“When they heard these words, some of the people said, ‘This is really the prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ But some said, ‘Is the Christ to come from Galilee? … So there was a division among the people over him.” (John 7:40-43)
As humans, we have this inbuilt need to blend with others on a social level. Due to our desire to be accepted, praised and respected in whatever group we belong, we tend to “play by the rules” that is to say, we tend to go with the flow even when it contradicts our conscience. Reading through our Gospel passage today, we see the unusual courage of the officers who were sent to arrest Jesus. Instead of obeying orders, they were captivated by Jesus’ preaching and went back to report to the chief priests and Pharisees: “No man has ever spoken like this man.” This is an unusual courage.
Nicodemus also displayed great courage by reminding the chief priests and Pharisees of the law which states that a person is assumed innocent until he or she is proven guilty. “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” Nicodemus could have kept quiet but he knew the truth. He knew that Jesus is God. Do you often find yourself in the midst of people where it seems like you are the odd one out? Are you willing to risk the social security you enjoy from your friends and colleagues by speaking out for truth? Don’t allow the crowd silence you. Be courageous.
Jeremiah teaches us a very important lesson in today’s first reading. He did not pray for the death of his enemies, neither did he command God to send down fire to consume them. Jeremiah prayed that God who is a just judge would Himself look into the matter and execute judgment according to His Will. Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, increase my courage to stand for what is right and free me from all bitterness especially when I face persecution for your sake. Amen. Bible Study: Jeremiah 11:18-20, Psalm 7 and John 7:40-52).
Welcome to Life beyond the Grave
“Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying 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 deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:32-33). Two Sundays ago, we heard Jesus say to the woman at the well: “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). Last Sunday, as we pondered on the story of the man born blind, how he received his sight, yet the Pharisees who supposedly could see turned out to be the really blind ones, Jesus said: “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).
Today as we read about the raising of Lazarus from the dead, we hear Jesus say: “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” (John 11:25-26). When we examine these signature statements of Jesus, three things come to mind: Firstly, Jesus is the source of living water essential for human survival; secondly, Jesus is the light leading us out of darkness and thirdly, without Jesus, there is no life in us. This immediately brings us to our first lesson today.
1. Without Jesus, we are Dead.
In today’s first reading we hear the prophet Ezekiel speaking in the place of God: “You shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land” (Ezekiel 37:13-14). So long as the people of Israel dwelt in a land of captivity as a result of their sinfulness, so long as they were yet to receive God’s Spirit, they remained dead.
As St. Paul makes us understand in our second reading, there is more to being alive than merely breathing. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies” (Romans 8:11). The question we must ask ourselves today is: “Am I alive?” and if Yes, “What kind of life am I living?” At the heart of all our temptations in life is Satan’s attempt to make us reject Jesus. The truth is that without Jesus, we become like the Samaritan woman struggling for water that never satisfies, like the blind Pharisees and like Lazarus, dead.
As many church buildings are closed around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, God has provided a special opportunity for us to examine the essence of our relationship with Him. Does my Christianity only begin and end within the church building? Do I believe Jesus is alive within me? In all sincerity, have I been going to the church to really commune with God or just to fraternize with friends, show off new clothes, advertise my products, obtain business contacts and so on?
2. God Sometimes Allows His Beloved Suffer
Recall that in the story of the blind man last week, the disciples of Jesus wanted to know who sinned, if it was his parents or the man himself. Jesus made them understand that his blindness was not a punishment for anyone’s sin but simply for the glory of God. The wages of sin is death no doubt, but it is not every unfortunate event that happens to us that is as a result of our sins. Today, we hear John tell us that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. In Luke 10, we read a moving account of how Jesus was a guest in the home of Lazarus. Martha served and Mary sat at his feet listening to him. Jesus was told “the one whom you love is ill.” Was this message not enough for Jesus to swing into action? Yet Jesus stood behind saying this illness will not lead to death but it will bring glory to God.
Like Mary and Martha who sent word to Jesus about Lazarus’ ill health, we often pray to God when we see danger approaching only to get no response from God. There are moments God prefers to remain silent not because He hates us but because He already knows what He wants to do for us. At times, we begin to doubt if God still cares or if He even exists. There were many who came to visit Mary and Martha saying: “If Jesus was truly this man’s friend, he shouldn’t have allowed him die.” In this era of the COVID-19 pandemic, many have had to ask God similar questions. Why does God remain silent? If God is who we know Him to be, why would He let thousands of people suffer and die like this?
The truth is simple: the fact that we are friends of God, the fact that we strive every day to remain sinless and walk in the light does not make us immune to the sufferings and trials of life. As the book of Hebrews tell us: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. … God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (Hebrews 12:5-8). Like the case of Lazarus, when God allows us suffer, it is because He has something bigger awaiting us. Not even the very disciples of Jesus knew the package Jesus had planned for Lazarus.
3. The Saints Are Not Simply Dead People.
Very often, when we talk about praying to God through the saints as Catholics, it never goes down well with our separated brethren who are often quick to remind us that Christ alone is the one mediator between God and man (1st Timothy 2:5). Several times, I have been asked: “Why do you pray to dead people?” The statement of Jesus to Martha in today’s Gospel passage perfectly answers this question. “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.” (John 11:25-26).
In fact, in another passage, Jesus said: “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:48-51). To say the saints are just dead people will be to assume that Jesus was lying in these passages.
There is life beyond the grave. How else was Lazarus able to hear the voice of Jesus having been buried for four days already? The Saints hear us when we ask for their intercession. They are not merely dead people. The next question I often get is: “How can you be so sure that someone is in heaven?” Simply put, when it is proven beyond every doubt that he or she caused some miracles to happen on earth. Jesus is the one mediator between God and man but our very faith in Jesus Christ accommodates asking the saints who are alive in heaven to pray for us as well.
4. With God, Nothing is Impossible.
When the Angel Gabriel Visited Mary to inform her of becoming the Mother of Jesus despite being a virgin, the Angel assured Mary to trust in power of God saying: “And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:36-37). In the raising of Lazarus from the dead, Jesus reminds us again that with God, nothing is impossible. There is just no problem that is beyond God, no situation that God cannot handle.
It is never too late for God. God’s time is the best. When Jesus told them to remove the stone, Martha protested: “Lord, by this time, there will be an odour for he has been buried four days.” Dear friends, what is that you have been asking from God for so long now? Have you concluded that it is too late for God to grant it? Jesus had the power to raise the dead but first, he asked the people to roll the stone away. Perhaps, you have lost hope and put a stone over your hopes. Jesus wants to work in your situation but first, you have to roll this stone away. Like Lazarus who was bound all over, sin ties us down and keeps us stagnated spiritually. That is why we need Jesus in our lives. And it really doesn’t matter how deep sin may have crushed us. It is not too late today to repent and begin to live a new life in Christ.
Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, raise me from the death of my sinfulness. Amen. Bible Study: Ezekiel 37:12-14, Psalm 130 Romans 8:8-11 and John 11:1-45).