We are spiritually dead. Who can help?

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Ezekiel 37:12-14

Thus says the Lord GOD: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the LORD. I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.

Romans 8:8-11

Brothers and sisters: Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.

John 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33B-45

The sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus, saying, "Master, the one you love is ill." When Jesus heard this he said, "This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it." Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea." When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise." Martha said, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world." He became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Sir, come and see." And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him." But some of them said, "Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?" So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the dead man's sister, said to him, "Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me." And when he had said this, He cried out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, "Untie him and let him go." Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.

In this 5th Sunday of Lent, we continue our Lenten journey with a magnificent meditation from the Gospel of John, the story of raising Lazarus from the dead. The details of John’s Gospel are meant to capture a deeper purpose. In this story, we hear about a man named Lazarus, which means “God helps”. He has become ill in the town of Bethany (Jn 11.1), which means “The House of the afflicted”. Upon a deeper reflection of this story, we will discover that we, too, are also afflicted in many ways; whether it is physical, mental, spiritual, or psychological, and we are meant to seek help from God. For the rest of the reflection, I would like to offer St. Augustine meditation on the story because it is very enriching.

Lazarus has been carried out of the house and placed in a tomb. By the time Jesus gets there, he has been four days in the tomb. In the ancient world, someone who has been dead and buried in a tomb for four days would be proven dead irretrievably. When Jesus instructs them to roll away the stone, Martha says, “Lord, by now there will be a stench” (Jn 11.39). How does St. Augustine interpret this? Lazarus being in the grave symbolizes power of evil and one’s spiritual death; a death that does not only manifest itself from one’s heart in actions, but also a spiritual dysfunction that has now established itself as a habitual part of our life: Anger, hatred, and violence inside ourselves have come out, and they become part of our daily activities. We begin to stink, and to affect people around us. In other words, Lazarus’s death symbolizes the worst kind of sin.

What is the climax of the story? It is when Jesus comes to the grave of Lazarus, and He brings him back to life. Yes, Jesus goes even into this irrevocable, smelliest, most disgusting state of our death, and He invites us back to life! Friends, may be you are thinking of your spiritual death has become so “rotten” that you are beyond the reach of God. Nevertheless, this Gospel is telling us otherwise. Nobody, not even those who are in an evil state of mind, are beyond the reach of forgiving power of Christ. He goes even into those darkest places to seek us, and bring us out. “Where have you laid him” (Jn 11.34)? It is God’s searching for His lost friend. He is looking for you and me because we wander away into our spiritual death.

As the story develops, what is God’s command towards our death? “Take away the stone!” (Jn 11.39) Lazarus is in a cave, and they roll the stone across. The stone symbolizes a finality of death, and the spiritual death of our own. “I am stuck, and I am in a complete darkness. I am in the tomb, and there is a stone roll across me which nobody can help!” This is what Jesus’s response to our deepest spiritual problem: Roll it away! His power is greater than any power of sin, and He says, “Lazarus, come out!” (Jn 11.43). The dead man comes out, precisely because Jesus’ Word does not simply describe, but it affects and makes real, because it is the Divine Word. God’s Word incarnated in Jesus Christ is more powerful than the final death!
Dear friends, at the end this Lenten season, perhaps you are still knee-deep into addictions, or you have made some irreversible mistakes for which you are so shameful that you feel they can never be brought to light. Maybe you are falling out of the relationship with whom you love most. Maybe you are terrified and in fear of death… Listen to the voice of Jesus, “Lazarus, come out”, and have the Lord says, “Untie him and let him go” (Jn 11.44). The Lord Jesus is calling your name, even when you feel you are in the darkest corner, and says, “Come out!” He wants you to be fully alive, for this is His glory (St Irenaeus). These are the incredible and uplifting words that we were meant to listen in this great Gospel.

This is an excerpt from Bishop Robert Barron’s homilies, including

For more information, please visit WordOnFire.org.

Posted: March 29, 2020

Ben Cheng


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