Scripture readings for April 6
When my son Luke was nine-years old, he and I played a game called the Trust Game. Standing straight up, Luke would fall backwards, and I, while standing behind him, would catch him as he fell toward the floor. I am happy to say that I did not drop him even once, which is probably why I am still able to play the Trust Game with him. When we stop to think about the enormous trust children place in the people who love them, is it any wonder that Jesus says the following in Matthew 18: “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” This Fifth Sunday of Lent, we hear the story of how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. But this story is also the story of our own resurrection, and I do not mean the one promised to us after death. Rather, it is our daily resurrection from those situations, people, or events that tend to push us away from growing closer to God. Like Lazarus, we can experience a new life in Jesus if we trust like children. Five weeks into Lent, are you ready to place your trust completely in Jesus?
The Gospel of John focuses on Jesus as both Resurrection and Life. Two Sundays ago, we heard the story of the Samaritan woman who experiences the living water that Jesus offers, and last Sunday, we heard how Jesus cured the blind man. John presents this theme of life and resurrection in a very complete way in today’s Gospel, the events of which immediately precede Jesus’ triumphant return to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. You may remember Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, from the Gospel of Luke, where we read that Martha busies herself to make Jesus feel at home when He visits, while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, listening to His words and bathing His feet with oil. Luke does not mention a brother named Lazarus, but John tells us in today’s Gospel how much Jesus loves him. Jesus risks physical harm from stoning by returning to Judea, telling the apostles, who do not want Jesus to go, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” Seeing Mary, Martha, and the others cry, Jesus, too, cries. Try to imagine this scene, especially the tears of Jesus as he approaches the tomb of Lazarus. What a beautiful image and symbol of Jesus’ love and compassion!
In John 5:25, we read, “Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” Do you hear the voice of the Son of God? Do you listen to it? It all begins with trust. If we trust that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed One, and if we place our trust in Him, regardless of how difficult it might be, we, too, like Lazarus, and like Mary and Martha, will be rewarded. Jesus is the antidote to the temptations we face everyday, the occasions of sin that confront us, and the weakness of our human condition that leads us to act in ways that do not define who we are as sons and daughters of God.
Even if we trust, there may be times, however, when that trust falters, and it is during this time that we turn our backs on the love and mercy of God that we so desperately seek. Even Martha in today’s Gospel experiences that doubt when she tells Jesus, who orders the stone moved from the entrance to the cave, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus rebukes her, saying, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” May we remember these same words when we doubt or when we lose hope that what we have done is too much for us to overcome. Death, despair, and sadness give way to love, mercy, and hope when we place our trust in Jesus.
It might be easy, as humans who do not see the world as God does, to ask, “Why didn’t Jesus prevent Lazarus’ death rather than wait to overcome it?” How often have we wondered when faced with the death of a loved one, a serious illness, financial troubles, family issues, or any of a number of challenges, “Where is God?” These are times that really test our faith, but these are also times when we must, like Martha and Mary, trust in Jesus. The God of love, mercy, and compassion made His presence known and felt through the work of His Son, and God will do the same with us if we trust and are open to His life-giving love. When we walk with Jesus, we, too, can live with the knowledge that when we stumble, Jesus will help us to our feet and show us a brighter future than we could have ever imagined, a future in which new life is born from a period of darkness.
If you find it difficult to trust Jesus or to surrender control of your life to him, now is a good time to find out why and to make changes. It is not easy to trust like Jesus wants us to trust Him, and perhaps we are afraid to relinquish control and depend on God. If so, I ask that you remember three words: “Be not afraid.” Pope John Paul II opened his pontificate with these words of Jesus Christ, and he repeated them over and over again, as a reminder to all of us that God’s love overcomes all of our fears, freeing us to answer God’s call to love Him and one another and to discover why Jesus truly is the Resurrection and the Life.
-Deacon Mike McGrath is a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Savannah. He ministers to the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities at St. Matthew Catholic Church (Statesboro, GA). He is married to his beautiful wife Leticia, and they are the parents of Matthew, who is 13, and Luke, who is 12. Deacon Mike is the editor of the book Answering the Call: How God Transformed the Lives of Nineteen Catholic Deacons.