DEAD or ALIVE?
Ezk 37:12-14; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45
I am the Resurrection and the Life; He who believes in Me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die" (Jn 11:25-26).
In the nineteenth century, Robert Ignersoll was a skeptic who traveled broadly and vigorously speaking against Christianity. He insisted that we could not absolutely know anything about God and about life after death. At one of his lecture, he argued and tried to prove to the audience that the story of Jesus raising the dead Lazarus to life was a well-planned trick in order to get public attention for Jesus and for Lazarus. Lazarus pretended to be sick and died. His sisters, Lazarus and Jesus together they had planned the funeral and the burial. Then Lazarus pretended to stay dead in the tomb until Jesus came and called him out by name. Then he would come out of the tomb to give people a surprise. Consequently, both he and Jesus would get a lot of publicity.
Confident with his argument, Ignersoll pointed out further, "Looking at the tomb where Lazarus was, why didn't Jesus just say, "Come out of the tomb?" Instead, he cried out in a loud voice, calling Lazarus by name for everyone to hear, "Lazarus come out!" This was obviously a well-planned and clever trick. They had worked together to fool people and to get publicity for their own advantage.
Everyone was struck silent. Suddenly one little girl said, "I know! I know why Jesus had call Lazarus by name, because if he didn't do it, every one else in the tombs would rise and walk out alive too."
Later, Ingersoll admitted that he was shock and impressed with the simple faith of that little girl.
The Reality of Death
Everyday we learn about people dying. The causes of death are varying. People die of illnesses, diseases, old age, accidents, war, or crimes. Recently we have witnessed many victims of death from the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D. C. Last week eight American soldiers and several hundred of the Al Quaeda's fighters were killed in Afghanistan. Just in the last several months hundreds of the Palestinians and Israelis were killed. With sophisticated modern medical technologies and medicines, we still cannot avoid death. The health care industry has introduced so many different brands of medicines to fight diseases and preventive approaches to promote health. Experts and health researchers have said: "Forget looking better or sleeping better, exercise can extend life." "People sleep less than eight hours a day might live longer." "Daily use of aspirin protects prostate cancer." "Eating tomatoes help prevent prostate cancer." "New computer system approved for checking breast cancer." But no matter how sophisticate our medical technology has become, and no matter what we take, eat or drink, people keep dying everyday. No one can avoid death. So is there any hope for us?
Hope in the Words of God
Coming closer toward the end of our Lenten journey of spiritual renewal, the Church is leading us deeper into the mystery of our faith in Christ who is the resurrection and the life. Only Christ can give us this hope, and only Christ can make this hope a reality. The Preface for this fifth Sunday of Lent gives us a picture of the human and the divine Christ, "As a man like us, Jesus wept for Lazarus his friend. As the eternal God, he raised Lazarus from the dead. In his love for us all, Christ gives us the sacraments to lift us up to everlasting life."
The Scriptural readings for this Sunday give us hope for eternal life in and through Jesus Christ. The first reading gives sign of hope for new life. The Hebrew people are living in exile as dead or dry bones in hope because they are separated from the holy city and temple. God speaks through the Prophet, "I will open your graves and have you rise from them." "I will put my spirit in you that you may live." Thus, through Ezekiel's words, the Spirit of God causes the dry bones to live again. This tells us that God has the power to bring the death to life. We are also living like dry bones in exile in this world. The Hebrew people receive the Spirit from the words of Ezekiel. We receive the Spirit from Jesus Christ who says to Martha, "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" (Jn 11: 25). In addition, Jesus actualizes his words by raising Lazarus from the death.
The illness and the death of Lazarus, the mourning of his sisters, the supports of the neighbors to Martha and Mary are signs of helplessness in facing human suffering of death. The weeping of Jesus is the sign of his understanding and sharing in our experiences of human death. When Jesus raises Lazarus back to life, he gives us the sign of hope. This is the sign that Jesus is more than life and death. He has the power over life and death. Jesus gives a command, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands." Jesus tells others to untie Lazarus and let him go. Lazarus receives a second chance to live his life.
When Jesus raises Lazarus up from the death and gives him new life, he tells others to untie Lazarus. But when we receive new life, Jesus personally untie our sins and let us go by allowing his own body being tied and die on the cross. When we receive the sacrament of Baptism, we are also given a second chance to live our new life in the Spirit of Christ. And we continue receiving forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation, and given many other chances to live a new life. How should we live this new life? The second reading (Roman 8:8-11) teaches us how to live this new life. If we live according to the flesh, we are death. If we live according to the Spirit of God, we are living. In fact, we can have both death and life in us. Though dead, we can live, and though living we can be dead. In the words of St. Paul, "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." Therefore, we are alive if our minds are set on the Spirit. We are alive if we belong to Christ. We are alive if our lives are pleasing to God. We are dead if we are under the slavery of Satan.
Rev. John Tran Kha, Houston, TX