5th Sunday of Lent, April 6, 2014

Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, VA

Today’s Gospel reading is like a treasure chest, full of precious gems
whose different facets can be admired from different perspectives,
and in different lights.
Today I’d like us to look at a few of these gems
from the unique perspective of the family
and in light the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Of course the central character in this text, as in all Scripture, is Jesus himself.
But surrounding him today are a family of 3 siblings: Martha, Mary and Lazarus.
As the text reminds us several times
that Jesus loved this family in a very special way.
I’ve always wondered why this was,
and it seems to me that the key to understanding it
is the intriguing character of the youngest sister, Mary.

Now, some of you, if not most of you,
have by now heard my devotion to this Mary,
and my spiel about who this “Mary” of Bethany really is.
So I’ll just briefly remind you.
While some modern scholars might disagree,
for at least 1400 years the Church has identified this Mary of Bethany
with the woman the Gospels call “Mary Magdalene”
who is considered to have been a great repentant sinner,
most probably a former prostitution.
Still, not much is known for sure about the life of this Mary.
But one can only imagine the terrible things that happened to her to break her away from her happy and apparently prosperous home
in the very Jewish town of Bethany in Southern Israel,
just 2 miles from Jerusalem.
to lead her to the life of a sin and sexual promiscuity
in the Northern Gentile town of Magdala, over 100 miles away.

Perhaps there was a falling out,
perhaps as an innocent young girl she was seduced
and scandalized the family,
but something terrible led her, or forced her, away to a life of sin
—and loneliness.

Until one day in Magdala,
she encounters a man from the nearby tiny village of Nazareth.
But this is no ordinary man: he is a rabbi, a prophet, and even a wonderworker
–perhaps she was even there when he raised a boy from the dead
in the neighboring village of Nain.
Even more amazing, this holy man of God
eats with tax collectors and other public sinners—even with prostitutes.

And so she listens to him,
and comes to believe in his words of repentance and forgiveness.
And one night when he’s eating in the house of a rich Pharisee
she comes to him, and falls at his feet,
covering them with a flood of tears of guilt and sorrow, faith and love,
drying them with her hair and anointing them with oil.
And Jesus tells her:
“[your] sins, which are many, are forgiven, for [you have] loved much…
Your faith has saved you.”

Eventually, by the grace of Christ,
she is returned to the home of her surviving family
–Martha and Lazarus
And amazed and grateful at the change and return of their sister
they come to believe in Jesus as well.

Is there any wonder that this family loved Jesus so much?
Or that he loved them so specially?

So we can also imagine how when Lazarus became sick
their natural response was to send for Jesus.
But Jesus didn’t come as fast as they had hoped—Lazarus dies.
Yet both sisters have such strong faith in who he is,
and in his personal love for their family,
that when he does arrive they both run out to meet him and say:
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Martha goes on to add a beautiful prayer of faith:
“But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, [He] will give you.”
And while Mary doesn’t add this same prayer of faith,
the prayer she does add is even more beautiful.
She simply falls at his feet and weeps,
just as she did when she first visited him at the Pharisee’s house
and washed his feet with her tears:
now her adoration at his feet and her tears of sorrow
once again are a more eloquent prayer than any words could say.

And in response to the faith and love—and the prayers—of these 2 sisters,
Jesus, who had once before restored Mary to this family,
now restored Lazarus to this same family.

But Jesus didn’t come into the world to give this particular family
just some temporary relief from their sins and illnesses and death
—He came to destroy all sin and death once and for all.
So, in listening to the repentant Mary’s prayer and raising Lazarus from the dead,
he points them to his own death on the cross and resurrection
as the source of enduring victory over sin and of everlasting life:
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.

Today there are many troubled families in the world.
Families crippled by illness or addiction, greed or poverty.
Families decimated by a warped sense of the meaning
of family, marriage and sexuality.
Families torn apart by sin and devastated by sickness and death.

In fact the family of Bethany is not so different than many of ours.
Think about that.
There’s Mary, who was totally corrupted by terrible sins,
especially sins of the flesh: drugs, alcohol, and sex.
With all the corruption in our society today,
with public figures embracing the abuse of drugs and alcohol,
making such abuse a new rite of passage for our young;
and with all the pornography and perversion thrown at us 24 hours a day,
so much of it sneaking, slithering like a silent serpent,
into the our very homes through the internet and cable.
How many families have a member caught up in these this
—or on the road to this?

And there’s Lazarus
—decimated by illness, even to point of dying, and beyond.
How many families have had to deal with the devastating effects of
cancer, or MS, or Alzheimers, whether in the old or in the young?
And how many have had to deal with untimely death:
the death of a young mother of small children,
the death of an older husband
you’d planned to enjoy a happy retirement with,
or the death of a child who had hardly begun life,
and yet had given meaning and purpose to his parents’ life.

And then there’s Martha.
We remember the story of how she got so upset
when she was working so hard trying to take care of Jesus
and her sister Mary simply sat at His feet.
How many women have been left to take care of families
while their husbands were absent,
perhaps off nobly fighting for their country,
or perhaps not so nobly off caught up in their careers.
Or the young husband abandoned by his wife,
left to raise his tiny children all alone?
Or the oldest son or daughter who had to grow up too fast,
becoming so responsible and loving,
but also the one that everyone took advantage of–and took for granted.

Every family has problems.
And there is only one solution to these and all the problems of families
—whether 2000 years ago or today.
And the name of that solution is “Jesus Christ.”
Until and unless families, and members of families, can imitate Martha and Mary,
repenting of sins,
calling out for Jesus when we encounter problems,
and believing in him that he has complete power over these problems,
and trusting that he will help us,
we will continue to be plagued and even crushed by these problems.

Christ is at the center of Lazarus’ family
–is he at the center of your family?
Is he living in your home, eating at your meals,
laughing when you laugh, weeping when you weep.
Is there someone in your family everyone relies on,
but whose love is usually just taken for granted?
Is there someone who is sick, or dying, or mourning the death of someone?
Is there someone in your family who has fallen into sin
and separated themselves in one way or another from the family?
Is that “someone” you?

The Lord Jesus loves the family
—he loves the family of Lazarus, and he loves your family.
And he loves each member of the family—even the ones far away from home.
And He alone can forgive all sins, heal all wounds, reconcile all divisions,
by His Cross that conquers the sins that destroy family life,
and by His Resurrection that lifts up the family into his own perfect life.

Today as we continue to prepare for Good Friday and Easter,
we look for Jesus to come to us and restore us and our families.
And in the next 2 weeks he will come to us in many different ways,
but most profoundly in 2 ways:
through His Church
–which is the family of his brothers and sisters—
and through his sacraments.
In the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Penance he gives us
a share in his life,
the gifts to actually live that life,
and the forgiveness to restore us to that life when we’ve lost it.
And in his most Blessed Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist,
he comes to us most perfectly as he brings us completely
into the saving mystery of His Cross and Resurrection.

As we enter now into the mysteries of the Eucharist,
let us meditate on the family that Jesus loved in Bethany.
Let us fall down at his feet in adoring love, faith and trust,
and ask him to come to us to restore us and our families with his love.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, he will give you.”

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