Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary - Homilies

"Jesus Makes All Things New"

5th Sunday of Lent
Fr. Joseph Palermo
April 6th, 2014
Year A

A woman’s cat died and she went to a Catholic Church and asked the priest if he would celebrate a funeral for the cat.  The priest said, “No ma’am, we don’t celebrate funerals for animals, only for people.”  The woman replied, “I’m sorry to hear that.  I was planning to give a $5,000 donation to your church for the funeral service.”  The priest perked up and said, “You didn’t tell me your cat was Catholic!”  The Roman Missal says Lent is a joyful season so there’s a bit of joy for us all.

Today’s gospel is about a death and a funeral of a person, not a cat – a friend of Jesus named Lazarus.  Jesus ate at the home of Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha and Mary.  It seems that Lazarus became seriously ill rather suddenly.  His sisters sent word to Jesus about his illness and asked him to come quickly, but Jesus delayed his arrival.  By the time he arrived in the town of Bethany (where the family lived), Lazarus was already dead, buried and in the tomb for four days.  In Jesus’ day, people were buried the same day they died because there was no embalming and bodies started to decay quickly.

Because of the need for same-day burials, the funeral visitation and mourning took place after the burial, not before, as happens in our day.  The gospel says that many friends came out to comfort Martha and Mary about their brother.  When Martha heard that Jesus was arriving, she left her house and went out to meet him.  Her first words to Jesus were, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  It seems as though Martha is chiding Jesus.  One possible translation is:  Jesus, if you hadn’t dilly-dallied and taken so long to get here, this tragedy wouldn’t have happened and my brother would still be alive.  It is refreshing to see how Martha was completely honest with Jesus about her disappointment and hurt.  What a great teaching for us to be honest about our disappointments and hurts when we go to Jesus in prayer.

Then Martha uttered a statement of great faith, “Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”  Either Martha had heard of Jesus raising someone from the dead or she was convinced he could do it because of all the other works he had performed.  She believed that God the Father would answer his prayers, so she said, “How about asking for a miracle for my brother?”  Martha is again teaching us – this time not to be hesitant about asking God for the desires of our heart, even if our desires are large.

Jesus then got theological with Martha and said, “Your brother will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.  I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will never die.”  Martha responded with another statement of great faith, “Yes Lord, I do believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.”  The news that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life is fantastic – life-changing, but Martha still wanted her brother back alive.

Martha returned home and called her sister Mary, the more contemplative of the two sisters, the one who enjoyed sitting by Jesus and listening to him speak.  Jesus had a special love for Mary.  Mary arrived weeping and said to Jesus as Martha did, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  The friends of Martha and Mary also arrived weeping.  All of this emotional display touched Jesus.  The Scripture says he became “perturbed and deeply troubled.”  He asked where the body of Lazarus had been placed.  And then Jesus himself began to weep.  Here we see the Son of God crying because of the sadness he was feeling personally and his sadness for Lazarus’ family and friends.  This tells us what God does when someone we love dies or when we are hurting badly:  God weeps.  Apparently Jesus wept very noticeably because the people commented, “See how much he loved Lazarus.”  Then they asked, “Couldn’t the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have saved him?”  The people had the same question as Martha and Mary.

Finally Jesus was ready to act.  He asked that the tombstone be rolled away, prayed to his Father for power, and then cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”  At Jesus’ command, Lazarus awakened from the slumber of death and came forth from the tomb.  Jesus ordered that his burial strips be removed:  “Untie him and let him go.”  The gospel concludes by saying, “The people were astounded at this miracle and began to believe in Jesus in great numbers.”

This is a powerful story on many fronts and contains many important teachings, but what are the main points to grasp, and why does the Church give us this gospel one week before Passion Sunday?  There are three things to note:

The first is, when Jesus healed Lazarus, word traveled broadly and many people began to believe in Jesus’ Lordship.  More than any of Jesus’ other miracles, this one accelerated the decision by the religious authorities to arrest and kill Jesus.  They just couldn’t let Jesus continue his ministry any longer.  He was making too many converts.  So, historically speaking, the raising of Lazarus from the dead was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Jesus had to be eliminated.  That’s why this gospel is placed logistically the week before Passion Sunday and the start of Holy Week.

Secondly, the story of the raising of Lazarus shows magnificently the true humanity of Jesus.  Jesus was God, but also a real human being like us.  Grief had the same effect on Jesus that it has on us.  When a loved one died, he wept just like we do.  He experienced human loss and sadness just like us.  When we are grief-stricken, we should turn quickly to Jesus because he understands our hurt.

Finally, the story of the death and raising of Lazarus symbolically prefigures the death and resurrection of Jesus and how that event will vanquish the power of death forever.  Physical death remains a reality for everyone notwithstanding Jesus’ resurrection.  Nobody gets out of this world alive.  Lazarus died (again).  Jesus died.  Jesus’ disciples died.  We all must die.  But because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, physical death is not the end but a transition to eternal life.  Jesus is the Way that leads to eternal life.  That is why when Jesus first heard of Lazarus’ illness, he said to his disciples, “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.”

Jesus makes all things new.  He restores sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, movement to the crippled, health to the sick, freedom to the addicted, virtue to the sinner, courage to the fearful, hope to the hopeless, and life to the dead.  Jesus can raise up anything and anybody from death to life.

As we near the start of Holy Week and conclusion of Lent, what is it in our life that needs the resurrection power of Jesus?  What hurt?  What relationship?  What sin?  The Lord’s call to Lazarus is the same call to each of us:  “Come out of the tomb.  Let me untie you and set you free.”  Lord Jesus, raise us up from death to life.






Fr. Joseph Palermo is a priest for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Louisiana.
He serves serves as spiritual director at Notre Dame Seminary and spiritual advisor for the St. Thomas More Catholic Lawyers Association.


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