SUNDAY HOMILY -5th Sunday of Lent A

Exodus 17:3-7
Romans 5:1-2,5-8
John 4:5-42


‘Jesus weeps’ with sadness at the death of his friend. He does not hide his tears. But then he calls out: ‘Take the stone away;’ ‘Lazarus … come out;’ ‘Unbind Lazarus and let him go free.’ Clearly Jesus is the Master of life and death, ‘the resurrection and the life’.

Death comes in many forms other than our final exit. We may feel that we have lost our grip on life, that we are broken, defeated and destroyed. A kind of death may happen to us if or when we find ourselves suffering grief, hurt, illness, shame, humiliation, separation, or the end of our marriage. The dreadful experience, whatever form it takes, may even leave us feeling that we have no energy left, no future, and simply nothing left to live for at all.

It’s not difficult to see Lazarus as a symbol for us all. Perhaps many of us have felt at times that we too have ended up in a tomb! Dead and buried! Cut off from life and the joys of life! Languishing in some cold dark place! Helpless, frustrated, bound up, and falling apart! Feeling too that some huge boulder is blocking our path back to light, life, and freedom! A boulder too heavy for us to roll away all by ourselves!

A particularly virulent form of living death is the disease of alcoholism. It destroys not only the living physical organs of the patient but also their world of meaning and relationships. This has come home to me vividly in recent years when I was offering support to someone who Is a recovering alcoholic. One of the things he told me that will always stay with me, is that until he finally turned to the Alcoholics Anonymous programme of recovery, he was slowly but surely killing himself.

Whatever form living death may take in our lives, we rarely recover without a great deal of help from other people, help which includes friendship just as much as professional therapy. This is where we all come into the lives of others. This is where we act like Jesus himself when he intervenes in the death of Lazarus and the grief of his sisters Martha and Mary. This is where we stand at the door of their tombs, call out to them by name, and help the ones we love to get up from their living death, rise to new life, and get moving again on the road to recovery, the road to life.

So, it’s a matter of being ready to be ‘Godsends’, in fact agents and instruments of the Holy Spirit, to anyone who may need us. It’s a matter of being sensitive to, being responsible for, and being compassionate towards. It’s a matter of caring enough, reaching out to, and being there for. It’s a matter of believing in, hoping that, and supporting the struggling and stumbling ones, to get back on track, and rediscover that life is worth living after all, and that they still have a lot of living to do. Just as Jesus wept at the loss of his dear friend Lazarus, so must you and I weep at the plight of people who mean much to us. 

We cannot belong to Jesus without weeping with him at the tombs of our fellow human beings, and calling them out of those tombs into the light and love of God’s embrace. An alternative Opening Prayer today, that celebrates Jesus as our resurrection and our life, spells out beautifully what our communion with him and one another leads us to do and to be:

‘Father …,’ we pray, ‘the love of your Son led him to accept the suffering of the cross in order that his brothers and sisters might glory in new life. Change our selfishness into self-giving. Help us to embrace the world which you have given us, that we may transform the darkness of its pain into the life and joy of Easter.’

When the much-loved Pope St John XXIII was dying, he pointed to the crucifix near his bed and told those standing around him, that it was those open arms of Jesus crucified that inspired his whole programme of life and work. What an inspiration it is to you and me as well, to take our cue from Jesus, not only weeping at the death and loss of his close friend, Lazarus, but doing whatever he could, to change death into life, darkness into light, and sadness into joy!

‘But this Sunday Jesus stands at the entrance of our tombs and calls us out of them’ (Richard Leonard SJ). So, for the sensitivity that you and I need, then, to become aware when a sister or brother is close to breaking-point, and for the courage, compassion and generosity to step in and offer our assistance as agents of Jesus our resurrection and our life, the master of life and death, before it’s too late to make any difference, let us keep praying to the Lord!

Brian Gleeson is a Passionist priest, and a member of the Passionist community in Endeavour Hills, Melbourne.