of his sin, he shall be removed from the community of the faithful? [9] Does not Paul state that he has cast out a sinner from the Church so that they might learn and repent of their sins?[10] Sin isolates us from those whom we love and harms others for our own faults. King David, when he had sinned, saw the angel striking the people and said, “It is I;I am he that has sinned. I have done wickedly: these that are my sheep, what have they done? Let thy hand, I beseech thee, be turned against me, and against my father’s house.[11] Note that the son was all the mother had. She was a widow, and she would have depended on her son for support and life. Yet in the death of the son, the widow is now without support. Our sins have consequences which harm those around us. “But If you have not only harbored a feeling of delight in evil, but hast also done the evil thing, you have, so to speak, carried the dead outside the gate: you are already outside the city, and are being carried to the tomb.” [12] Note that where for the girl, Jesus did not say anything, to the widow’s son, he speaks Young man, I say to you rise.[13] When sin wounds our soul, our friends and our families, we need to approach God’s mercy. This is a sign of confession,[14] where we need to hear God say, through his priests, your sins are forgiven which is to say in a spiritual way, young man, I say to you rise.
Now with Lazarus, we are told that he had been laid in the grave for four days. This is metaphor for the habitual sin, the sin which chains the soul to a pattern of behavior which will surely lead to eternal damnation. Now notice what Jesus says. Like the girl who had died, Jesus says that Lazarus our friend sleepeth.[15] For while one might be dead to sin in this life, while one has today, there is always a chance to repent of one’s errors. Yet not all people understand this, as his disciples thought Jesus meant that Lazarus was actually sleeping. For this reason, Jesus clarifies, saying Lazarus is dead.[16] What comes next is truly shocking to the modern mind. Jesus says, and I am glad [that Lazarus is dead], that I was not there, that you may believe.[17]  All humanity is counted among the sinful. God hath concluded all in unbelief, that he may have mercy on all.[18] Jesus has allowed Lazarus to lay in the grave for four days, so that the glory of God, through the power of His mercy, might be made known. These four days are not without meaning either. For they represent the four deaths that all men endure through sin.
“When a man is born, he is born already in a state of death; for he inherits sin from Adam. Hence the Apostle says, by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so that passed upon all men, wherein all have sinned.[19] Here you have one day of death because man inherits it from the seed stock of death. This is what we call original sin, and through it, all men are counted as sinners. It is as the psalmist says, God looks down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there are any that are wise, that seek after God. They have fallen away; they are all alike depraved; there is none that does good, no, not one. [20]
Thereafter man grows, and begins to approach the years of reason that he may know the law of nature, which everyone has had implanted in his heart: what you would not have done to yourself, do not do to another. Is this learned from the pages of a book, and not in a measure legible in our very nature? Have you any desire to be robbed? Certainly not. Saint Paul himself writes that when Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law unto themselves, though they do not have the law. They show what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them. [21] See here, then, the law in your heart: what you are unwilling to suffer, be unwilling to do.[22] This law also is transgressed by men; and here, then, we have the second day of death.
 The law was also divinely given through Moses, the servant of God; and therein it is said, You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not bear false witness; honor your mother and father; you shall not covet your neighbor's property; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife. [23] Here you have the written law, and it is despised; this is the third day of death. What remains? The gospel also comes, the kingdom of heaven is preached, Christ is everywhere published; He threatens hell, He promises eternal life; and that also is despised. Men transgress the gospel; and this is the fourth day of death. Now man deservedly stinks of the rot of death. But is mercy to be denied to such? God forbid; for to raise such also from the dead, the Lord thinks it not unfitting to come.” [24]
Where then is Lazarus left? Note the questions with which our Lord asks Martha. Martha first confronts Jesus with the reality of death, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.[25] This declaration is followed by a proclamation of faith, but even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.[26] So there are two realities at struggle within Martha. She wants to believe that Jesus has the power to conquer death but the enormity of death is so powerful that it is the first thing she says. We see here that the immensity of death prevents the act of faith from being sufficient. We see this develop though in Jesus leading Martha to recognize this greater truth. Your bother will rise again. Jesus affirms the first century belief among many Jews (including the Pharisees) that there was life after death. Martha accepts this as she says, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Yet Jesus needs Martha to go further. A life of faith in Jesus Christ is more than just the avoidance of future death. It is the creation of a new life, a new way of being. Saint Paul says put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth.[27] For this reason Jesus challenges Martha’s assertion by stating, I am the resurrection and the life: he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.[28] Now we know that all mortal flesh dies. Thus, if we are talking about a man who is raised from death, and will never experience death, something greater than our original state has been created. For this reason it is written in scripture, And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. And He who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” [29] Jesus is doing more than just giving us a life in this realm. His work is something which far transcends our ability to comprehend. It is for this reason that He asks Martha, do you believe this?[30] This is not just a question to see if she is willing to accept what He is saying. This is an act of faith. Martha does not just accept what Jesus is saying. She responds, Yes Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, He who is coming into the world. [31] This act of faith affects a change within the soul. It is for this reason that Saint Paul says, For if thou confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thy heart that God hath raised him up from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For, with the heart we believe unto justice; but, with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation.[32] This act of faith is important, not just for Martha’s own salvation, but for the salvation of Lazarus. Acts of faith are powerful expressions of divine grace. Faith itself is a gift, and when human beings respond to this gift, we can affect great changes in the world. Note the power of the Centurion’s faith, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed.[33] Jesus responds Amen I say to you, I have not found so great a faith in Israel…Go, and as thou hast believed, so be it done to thee.[34] Martha’s faith thus becomes the impetus for Jesus’ miraculous sign. While Jesus could surely have raised Lazarus from the dead without any act of faith from Martha, He wanted the greater work to be done, that those to whom He came might come to believe. Are you ready to believe? Are you ready to believe that there is something greater than just the life of this world? Are you ready to profess with Martha, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, He who is coming into the world?

[1] ‘Why do you believe?”
[2] John 11.25-27
[3] Romans 6.23
[4] Deuteronomy 5.21; Cf. Exodus 20.17
[5] Matthew 5.27-28
[6] Matthew 15.8
[7] Matthew 9.24
[8] Saint Augustine, “Tractate 49,” Tractates on the Gospel of John, §3: “But sometimes sin is committed only in thought. You have felt delight in what is evil, you have assented to its commission, you have sinned: that sin has slain you: but the death is internal, because the evil thought has not yet ripened into action. The Lord intimated that He would raise such a soul to life, in raising that girl, who had not yet been carried forth to the burial, but was lying in the house, as if sin still lay concealed.”
[9] Cf. Matthew 18.15-18: “Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. [16] But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established. [17] And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church: but if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. [18] Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
[10] Cf. I Timothy 1.20: “Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have cast out unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.”
[11] II Samuel 24.17
[12] Saint Augustine, “Tractate 49,” §3
[13] Luke 7.14
[14] Cf. James 5.16: “Confess therefore your sins to one another.” // Cf. John 20.23
[15] John 11.11
[16] John 11.14
[17] John 11.15
[18] Romans 11.32
[19]Romans 5.12
[20] Psalm 53.2-3
[21] Romans 1.14-15
[22] Cf. Matthew 7.12: “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.”// Tobit 4.15: “And what you hate, do not do to any one.”
[23] Exodus 20.12-17
[24] Saint Augustine, “Tract 49.” Tractates on the Gospel of Saint John, §12
[25] John 11.21
[26] John 11.22
[27] Ephesians 4.24
[28] John 11.25-26
[29] Apocalypse [Revelation] 21.4-5
[30] John 11.26
[31] John 11.27
[32] Romans 10.9-10
[33] Matthew 8.8
[34] Matthew 8.10,13

No comments:

Post a Comment